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Layoff Lessons From One Who's Been There

History has a way of repeating itself. As we suffer our way through the current recession, we forget that we've been through down times before and survived. Perhaps the recession of 1990 and 1991 was less dramatic than the current slump, but for lawyers who lost their jobs in that go-around, the pain was no less than what many lawyers are feeling today.

Victoria Pynchon reminds us of this through a continuing series of posts at her blog Settle it Now that she is calling "The Perils of Pauline." In this melodrama, Pauline's real name was Victoria and, in the spring of 1992, she felt the aftershocks of the recession first-hand when an Am Law 200 law firm laid her off.

I was a twelfth year associate with no book of business. I was making a lot of money with liberal bonuses, and tremendous benefits. And I was pretty much spending all of it every month. The new car and the new condo. An expense-account life-style I'd taken on when not on a business trip. An attitude. Sound familiar to anyone?

Before long, she was able to find another job. But in moving from her former job to her new one, "I was about to cross the divide from one legal profession to another." She went from an office in a sleek Los Angeles high-rise to a desk in a storage room in a three-lawyer suburban firm. She was earning exactly one-half what she'd been paid before, was receiving no benefits other than health insurance, had no secretary and no longer had access to online legal research.

I drive home one late summer evening and tote up my bills. The housing market has crashed and my condo is underwater. I owe the homeowners' association five grand - then a considerable sum. I cannot pay the HOA and my house payment as well. I have other bills. I'd just returned from rafting rivers through Costa Rican rainforests when I was laid off. I'd been too busy to keep track of my expenses.

It seems that I have, finally and quite irrevocably, failed."

We know better, of course. Pynchon continued to have a successful career in litigation and then to become a full-time mediator who helps resolve the same types of complex commercial cases she once litigated. Her story of how she got from there to here continues to unfold on her blog. But for any laid-off lawyer today who looks ahead and sees only bleakness, Pynchon's story provides reason to hope.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 19, 2009 at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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