JESSE J. HOLLANDWASHINGTON (AP) ¿ In America, there are always people to sue or contracts to negotiate, right? Apparently there aren't enough. The recession is taking a steep toll on the legal profession, an industry long seen as immune from the ups and downs of the economy. Trying to weather the financial crisis, the nation's largest law firms are laying off attorneys and delaying the hiring of others. More than 3,000 lawyers have been laid off in the first three months of 2009. "A lot of people go into the law because it's one of those professions where you're always going to have work. There aren't typically big layoffs," said Samuel Smith of Charlotte, N.C. "Realistically, I don't think people saw this coming." Last summer Smith was working at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft while flirting with job opportunities at a few other firms. But in August, Smith was laid off as the economy soured. The firms that earlier had been interested were now reluctant to hire. "I'm still looking for jobs," said Smith, who launched http://www.rateapartner.com, a Web site that links to legal business news articles and allows lawyers and clients to anonymously rate law firm partners.