Saturday, December 13, 2008

Layoff Questions

Hello all. Well thank goodness the overly sensitive types have gone away.  Now we can get back to actual advice.

A commenter asked about layoffs and whether they are generally less public than we have been seeing as of late.  Sure, there always have been, and will be, "quiet" layoffs.  There have always been and also will be "quiet" performance-based terminations.  When the economy is difficult, firms tend to say goodbye to people more quickly than when things are busy busy and you need more bodies. I have seen plenty of mediocre or non-hardworking lawyers in law firms in prior years.  Those people won't get to hang around as long in the current economy.

What used to happen when one is let go (assuming not "for cause") in BigLaw was the standard 3 month salary/winding down.  The individual being let go may or may not continue to do work. Basically, the firm would pay the person, benefits continued, secretarial support, etc., but the person would generally focus on new employment finding.  This wasn't horrible since the person could use the office/computer/phones etc and by outward appearances was just moving laterally.  Typically the firm would want a settlement agreement and release.  I know several people who have done these kind of arrangements, found new employment (other firms, in-house, etc) and moved on.  I've also known people who are so shocked at getting terminated that they never really got over it.  The bottom line is, in an economic situation, it is not your fault, and you need to do your best to move forward.  If it was performance based, you should try to understand the issue; perhaps BigLaw or law firms in general are not your strong suit.

Someone asked if most people who leave firms are actually being let go.  The answer is no.  People leave for a wide variety of reasons, which is why there is such high attrition in law firms.  Any of the following and others occur:  move to different city for spouse job/self job/need to be closer to relatives; move in-house; move to government or non-profit organization; litigator who wants more trial experience and gets prosecutor-type job; person who moves to a boutique; person who just moves laterally; mom who decides to stay home with children; dad who decides to stay home with children (see, HP very PC); person who leaves law entirely for new field.  Sure, some people are let go, but as I mentioned in the comments to a post, don't assume because someone is leaving that they had to, and don't gossip.  It only ends up getting back to them and they get pissed and might even complain to management.

Remember, no one is indispensable.  You can work hard to make yourself as valuable to the organization as you think you can/connect with big rainmaker/develop needed niche specialty/develop ton of own business etc., but there are many variables out there -- e.g., loss of huge client.  We don't always have control over these things.  The best things to do are to try to create a safety net through building relationships, developing a solid reputation, developing great substantive legal skills and getting out in the legal and business and social community so you are not wedded to one practice group/firm/partner.  Remember no one looks out for YOU the way YOU need to.  And, don't piss too many people off.  People have long memories, and they are not apt to help (and can hurt) your career down the road when you need friends, not enemies.

Happy weekend!

Next post will try to address the questions raised regarding lateral movement


Anonymous said...

I can't imagine that the 3 month grace periods will last in this economy.

Hiring Partner said...

Concur, they seem to be cutting back in the mass layoffs, but perhaps in the smaller. Anyway, just reporting what tradition was.

Justin said...

Random question: Can one be an appellate lawyer without being a trail attorney? I think my skills would lead me to being very good at the appellate level, but I don't think I would be very good in front of a jury.

Ariella said...

Here's what I'd like to hear about: if you're a third or fourth year associate working at a small firm, what is the best way to move to a larger firm with more opportunities for expansion and growth?

f-3 said...

Justin - I asked the same exact question prior to law school and during my 1L year. I even cold-called a bunch of appellate lawyers, who were kind enough to chat with absolutely-clueless-me.

Yes, you can be an appellate lawyer without being a trial attorney. However, all of the appellate attorneys I spoke with said you gain more credibility, and generally do better, if you have trial experience.

Primarily, when you review a trial transcript and pre-trial work for grounds for appeal, you pick up on a lot more if you have worked a trial before.

Many law firms still tap the attorney who was in charge of the trial to work on the appeals, simply because of familiarity / continuity. Whether they actually get up and do the oral argument is another question.

Although, your hunch is also correct that the two levels of work require completely different skill sets, simply because you are appealing (pardon the pun) to two very different audiences.

Their bottom line advice for me: Leave yourself open to doing trial work as you build your appellate practice. Do at least a few trials from beginning to end before hunkering down on appellate.

Finally - you will notice that many big firms have separate / distinct appellate practices. I don't know how much more prevalent that has become, but when I spoke with the attorneys 2-3 years ago, they said the trend was growing, but did not anticipate that it would grow too fast because appellate work was still perceived as more of a "prestige center" rather than a "profit center." I do not know if that is still true - HP can speak to this much better than I can.


Anonymous said...

In this economy, can somebody who didn't work as a lawyer straight out of law school find a job?

Quick rundown about my situation:

I graduated in '07 and took a year off to travel after law school. Rather than take a summer associateship after 2L year, I worked on a political campaign. As a decent student who graduated from a decent law school, I had decent opportunities in the law that I chose not to take (n.b. I have underachieved and accept that I deserved the mediocre results I got). A few professors of mine thought I should probably find a way to enter academia, and I agreed, so now I'm in a PhD program (which I'm enjoying).

My problem is that now my family is in pretty dire financial straits, and they need me to help them out. My dream of getting paid to think has been pretty much thrown out the window, or at least set aside. I have never been averse to practicing law, but I definently would prefer to be a professor than a practicing attorney. Anyways, making 40k a year at a small law firm isn't going to do the trick, and will actualy result in a net income, after taxes and paying off student loans, that is roughly equal to my grad school stipend.

So what is the best way for me to make money while developing my career?

a) Hold out for a good offer, even though the probability of obtaining one is low.

b) Take a job at Po & Dunk, work my ass off, and try to find a job that pays more after a year.

c) Hang out my shingle.

d) Bite the doc review bullet, try to make money now, and transition into something else later.

Any advise?

By the way, I'm not complaining, I just don't know which route is the best to take.

Anonymous said...


How about a post on non-equity/income partnership?

Mari said...


Anonymous said...

HP -- could you do a post on how to act in your annual review? I just had mine, and it was all good, lots of positive, 1 or 2 constructive criticisms. But one comment I thought was just wrong. How do you deal with (1) the constructive criticism and (2) any reviews that just seem flat-out wrong?