Q: We’ve heard about a lot of lawyer layoffs, but rarely with any details about the process. How exactly did it go down?
A: I was in my office, probably playing Desktop Tower Defense or MafiaWars and got a call from the partner who handles giving assignments to corporate associates. She just asked me to come to her office, which is pretty much how any new assignments start. Immediately after hanging up, I got a call from another first year who said she had just been laid off and wanted me to come to her office. I tried explaining I just got a call and was probably getting canned too, but she kept insisting I come over there and talk to her right that moment. After explaining a couple more times that I couldn’t chat because the boss was waiting for me to go to her office so she could fire me, I just hung up.
I got the sort of speech you’d expect. It’s not you, it’s me, that sort of thing. I don’t really think I said anything more than just “okay” at the end of it. It was pretty boring really. They could have made it a lot shorter. It was a bit awkward how long it took them. There was another partner there too, the head of one of the other practice groups. They couldn’t quite get their stories straight about whether the lack of work meant the firm couldn’t afford to keep me or if it meant that I wouldn’t get enough experience to justify keeping me. I think the bottom line was just that they crunched some numbers, figured they could can a few of us and give our work to the remaining people and save a couple bucks.
Q: Did you have much work at the time?
A: It was slow when I first started, but when I was laid off I was actually at my busiest. Our litigation department was short-staffed and had a ton of grunt work that didn’t really require any litigation experience, so some of the corporate associates were repurpased. A lot of us who were canned were actually billing quite a bit. I’d actually billed enough hours at that point to have brought in about twice what they were paying me. I really think the firm just saw a chance to work fewer associates harder. In a normal economy firing a bunch of people would be a big news story and hurt recruiting. But when every other firm is laying people off, no one’s going to notice.
Q: Did they maybe see that there wouldn’t be much work for you down the road?
A: Maybe, if they were idiots. The very next day most of us that were let go were given new assignments.
Q: How can you give work to someone who was just laid off?
A: We were actually just given notice that we’d be let go in about 10 weeks. We were still expected to come into the office.
Q: So you worked even after being told you wouldn’t have a job any more?
A: Hell no. I still put in some face time. I didn’t really have much else to do, and I figured it’d make things more awkward for everyone else in the office if I kept coming in.
My office mate though, he got the call right after I did, he kept working. He was staffed on the same bullshit doc review work I was and was super paranoid about getting re-fired for not working.
A: Yeah, like they would terminate us even sooner. We were still getting paid, so I guess there was something to lose, but I figured that it’d take the firm too long to analyze the time sheets, realize I wasn’t doing anything, reprimand me and explain that I was still expected to work and then discover I still wasn’t working I’d already be gone.
I did about an hour of doc review in those 10 weeks. And I fielded a question about some research I’d done previously. That was pretty much it. As far as I was concerned finding Job #2 just became Job #1.
Q: So with all that free time in the office did you cause any trouble? Any corporate sabotage?
A: I guess a little. In the hour of doc review I did, I went through about 7000 documents.
Q: 7000 in one hour?
A: Yeah. A lot of electronic doc review is simply separating out things that are obviously trash from things that could possibly be relevant. Automated news alerts from Bloomberg.com, which are then forwarded to 100 different people obviously aren’t going to be relevant. You don’t have to read through them to know this, you just highlight them all and mark it as junk.
We literally had hundreds of thousands of documents, and maybe only one in a thousand would be close to relevant. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. As a human being with a deadline, you have limited time you can put into the project, and the client has limited funds to pay you with. We had a bankrupt client, so the funds were really limited. The only way to competently review that many documents is to just throw away the stuff that’s incredibly unlikely to have any relevant documents. If you spent even just 1 minute per document, you might never get to the relevant ones, your time would be up. 7000 documents at 60 docs an hour would cost the client over $30,000. And there were hundreds of thousands of documents, and this is just the first round of review. If we find anything relevant, it goes to someone higher up for analysis. The client doesn’t have that kind of money.
Q: But since you were laid off, why would you even bother?
A: Because I knew the other people doing the doc review, and I knew they would go at the incredibly expensive, entirely useless snail’s pace. Maybe not 60 an hour, but I knew people who thought 100 docs an hour was fast. That’s slow even if you’re actually reading them. I don’t really know how many billable hours I destroyed, but I hope it was enough to cost the firm more money than they were saving by getting rid of me.
Q: Any other trouble making?
A: I leaked the layoffs to Above the Law, of course. Someone else did too. They told me they needed a second source before they’d run with the story, and there were some facts they reported that I know didn’t come from me.
Oh, and I updated the firm’s Wikipedia page. I think reporting record profits and then canning a bunch of junior associates meets Wikipedia’s relevancy standards. I’m hoping someone at the firm changes it back and we can get into an editing war. That might be newsworthy enough to show up on ATL. Anything to embarrass them is pretty cool with me.
[In the next segment we explore the not-so-interesting aspects of being unemployed in the big city.]