Friday, April 10, 2009

Funny Thing Happened On The Way To World Domination

I got laid off.

Come to think of it, that really isn't that funny.

So there is this joke I (used) to tell about how I was surprised when I got called back for an interview with my (now former) firm (henceforth, "The Firm"). I had been so sure that The Firm wouldn't be that interested in me that I had been completely relaxed during my on-campus 20 minute interview - it was a wash out already, I figured, so I just went into it thinking it would be another good practice session, had a very nice and normal conversation with the recruiter, and then didn't think much more about it. The same was true for the call-back interview in The Firm's office in Chicago - no way they were going to hire some old guy with a ton of public interest/government stuff on his resume, so might as well have fun, enjoy the free lunch and hotel room, and not worry too much about it. The "joke" concludes that perhaps there was some mistake that got me through all the screening steps that should have alerted them that I wasn't "one of them" and that I kept expecting that they would realize their mistake and that I would get a little tap on the shoulder and a nice, burly man in grey to escort me from the building. 

On the morning of Friday, February 27, 2009,  I got the tap on the shoulder - although it was really a call from one of the hiring partners and a very civil meeting in my, at that point soon-to-be-former, office and rather than a security guy to escort me out I was given a week to "transition" all of the current matters I was working on.

But here is the thing about that "joke" - it was almost total bullshit. My way of being self-deprecating about having landed a very nice, very prestigious, and very over-paid job that I felt I was supposed to feel at least a little bit sheepish about. I was a cattle-rancher's son and suburban under-achiever, for crap's sake.
Truth was, though that I loved the job, liked the prestige, and felt like I deserved to be there. I was working beside smart and motivated people from much more impressive sounding schools, but when I looked around I didn't say "crap, I am out of my league," I said "yeah, I think I can take these guys." With the rare exception of a couple of truly mind-blowing legal superstars (and one up and coming superstar), I knew that if I was willing to put my shit down, I could hang. I didn't feel out-matched or out-classed, I felt like I belonged. I still feel that way, although it is a little hard not to internalize The Firm's apparent disagreement on this score.

So, I have been back out on the market for a little over a month. I fully anticipated being out here again at some point. (Even if I had decided that I wanted to shoot for the partnership brass ring, generally less than one in ten junior associates ever make it through to partner at the same firm that they start in.) I just did not expect it to come around so soon.

The gloss had come off The Firm apple a bit in the last six months. There had never been enough work to go around from the day I started back in 2007, but the second half of 2008 was pretty dismal. Work was extremely thin, and I had never landed a substantial assignment in the area of law that I was most interested in. The politics, bureaucracy and day-to-day bs that comes along with any large organization was even more prominent than it would have been had they been working us all to death (as would be usual, and as we had expected when we signed on).

Even still, I had sought out and landed several excellent work experiences - my Seventh Circuit appeal being a particular highlight - and had grown to be very close friends and colleagues with many people at The Firm. While my layoff may still end up being a relatively "good thing" in the end, it would be disingenuous of me to say that I was happy to be laid off, because I most certainly was not. Beyond the financial hit (mitigated by a generous severance package), I continued to be eager to show my stuff. To prove what I knew to be true, that I could hang.