The Law Bulletin Retrenches



'Because of your work, our work has been enhanced and our profession enriched for 150 years,'' said Mary Ann G. McMorrow, the then chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, as she celebrated the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin's 150th anniversary with an array of other prominent lawyers and judges.

The date was November 18, 2004. Five years later to the day, the news editor of the Law Bulletin, Steve Brown, and assistant news editor Tim Doyle were laid off to cut costs. Brown had been there 18 years. In the interim there have been other cutbacks, notably the closing of the one-person Washington bureau two years ago.

This isn't a simple case of a venerable newspaper, after its night of nights, falling on hard times. Circulation's been ebbing for a decade or so, from about 8,000 to under 4,500 copies a day; but hard times are good for the Chicago legal community's newspaper of record, which is stuffed with foreclosure notices. But the Law Bulletin Publishing Company, run by the brothers Sandy and Brewster Macfarland, also has a string of real estate publications, and the collapse of the housing market did them no favors.

Olivia Clarke, who'd been assistant editor of the company's monthly Chicago Lawyer, whose own staff had shrunk dramatically in recent years, is now editor of both the Lawyer and the Law Bulletin — under executive editor Robert Yates and publisher Michael Kramer.

I asked Brown if he saw it coming.

"I didn't," he said. "I should have." A couple of months ago, he said, the company hired two part-time copy editors paid by the hour, one to work two days a week, the other three. It didn't occur to Brown that, in the eyes of upper management, these two part-timers made him expendable. "I thought they hired them because [Chicago Lawyer] was now being written by freelancers, and Olivia Clarke, who'd been a writer there, had taken over the editing responsibilities and needed help. I had no clue they were going to be cutting Tim and me."

The Law Bulletin still has six full-time reporters."It's easier to hire part-time copy editors and dump the most expensive people than to do without reporters," Brown can see now. "The biggest savings is to cut from the top."

I've tried to reach Kramer and the Macfarlands, but they haven't yet returned my calls.

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