Open Letter to Lawyers Employed By Firms

Posted by | July 28, 2009 | Miscellaneous | No Comments

To all lawyers working for a firm:

I understand how lawyers might feel, sitting in their office all day and feeling scared about losing your job through lay off or full firm-meltdown:

  • You are reading “This Week in Layoffs” on Above the Law and the many other legal tabloids posting hourly updates on pay cuts, pushed-back first year start dates, impending possible massive layoffs and even suicides “resulting” from layoffs. 
  • Your co-workers often bring this up over Gchat or your firm’s ichat: “Did you hear that the firm will re-evaluate numbers at mid-year?  That’s when they say the corporate associates will get cut in half.”  “I heard Douglas didn’t leave to raise his children but really it was a performance-based fire.”
  • As you see it, there is a total lack of jobs out there and if you are laid off, you are dead in the water. You will not make rent/house payment, you will be a failure without any options.

It’s amazing you are able to survive the day without Valium (or maybe you’re already crossed that bridge) in this state of total panic. 

In a frenzy of fear with a thick layer of stress on top, I can only continue to imagine the agony of your current state and it’s effects:

Is your hair falling out? are you gaining weight? have you released your confidence in your work product and performance? These are just a few of the inevitable results of maintaining a constant state of stress.  Read about your body’s natural reaction to stress here.

EXCELLENT NEWS: You don’t have to live this way, even (or especially) in light of the circumstances described above.

If the side effects are not enough for you to be motivated to hustle on out of your fear frozen existence, think of the benefits of working your way into a better frame of mind: (1) peace, (2) restful sleep, (3) improved work product, (4) ability to think clearly enough to come up with your ideal plan B.

Here are your 4 steps to freedom!

STEP 1: Stop reading the tabloids and listening to your idiot co-workers.  What the hell do they know, anyway? They are scared, and scared people are SCARY.

Next time, back out of the room slowly if a co-worker is spewing their fears all over your face.  Say, “It sounds like you’re kind of freaked out about losing your job. Let’s talk about something else so I can stop hating being around you.” 

Change the subject, ask them about their kids or the gym or their love life. People LOVE talking about themselves and they will most likely take the bait.  Secret: If you don’t feed their blather about lay offs and push backs and pay cuts, they’ll stop talking about. Remember Shamu and the woman who trained her husband?

If subject change fails with this person, you have my permission to stop hanging out with them. Do what you need to do.  Besides, I know you have other friends with less bad things to say, and this person will get the picture sooner and zip the lip if his or her friends are honest.

As you read this, if you are realizing that YOU are the Chicken Little (“CL”) of the your associate class, running around screaming that the end is near, ask yourself (and be honest):

  • Does it make you feel happy when you talk about doom?
  • Are you blessed with permanent relief from your anxiety when you instill fear in others?
  • When you discuss your the fears of in your mind with people, does it make them feel LESS real?
  • Do you like feeling scared and acting scary?

The correct answer to each of these questions is “NO”.  CL, my friend, keep on reading to find the way out of your personal law firm hell where you have a job and yet live in paranoia that you will not have a job.

STEP 2: Take a good look at your fears and see them for what they are – LIES!  Make a list of the things that you are afraid of and ask, do I know with 100% certainty that this is 100% true no matter what?

EXAMPLE: I am afraid that if I am laid off, everyone will think I am a failure and I will not be able to get another job at a firm. 

First of all, who is “everyone”?  When you catch yourself using any generalized other, such as NO ONE or EVERYONE or EVERYBODY, stop and ask yourself to name six people whom you are referring to when you say “everyone”.  The mind is tricky, and the generalized other is usually just one parent or your neighbor or one particularly nasty partner.

Beat your mind at its own game and come up with 6 people that are supportive and inspire you in a positive way and print their pictures (mine includes Ina Garten and Julia Roberts, FYI) as your new EVERYBODY. This new, supportive collective other might even be glad if you got fired because goondess knows you weren’t wildly passionate about mergers and doc review. At the very least, choose an EVERYBODY that is empathetic and supportive and on your side.

Second of all, can you know 100% for sure that you cannot get another job at a firm? In all of the cities in all of the world, there is NO JOB you can find at a firm and you know that without any possibility of being wrong? Of course you don’t – how could you. Besides, can you say that with 100% certainty it would be 100% bad for you not to go work for another firm?

Of course you cannot know that, your future remains untold.

STEP 3. Come to grips with the fact that you were and always will be self-employed.

Maybe you thought that there was a clear and reliable firm path that you plodded along and if you did this, you would be “safe”.  Maybe you were under the impression that the firm was going to take care of you like a parent and give you allowance indefinitely. 

Whatever your thinking, the truth is that the firm is a business with the goal of making a profit.  When you work for a company with the bottom line in mind, you are what is called a line item and you are only kept in the business if your numbers (hours billed versus salary paid) add to the firm’s bottom line.

This is not evil, this is fact.  They are not looking out for your best interest (that’s your job) and they will fire you at will.  The firm has no emotions towards you, it is neutral and always will be. Don’t love something that cannot love you back.

The firm is not the boss of you even if it hands you a paycheck – YOU are the CEO of YOU, Inc., the Managing Member of YOU, LLC and the Managing Partner of YOU, LP. You are the only one in charge of your career and expecting a firm to run it for you and then feeling upset when it doesn’t will NOT change that fact.

Because you are your own boss, if you see the law firm side of your business as crumbling around the edges, what might you do?

ANSWER: As a savvy businessperson, you don’t wait for the world to end… as your business becomes shakey, you work on changing things up. You work on developing a service or product that seems to be needed by the people you want to serve AND that you would like and enjoy providing.

The changing climate is an opportunity for you to begin altering the nature of YOU, Inc.  Which leads me to Step 4….

STEP 4: Start making your dreams your Plan B. Maybe there is less work to do and hours to bill – now’s your chance to build your Plan B!  Since you have gutted the 4 hours per day reading legal tabloids and gossiping, you now have 4 hours in the office to spend on this task.

Start by thawing out those passions that you banished to the arctic when you joined the firm and lean into them.   What did you love studying in college – psychology? Political science? Read the most popoular current publications! Do you feel energized doing the pro-bono work for domestic violence or divorces? Join the Bar Associations Committee for this!  Do you love eating out?  Start a food blog!

Get close to your passions to find the opportunities to make your own mark in them.  Now that you have more time, you have someone paying you to explore other avenues for You, Inc. if this firm thing goes bust. 

Tell me this: When Lehman collapsed and half of Bank of America was fired, who felt better – the people that had stressed and feared and waited for the end to come, or the people who had thought through, investigated and developed other career opportunities?

DENOUEMONT: Now that you have removed yourself from the whirlpool of panic, accepted your self-employed status and title of President of your own career, and seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to add onto your current law firm revenue stream with another, more fun option, you have created a calmer, higher quality attorney who can produce better work and bring peace to those around you.  Ah, that’s much better. 

Next time you’re tempted to cure boredom by ingesting vile negativity, instead foster that interest and revise that business plan. Isn’t it nice to work for yourself?

About Laurie Beard

just another person doing something she loves

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