Five Things for Lawyers to Do in a Recession


When the economy sucks and the prospect of layoffs seems imminent, there’s not that much an associate can do.  You can’t single-handedly infuse energy into a lethargic—nay, crippled—financial system.  You can’t make crappy mortgage-backed bonds turn into creditworthy AAA debt.  You can’t resuscitate the dead M&A market.  But then again, you can’t just sit there and wait for the ax to fall.  Right?  Should you be looking for a new job?  Lots of questions, lots of anxiety, few answers.

As always, Bitter Lawyer is here to help, so our editors have compiled a list of five things to consider during this period of economic turbulence.

1Make up with that asshole junior partner you can’t stand. The one you had a little beef with nine months ago, but you didn’t think much about it because you were billing 2,000 hours a year.  Well, things are different now, cowboy.  The last thing you need right now is an enemy—let alone an equity enemy.  When revenues and profits-per-partner decrease, heads roll.  Fact.  Right now, in some random conference room, the “management committee” is looking for an excuse to pull the trigger.  And associates with “attitude problems” are the first to go.

2Make yourself useful. Learn a new skill set.  Offer to help out other partners/senior associates in different departments. For example, if you’re a really junior corporate associate (like a 1st or 2nd year), offer to help out the bankruptcy department. Or the litigation department with doc reviews. Hopefully, they’ll say no. But at least you asked – and at least you’re trying to cover your costs. Remember, this is a business. The firm pays your salary, your secretary’s salary, your insurance, etc… The other alternative, of course, is to hide in your office wearing a wig and giant nose and hope no one notices that your hours are 50% lower than last year’s – yet your salary’s 10% higher. Good luck with that one…

3Stop looking for new jobs. Now’s not the time. Wasted energy. Hunker down and do your best to keep the job you have. When things turn around, and it’s time to look for that new position, you’re going to want to be employed. So focus on that. Remember, it’s always easier to find a new job when you have a job. Like finding dates. When you’re dating or married, they’re everywhere.  Can’t walk down the street without getting some flirtatious run. The second you break up, you can’t get a smile from your goddamn doorman. Point is: Now’s not a great time to be “professionally single.” You will not get laid.

4Take advantage of your down time. Write an article. Teach a class. Organize a conference. Set up a lunch meeting with a prospective client (even if the odds of landing him are remote.) Again, you need to let partners know you’re trying—and that you’ll add value to the firm down the road. If you don’t know any “prospective clients,” have one of your sophisticated, well-dressed friends pretend to be the general counsel of some “growing Silicon Valley start-up looking to do lots of deals.”

5Go for broke. If you really, truly despise being a lawyer and have a genuine, deep-rooted entrepreneurial streak, now’s a hell of a good time to take a shot at greatness. Your opportunity costs suck right now anyway, so it’s not like you’re leaving that much on the table. Sure, you’d be giving up a guaranteed salary and all that (assuming you don’t get laid off), which is terrifying, but let’s face it, bonuses, partnership prospects and sexy, high-paying corporate jobs aren’t realistic right now. In other words, if you leave now, you’re not sacrificing that “big payoff” you might otherwise be forsaking when the economy’s booming and great jobs are falling out of the sky. If you’ve always dreamed of writing the great American novel or starting an uber-hip new media business, now’s not a bad time to give it whirl. Or you can just keep bitching and moaning about how shitty your life and job are. Your call.

Check out other lists, tallies and scores to settle in Bitter by Numbers.

Bitter Staff is a collection of current and former editors, contributors, and various other lawyers who have written for Bitter Lawyer over the years. Posts include interviews, contests, and other general lawyerly and bitter content.

4 Comments

  1. Andrea G

    October 6, 2008 at 3:47 am

    Advice #3 is misplaced.  You say don’t look for new jobs, but then say its always easier to find a job when you have a job.  Well, which is it?  I think the latter.  You are always better off keeping your eyes open, particularly if you think the axe will fall.  No one is talking about leaving until you find a job; but there’s no sin in looking.  I don’t understand how getting laid falls into the picture.  If we’re worried about our jobs, the last thing we’re thinking is spreading our legs for the doorman.

  2. Wilbur Moore

    October 9, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Another thing.  Don’t spend a lot of money taking out dames.  When times are good, men can afford to splurge on the women; heck, even the homely ones got treated royally.  And often no ROI. 
    Now, with tough times, we need to make sure we get a good ROI.  That means cutting out the non-performers.  No more nites out that fizzle out.  There has to be a proper agreed upon ROI up front or “no can do”. 
    This will likely result in a lot more saturday nites on the couch, but in these times, we have to economize.

  3. Cubby Esq.

    October 13, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Wilbur … hilarious … as it rapidly approaches midnight, I needed the laugh

  4. Al Dickman

    October 16, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    I also agree with Wilbur.  In a down market, we shouldn’t waste time with losers.

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