Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

The Dearly Departed

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Total Black: $1,295.42
Total Red: $230,131.21

A year ago today I left the firm for good.  It must have been nearly 8pm that day.  It was a Friday.  I was there late even on my last day because, unlike other associates—one of whom, upon hearing that she was being laid off, walked out the door and didn’t return—I actually did what was asked of me.  I filed all my papers.  I archived all of my emails and documents.  I cleaned out my office and boxed up my own belongings.  And I said my good-byes.

Probably the most awkward aspect of the whole situation was how other people acted around us.  The irony of life sometimes leaves you in stitches.  A few weeks before the firm laid me off, I finally got my own office.  The typical path at my firm was to share an office for two years and then in the Fall upon beginning the third year, we got our own offices.  At least that much remained true for me.  I got to make a bit of a home away from home in my office.  In fact, that’s probably the one thing about the firm that I looked forward to, especially soon after arriving.  My first officemate was a bit crass.  We sat so close that often we’d kick each other under our desks, well . . . perhaps if we slouched down far enough, but it happened.  He didn’t care that we were forced to share the space—a felt-covered cubical wall dividing our desks and also blocking our view of each other.   He’d talk with his wife a few times a day on the telephone.  He’d fart in the office or make dirty jokes.  People would routinely congregate in our office to visit and chat with him.  In many ways I felt like I was back in high school again in the locker room with all jocks around me.  Let’s just say I had a slight difficulty focusing and getting my work accomplished.

The two most enjoyable stretches I had at the firm were after the summer ended in 2007, once my summer officemate had gone back to school, and the new Fall associates hadn’t arrived yet, and when I had my own office.  For those few weeks in early Fall 2007, I loved being at the firm.  My first officemate had already gotten his own office and my second officemate hadn’t yet arrived.  I arrived early.  I felt very productive.  I reached out for extra assignments.  Then it all ended once my second officemate arrived.  And, while she didn’t fart in the space, she too was quite the social butterfly, taking telephone calls with her boyfriend, her family members, and her friends.  You learn too much about a person by being forced to overhear one half of their conversations.  Finally, in September 2008, I got my own office.  And again, for those few weeks, I loved being at the firm.  Then the ax fell and I had four days to vacate.  By the end I grew to hate having my own office because, as I mentioned above, of the many people who stopped by our offices to pay their respects to the soon-to-be dearly departed, and because of those who did not.

Plenty of associates did stop by to say good-bye and express their concerns, frustrations, and disbelief at the situation.  My firm was one of the first few to conduct layoffs.  The law firm deluge had not yet begun so it was quite shocking news.  Yet I often found myself in the situation of having to console others in their fears of what was going on.  Too frequently I wanted to remind them of who should be consoling whom at that moment.

Law firm partners went about their business as if nothing strange was afoot.  My new office was situated near the pantry so I made use of it often enough.  Probably more so than if I sat clear across the floor from it.  As I was getting tea (sometimes I opted for tea as my caffeine fix because I hated the Keurig instant coffee the firm supplied), a partner walked into the pantry.  Partners had been hiding throughout this week and were rarely seen.   When I happened to run into this partner, it must have already been Wednesday or Thursday.  We had been given the news on a Tuesday and had to vacate the firm by Friday.  So most assuredly he learned of our situation by Tuesday, if not earlier than we did.   By the time we stood together in the pantry in awkward silence, he knew already that I had been selected as one of the persona non grata asked to leave the firm.  In a moment of magnanimousness (and perhaps a dash of sadism), I spoke to him, offering some passing comment to break the ice.  He had lateraled into the firm as a senior associate and was one of the people whom I met with when I interviewed to work there, though I doubt he ever remembered the conversation.  We had had a decent discussion about philosophy since I was obtaining my Masters degree in that discipline.  About a year after I began working there, he became a partner.  Two weeks before we were laid-off I worked with him on a cross-border research assignment that involved our London office.  Now we stood in silence.  And when I spoke to him, he seemed desperately grateful for any sort of meaningless banter.  In retrospect, the exchange was unreal and somehow surreally laughable.  I think he spoke to me about it being a better practice to add milk to tea first and then the hot water.  I hadn’t asked.  Once this silly prattle ended, with him leaving the pantry, I then walked the few paces back to my office to sit in utter disbelief.  I had at least expected him to say something like “best of luck” or “I heard what’s going on.  Keep your chin up.  Things will work out.” or even a mere “all the best.”  Nothing.  Only one partner out of all those I worked with offered me some words of advice and encouragement.  And he only supervised one of the pro bono lawsuits I worked on, so we had limited interaction.  But what he said did cool the sting a bit of the situation.

A year later and I can say that I’m happier being out of the law firm world.  It’s surprising for how long this sick and diseased behemoth has persisted.  I hope this economic crisis also leads to a drastic change and de-commodification of large law firm life.  Perhaps it too will go the way of the dodo.

Written by Laid-off Lawyer

October 17, 2009 at 23:32

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