Business of Law

Where are they now? Laid off after 2008 crash, ex-associates rebound into new careers

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In retrospect, attorney Nancy Cremins calls her 2008 maternity leave ill-timed.

She had been at Robinson & Cole for five years and two leaders of the firm cried in her office when they told her in 2009 that she was among five percent of the firm’s workforce being laid off. However, her hours had inevitably been low due to her pregnancy and, once she knew layoffs were looming, she had foreseen that the ax would fall on her job as an associate attorney there, reports the American Lawyer (sub. req.).

Cremins had a good network already in place, and she began working it even before she knew for sure that she would be losing her job. Within nine weeks she had landed a new position at Gesmer Updegrove in Boston. On Jan. 1 she made partner there. Now she wonders if, perhaps, being laid off might have been the best thing that could have happened to her, career-wise, since she had no guarantee of becoming a partner at Robinson & Cole.

Other attorneys who lost jobs in the mass layoffs made by law firms during the Great Recession that followed the implosion of Lehman Brothers in 2008 haven’t necessarily done as well. But all have moved on with their lives, by necessity, sometimes into very different careers than the ones they had anticipated.

Emptying her desk within hours of getting the bad news from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson a month or so before Cremins was laid off, associate Sara Pak weathered the blow without saying much (others, she said, “were smarter and negotiated their packages”) and spent the day with a friend who had also just lost his job.

She moved from New York to California, traveled to Asia and became a scuba instructor in Thailand, having a wonderful vacation before eventually returning to Los Angeles and living with her mother while she tried to resurrect her legal career. It didn’t take long for her to land an in-house job at Nuveen Investments Inc., but last year she left to work for a friend from college who is a commodities trader and today calls herself an entrepreneur as she explores potential new ventures.

Kevin Silberman, who was one of 190 associates laid off by Latham & Watkins in a single February day in 2009, also used the forced vacation as an opportunity to travel. He went to South America for nine months, “learning Spanish and drinking lots of wine.” When he returned, he happily worked for a family worker’s compensation law firm in Los Angeles.

He says he found he enjoyed small-firm practice much more than BigLaw. However, in 2011 he and a former college roommate started a tour bus company, A Day in L.A. Tours, just as a hobby. It took off and now has multiple employees. Silberman is still keeping his day job, though, at least for now.

Their stories may or may not be typical, but all demonstrated an ability to roll with the punches and change their game plan when life didn’t turn out as they expected and they suddenly lost their desirable, well-paid associated positions.

Their advice to others who may be in similar situations is to realize that a holding a job with a major law firm may not be all that important, in the grander scheme of things, and not to be afraid to venture into new territory.

“There are certain people that fit a culture like that, and it was pretty evident I was not one of those people,” says Silberman of his former job in BigLaw. “They compensate you very well, and in return I think you have to give them a lot. Some people are willing to make those sacrifices, and I probably wasn’t.”

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