Negotiating Law Firm Lay Offs: You Can’t Save Your Face and Your Ass at the Same Time

From Settle It Now Negotiation Blog

When last we left the damsel in distress, she’d been laid off by an AmLaw200 firm and employed by a three-man outfit in Westwood.  They promised to clean up her office, but right now it was a storage room with a desk.  Used computer equipment, wire and cords were strewn about the floor; boxes of redwelds from cases long since settled or tried were precariously stacked one upon the other; while new and used demonstrative exhibits leaned against all four of the black scuffed beige walls. 

Just the facts.

  • I’m making exactly one-half the income I previously made
  • my new firm provides me with health insurance, but no other benefits
  • I don’t have access to Westlaw or Lexis, but am provided with a set of  3 and a half inch disks that contain California cases and Witkin
  • I don’t really have a secretary – there are two but they are “taken” – if I ask nice, once in awhile one or the other of them will do me an administrative favor, like format a pleading.  

(cartoon by the brilliant Charles Fincher of

Although I continue to practice general commercial litigation, everything about my practice seems slightly off. Like in that Ray Bradbury story (A Sound of Thunder) where wealthy game hunters go back in time to bag themselves a dinosaur only to return to a subtly skewed “present.”  One pulls the wings of a prehistoric butterfly from the sole of his shoe.  The butterfly effect.

I make telephone calls to opposing counsel and am treated with less respect than I had previously been accorded.  I make court appearances.  The Judges are no longer slightly deferential.  They do not ask after any of my locally famous partners.  My new clients are rougher around the edges.  More “street smart,” less polite.  There are no paralegals; no “IT” guy; no word processing department; no embossed business cards. 

Then there’s my boss.  My boss hums when he eats.  If he walks into a room, the furnishings fall into greater degree of disorder as if to accomodate themselves to his style, which is aggressively messy.  

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.

Tomorrow:  a New Life


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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