You might find this hard to believe but, compared to many businesses, law firms are sweet and gentle when it comes to axing lawyers. "Usually, firms hint that you should start looking around before they tell you officially," says recruiter Merle Vaughn of Major Lindsey & Africa. The problem, she says, is that "some people don't understand the hint and keep hanging on."
The rest of Corporate America is not so coddling. In many companies, employees are told to pack up and leave—pronto. Sometimes, they simply get a call early in the morning at home that they need not show up for work—ever.
Such is the bruising reality of business. And that's even true in the world of journalism. Recently, my company ALM laid off a bunch of seasoned editorial staff members—for reasons unrelated to performance—as part of a company-wide reorganization. (Note to parents: Don't let your babies grow up to be journalists.)
Law firms might take their time in bidding their attorneys adieu, but it's wise to stay one step ahead of the game. Besides the obvious money signs (like not getting a raise with your class or being demoted), here are the more subtle indicators that your head is on the chopping block:
1. You get no face time with partners, and your calls to them go directly to the black hole of voicemail. Ditto with the partners' assistants.
2. Junior associates stop dropping by your office to shoot the breeze, and paralegals cease to chuckle at your jokes. But the night janitor is still pleasant toward you.
3. Your secretary brushes you off, even though he's checking out Tinder or surfing e-Bay most of the day. Other extreme: your secretary is overly solicitous, constantly asking you if you're okay and offering to bring you a cup of tea.
4. Your office is moved between the vending machines and the handicapped bathroom.
5. You work from home four days in a row but no one asks where you've been or seem to care.
6. You are not invited to department lunches, golf outings or going away parties. (Caveat: Fired employees do not get nice send-off parties, unless they end up in-house as potential clients.)
7. You are not invited to pitches even though you were part of the original brainstorming sessions.
8. You are dropped from the recruiting or mentoring committee and put on the fire drill or plant selection committee.
9. Your mentor's spouse acts like she has no idea who you are, even though you've spent Seder at their home for the last seven years.
10. You don't get passed the ball on your firm's soccer/basketball team.
11. Your law school friend tells you she was contacted by a headhunter for a position at your firm that sounds just like current job.
12. You no longer get any billable work.
13. You no longer get any pro bono work.
14. You no longer get any administrative work—not even taking food orders for the group.
15. You no longer get invited to eat dinner with the team in the conference room. (Of course, you won't notice that because you've leaving the office by 2 p.m. anyway.)