An enormous asteroid struck my firm today, in the form of a mass layoff. A little over 5% of lawyers in the U.S. offices, and the same proportion in Chicago. There were staff layoffs, too; not sure how many staff — call it 20 in Chicago who were given their walking papers. All departments were affected. The announcement emphasized that it was purely an economic decision; in better times, we’d have kept these people.
I survived, and still have a job to go back to in the morning, but I admit to being pretty shaken up. I found out about the impending layoffs last night, and was reasonably confident that I wouldn’t be included, but not totally confident. I kept waiting for the knock on the door, or the phone call from our department head, or an email, telling me to pack my stuff and go.
I exported my contacts to a file and emailed them to my personal email account, but there wasn’t all that much else for me to do. I spent most of the day in my office with the door closed, because every time I went out in the hall the people I saw had the same weird expression on their faces that I was sure was on mine.
My secretary was fired. I think I know why she was on the list, and it pisses me off since the only person affected by this issue was me, and I didn’t care, but nobody asked my opinion. She was good at her job, and I hope she finds another one soon.
The survivors are shell-shocked. This happens less often in large law firms than other businesses — I’ve been in practice for 14 years, and have never experienced a mass layoff; even during the 2000-2002 tech wreck, my old firm fired people one by one over time, and only in particular practice areas. But there has been a steady drumbeat of layoff stories on the biglaw blogs for a couple of months now; The Firm held out as long as it could, but you can’t fight this economy.
After an asteroid strike, the dust and debris kicked up by the impact obscures the sky, sometimes for months, blocking the sun and creating an artificial winter. Maybe that’s why this winter has been so brutal, from all of the asteroids falling to earth.