Greetings from the future.
After being laid off last year 13 days before Christmas, I couldn’t help but resent the managing partner at my law firm who, in an effort to protect his personal bottom line, blindsided me with a pink slip in the late afternoon of Friday, December 12, 2008. So last year, I left you on a low note during the holiday season with my bitter Christmas list for Santa.
I was the first in a wave of layoffs that no one saw coming. And after a drunken weekend with a few still-employed firm friends, I returned to the office on Monday to face the feigned dismay, awkward condolences and complete disregard—because I was associate-kryptonite, lest they be next. But I held my head high and endured the obligatory apologies. Why? Because I was asked to continue reporting to the office until January 31, while I searched for a new job.
On February 1, I still hadn’t drummed up a single a lead. But I woke up a new man. The stress had lifted. The bitterness had eased. I knew myself again.
Looking back almost a year later, I still believe every word I wrote. The firm does employ stupid people. (In fact, I realize now, every firm does.) And many of them remain the shot-callers. But now, instead of cursing them for dropping me dead into the middle of the worst legal job market in generations, nearly forcing me into foreclosure during the worst real estate market in as many generations, I am thankful. Grateful for their decision to vote their own pocketbooks. In hindsight, being laid off (eventually) gave me a life better than any BigLaw associate I know.
At the risk sounding like an overly bouyant guy who’s been re-awakened and christened by the Kool-Aid of the law, I feel it’s important for everyone to know that recovery is possible. Being an out-of-work lawyer cliché isn’t permanent, and you actually may end up in a better place. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s possible.
So what’s on my bitter list this Thanksgiving? I’m thankful that…
1. After months of searching, I only became hungrier and more aware.
2. After months of searching, I realized I was smaller-law material.
3. After months of searching, I learned the difference between a friend, a professional acquaintance and a total dick.
4. Only one firm offered me a job worth considering. And since it was in a totally new market, I had to relocate at my own expense. Which has been amazing. I love my new city. Not a single thing reminds me of my former Big Firm life—and I never run into any of the prestige-whoring fops I used to work for.
5. I no longer have a billable-hour requirement, and the release of that pressure makes me twice as productive.
6. I learned that some firms play fair with their associates, and for the first time in my career, I will receive a year-end bonus that’s directly related to my profitability.
7. After crunching the numbers, I will still end up earning about the same amount as guys in my start class at the old firm who’ve been clawing at each other all year for limited work from partners in love with the fact they can now play God when assigning projects.
8. My best friend’s wife no longer refers to me as sullen, gaunt, ashen or bleak.
9. I’ve met partners who aren’t asshats and actually work for their clients, which, in turn, makes me actually want to do good work for them.
10. The synergy of good management and my newfound desire to perform affords me bigger assignments and greater responsibility than ever.
11. My months of misery can conceivably provide a thread of hope for those in similar situations.
If you’re going through hell, keep going. Stay confident. Be honest with yourself. And while nothing cures bitterness altogether, hopefully your list next year will be as thankful as mine today. Happy holidays.
Got a Bitter Rant of your own? Email it to.