Business & Finance Careers & Employment

Laid-Off Lawyers Need Options, Not Outplacement

The world of big law firms has never seen anything like the layoffs that have happened during the first 3 months of 2009.
 Speaking from my own experience as a lawyer with Milbank for nearly 10 years, I can say with confidence that the typical large firm lawyer did not waste time worrying about job loss or layoffs.
 With a certain set of credentials in hand, we all seemed bullet proof.
 Even if one firm was not a perfect fit, there would, it seemed, always be endless others big firm options for lawyers like us.
  In recent months, thousands of highly-credentialed lawyers have been asked to leave what appeared only a year ago to be solid and secure positions with the world's best law firms.
 Many have heavy debt burdens from law school.
 Most have little or no experience outside of a large law firm, and therefore have little experience to draw upon in navigating this sudden and dramatic change.
  The old methodology for laying off the occasional lawyer amounted to a reasonable severance package along with paid access to an outplacement service.
 All parties involved assumed (usually correctly) that another firm opportunity would emerge in due course, and it usually did.
 The lawyer ended up in a firm that was a better fit, and the firm could move forward, knowing that it had liberated the lawyer to a good opportunity in the fairest and most gracious way possible.
  The landscape today offers nothing akin to what I just described.
 Vast numbers of lawyers are adrift with skill sets that have no immediate relevance in cities full of law firms that have no need or desire to grow an associate talent base.
 To offer a lawyer outplacement in such a context is at best thoughtless and ineffective, and at worst, it amounts to an insult.
  If law firms seek to offer something of value to lawyers that will be let go, those firms need to think about creative and innovative services that will truly assist these lawyers in thinking outside of the limited paradigms in which they've lived and worked.
 Those paradigms have vanished.
 In their place are much less structured and obvious options, and most large firm lawyers do not have the experience, the vision or the models necessary to conceive of these options, much less to explore them and develop ways to execute strategies around them.
  We are talking about transition coaching, life coaching, career coaching.
 We are talking about personalized approaches and individual analysis.
 We are talking about helping these talented people to step back and see themselves from a new perspective where they are multi-dimensional, creative, unique and bold.
 When that is possible, what appears to be a devastating shock can be translated into a rare opportunity to move forward toward new and exciting endeavors.
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