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Former BigLaw First-Year Recounts His Path to Joblessness

Joblesslawyer

The Jobless Lawyer blog provides a candid and eye-opening account of the plight of a recently laid-off first-year BigLaw lawyer. The anonymous blogger describes himself as a licensed attorney in the State of New York with two Ivy League degrees who, until March 2009, was practicing commercial litigation at one of the top 10 firms in the U.S. Based on the 190 layoffs at his firm that he mentions in this post, one can reasonably assume that he was an associate with Latham & Watkins, however briefly.

In a new post today, he describes how the firm's 60 first-year lawyers came out of a summer associate program and era that now seems quite foreign, where warnings of the crush of work and the lack of any "work-life balance" awaiting them were common. The class started in September and October 2008, but Jobless Lawyer claims that by February 2009 they could all see the writing on the wall, despite the firm's strong suggestions that there would be no layoffs.

The first-years, starved for billable work, competed against each other in a case staffing system that required a "game show fast-buzzer style" response. In short, whoever could read their e-mails the fastest and had the fastest typing fingers secured the most work:

An e-mail would go out from the central system “I need two attorneys to work on drafting a consumer credit agreement,” three seconds later… “thank you filled.” If you were on the phone, talking to your secretary, reading a case file, and for some reason didn’t see the e-mail the second it came in… consider yourself screwed. Relying on this system to get your work was guaranteed suicide and we all knew this.

Many of the young lawyers tried to stay busy with pro bono projects, but Jobless Lawyer says he soon found that "every other young associate at the firm had the same idea, and I'd venture to guess that many others at similarly situated Big Law firms did too." The supply of eager, free labor quickly overwhelmed the demand.

Many first-year lawyers took temporary refuge in massive document reviews, which were viewed as a "glimmer of hope, a glimmer of a chance to avoid what we came to see as the inevitable." Even in those temporary "safe zone" review rooms, however, the discussion always returned to the inevitable layoffs that seemed to await, and whether they could somehow be avoided. Could they be fired, they pondered, if they could not be physically located by the firm?

Ultimately the layoffs did come, as the firm decided to terminate 35 of the 60 first-years. The firm told the lawyers that it was a “coin flip” and was “not merit-based in any way.” Jobless Lawyer recounts how he was told he was being let go on a Friday, and was required to have his office cleared and his matters wrapped up by the following Monday. Indeed, he says that when he arrived to work on that Monday, "I was not allowed to enter my own office to pack up. I had to be greeted in the lobby by someone from HR who would watch me pack up my personal effects and then escort me out of the building."

There is much more in Jobless Lawyer's sad post about the experience. Read the whole thing here.

Posted by Bruce Carton on October 14, 2009 at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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