Is This Déjà Vu All Over Again?

Layoff NoticeOnce upon a time, in the “good old days,” tongue firmly in cheek, before 2009 and the stupendous crash (sorry, I call it a crash, but you can call it the “Great Recession” if you prefer), new admittees and associates often had their pick of offers. Then came the turbulent times — I remember them because I am old — and lawyers were whacked unceremoniously. Some were newbies. Some were what the firms called “unproductive,” a term of art. Some newbies had their start dates extended and ultimately cancelled. Cruise through ATL’s archives to see how bad those bad times were. “Brutal” is an understatement. Kathryn Rubino’s post from 2016 reminds us of all just how bad it was.

Is the present wave of layoffs “déjà vu all over again?” Just as in 2009, explanations such as “performance issues” are proffered. Please. And just exactly when did those “performance issues” arise? Coincidentally, right at the time that the firm or corporate law department made the decisions to reduce headcount and couldn’t figure out other ways to do it without potentially violating anti-discrimination laws. Any performance evaluations to support the decisions? Any PIPs (performance improvement plans?) What do you think? My thought is that some peeps didn’t want to slice the pie into smaller pieces. Some peeps could stand to lose some weight, but not employees. Is anyone else sick of the phrase “doing more with less?”

Maybe some firms will be willing to tighten their belts and keep employees. However, the ability to keep that promise is all dependent on workflow, and if there’s not enough work, then it’s game over. Deferring start dates is just one way of coping with less demand, but what about succeeding entry classes and their start dates? Crunch time. Brand spanking-new lawyers or within a couple years of that were in middle school 15 years ago and so the last thing kids that age at that time thought about was the possibility of lawyer layoffs, let alone figuring out career choices.

Times are different now, or are they? For those of you who either have severance agreements in hand or expect to receive one, please do not act as your own lawyer. Remember that Abe Lincoln is often credited with having said that only a fool has himself for a lawyer, and so far, even Donald Trump at his arraignment took that advice — probably against his own — for lack of a better word, judgment.

I’m not about to provide legal advice, but scrutinize your severance agreement very carefully. It’s in your best interest. And now, your best interest is what matters.

One of the suckiest things about being an adult is having to look for work. I don’t think there’s anyone who gets up, gets sufficiently caffeinated, gets to spend hours searching for another job and thinks it’s been a good day. It is mind-numbing, repetitious, soul-sucking, and makes for low self-esteem. Job search rejection is never pretty or uplifting or energizing. It takes life out of you.

And if all these feelings aren’t enough, apparently, it’s now necessary to have a BS detector in the search.

One of the main points in the article is that recruiters can be, in the words of a former client of mine, “lying sacks of [fill in the blank].” He didn’t leave it blank; I will but you can probably make an educated guess. Recruiters can be Pinocchio to greater or lesser degrees. The first fount of misinformation is the compensation rubric: salary and benefits. In many ways, discussions of these two items are a shell game, leaving you to guess which cup conceals the pea. It can often be a matter of semantics, giving the recruiter an out because of a misunderstanding in language.

Another major kiss-off is “keeping your resume on file.” Have you ever received a callback months or even years after the prior “successful” candidate didn’t work out? I thought so. I did keep one candidate’s resume on file after she interviewed for several positions because they weren’t right for her knowledge and skills, but she was a superstar. When the right position arose, I called her, she interviewed, and we hired her. She was one of the best hires ever and was there for years. It can happen, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

Requests that you provide input on a project are unacceptable grabs for your unpaid advice and knowledge. If you feel you are being taken advantage of, you probably are, and this is just a preview of things to come. Run, don’t walk, away.

Remote work? Hybrid? Again, definitions matter. Is a job totally WFH or will there be requirements for face time? These terms need to be nailed down in the interview process. And it’s possible that the recruiter has already scoped the landscape to assure the employer that it has already chosen and hired the best possible candidate, leaving you to feel both used and abused.

Layoffs happen anywhere and to anybody. No one is immune. It can happen to a newbie, a senior lawyer without a sufficiently substantial book of business, and anyone in between. Layoffs have no mercy, but maybe they should. It could happen to you.

old lady lawyer elderly woman grandmother grandma laptop computerJill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at

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