The Laid Off Diary: Dear Diary…this sucks.

Meritocracy? Try kakistocracy.
May 16, 2009, 10:06 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dear Diary:

My friend called me the other day and she was upset that she may be getting laid off. She was staffed on deals and then taken off before she even began working on them and has no idea what is going on. Is she safe? Is she about the get the ax? Even partners that she worked with before just give her the ol’ “I’ll keep you in mind” lip service. Are the partners slow? If so, then why is Ol’ XYZ over there getting work from that partner? She complained her get hours were low and is incredibly paranoid. Everyone’s hours are much lower than before but with people fronting or padding hours, you have no idea where you stand thus deepening your paranoia. My friend went to a top elite law school and graduated with highest honors. She’s no idiot. And law isn’t that hard that someone who can blaze through law school can’t handle junior associate transactional work of checking for commas, formatting, and signature pages.

But the thing that really kills me about how she is being treated, is not that she really is brilliant but hasn’t found a partner brave or powerful enough to take her under his wing and welcome her to his fiefdom. It’s not that politics and people’s biases are screwing her over. It’s how she is internalizing everything that is going on. She knows she is smart, she knows she does great work, and is efficient and a hard worker but I could tell she was seriously starting to doubt herself. All I could tell her is to keep her head down, try to get work, do the best she can, save money, and when the market picks back up, lateral or go in-house. She’s junior so if she gets shit canned now, she’s up shit creek. But, I also told her, not to forget that this particular firm cares nothing for her and isn’t a right fit for her so even if the market picks up and she gets work, she should still try to lateral. It’s terrible to see her up one day and then down in the dumps the very next day. I’ve been there. It’s an emotional roller coaster. Someone on ATL said not to tie your ego in with your career but that’s what most of us do and it wreaks havoc on us.

And the thing that really kills me about these lay offs in general is the general denial by the people who still have jobs that only the lowest common denominator got cut. Come on. Are you really going to live in that delusional world? Is it a coping mechanism so that you can talk yourself into believing you’re safe because you think you do good work and are therefore golden? Or is it just that you are a plain elitist asshole and find schadenfreude just a little too fun?

To deny politics at a firm is not only blatantly false but also a departure from reality. Why do you think our law school finals were anonymous? It’s human nature to play favorites or have biases. It’s natural for partners to use associates strategically (unless you thought the terms “pawn” or “cog” or “monkey” were really terms of endearment, in which case, your stupidity far surpasses the level at which any help from anyone would be useful).

Here’s a great comment from Above The Law that I found worthy (and hilarious and snarky) to quote:

“Your entire self-image is clearly tied up in your Big Law identity. Anyone who got laid off “couldn’t hack it?” I suppose that means you can and are “hacking it.” Congratulations. Tell us, do you really believe “performance” is the only factor driving who gets laid off? Big firm lawyers don’t play politics? Partners don’t play favorites? Everything is a meritocracy? Are you really that deluded? I’ll bet you think you’re a “valued employee.” You’re probably a mid-level or senior associate who bills like a maniac, looks like death warmed up and has trouble maintaining meaningful relationships. You think the job will save you. Guess what? It won’t. One day (and I hope it’s soon, please let it be soon!) you are going to choke on that smugness. Keep telling yourself only the bottom 10% got cut. Keep eating the shit your “colleagues” hand you with a knife and fork. Keep denigrating the associates who got laid off. I am confident you will get what’s coming to you. It really is sad that so many otherwise smart people can have the wool pulled over their eyes so easily. This is why Big Law is so unbearable. It’s full of “book smart” people who are not only divorced from reality but are trained to ignore basic human decency and are rewarded for being cruel. Its a toxic douchebag stew that produces Kool Aid drinking smug bastards like 194.”

Wool Over Your Eyes
Wool Over Eyes

It’s true that I’m sure some deadweight got the ax. But you also have to think that some were dead weights because they were jack-offs but some were dead weights because they fell through the cracks at BigLaw–no partners picked them up, they were too shy to network, they were discriminated against (yes, happens much more frequently than we would hope), they rubbed someone the wrong way inadvertantly–and just weren’t getting the billables even though they wanted to work hard. But many, many were excellent lawyers and it was a business decision–section is slow, or politics got in the way, or just business decisions independent of merit. Also, we haven’t hit bottom. If you commit yourself to the belief that only the worst attorneys get the ax, then make sure you are willing to suck that up when you get shit canned.

–politics, son, politics


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great post. I was one of the ones who got the ax because of politics – I was a transfer from another office and realized too late they were never going to like me as much as their “own” people that they originally chose to hire. I will fully admit though, that when I heard of attorneys being asked to move on (prior to the economy crashing), I always assumed their work wasn’t up to par. Now, I know better, and people making those comments about how “the worst 10% were terminated” might learn that painful lesson shortly enough as well.

Comment by Anna

“Toxic douchebag stew”? Quote of the year!

Yeah, politics plays more into the decisions more than anything else. If you are friends with the right people, you aren’t going anywhere.

Comment by Beesh

I had the same issue as Anna, I transferred offices to be closer to my family, and was never properly integrated. In fact, in my office everyone I knew who got laid off or who quit because they could see the axe coming due to low billables were all orphan laterals (those who came without a partner) or transfers from other offices. During my exit interview they acknowledged that was a big problem for them, but they were at the point where they were admitting they were doing purely recession based firings, and billables was the only was to distinguish associates.

On the other hand, I know a first year at another firm who had high billables, seemed to be well-liked and getting assignments, and was actually laid off the day after she stayed until midnight to help get a closing done. That is cold.

But I have a question for you, diary guy, why would you tell your building management that you were laid off? It was a bit touchy for me that I had to find a new apartment after the layoff because I didn’t want to spend the hella high rent when I didn’t know when my next check was coming, and for new apartments management often asks for a letter from your employer, so that was dicey handling that, but I wouldn’t have told my current management I was laid off if I was staying. I would be concerned that it would backfire as a negotiating tactic, because even though they may take pity on you, they may just worry you can’t afford to pay so don’t care if you leave.

Comment by Nasrin

Good question. Pretty much I got laid off, freaked out, and was trying to decrease my rent before the lease ran up because I didn’t think I was going I stay. The End of (my) World Was Near.

Totally backfired because I don’t know if they will actually renew it now or lower it as much. But I think at the very least, if I keep paying on time until the end of my lease, then they will hopefully renew for me at favorablw terms to keep a good tenant rather than taking a risk on a new tenant, having the apt be empty for a week to a month, or having to relet at a lower amount than what I’m asking. And the mgmt said that the time my lease is up is the worst time to try I find new tenants but it’s up to the owner to decide.

Let’s hope it all works out. Otherwise, I can always move in with someone and not be on the lease (which is very common and what I’m doing with my current roommate).

Or, maybe I will find a job before my lease ends.

Comment by Laidoffdiary

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