Q. My legal career had been more or less blessed since law
school. A year ago, I was moving up the ladder at my firm,
comfortable and knowledgeable in my area of specialization, and,
although working too many hours, generally pleased with how things
were going. But some months after the onset of the economic
meltdown, I was one of the victims of a significant downsizing of
the firm. After the shock wore off, I put out some
feelers, but got no response, and have somewhat abruptly felt
stripped of my professional identity as I spend more time
laundering briefs than preparing them. Thank goodness, my wife
still has her job, and fortunately, some of our mutual funds have
bounced some of the way back, but even so, my thoughts are
dominated by financial worries. It's getting so I almost don't feel
like I can call myself an attorney, and it's time to consider a job
at the hardware chain, but they're not hiring either. I've been
spending a lot more time isolated in the house. How do people cope
with this situation?
A. A layoff, at any time, can be a real blow to
your self-esteem and career identity (which, for many of us, can
feel like the main way we define ourselves), not to mention
finances (especially if accustomed to and relying on a considerable
income), housing, plans, etc. You are entitled to lick your wounds
for a time, but withdrawing from others is usually a mistake, which
can lead to depression/inertia, often leading to more withdrawal,
etc. There's no way that unemployment isn't stressful; for some,
the stress is compounded by shame, but if there's any silver lining
to the worldwide financial crisis, it's that you have so much
company that your job status is much less likely to be judged in a
personal way. The uncertainty, financial and otherwise, is also
fertile ground for unbounded anxiety, which can be
A recent series of blogs by LCL's director (lclma.blogspot.com)
offers a wider array of coping suggestions than we have space for
here, but a key thread in her recommendations is that you
counteract the impulse to hibernate and instead reinforce your
connections with others. Maintain mutually supportive ties with
others (and there are many this time around) who share your plight.
One way to do that is through programs offered by bar associations
and, for example, LCL, where we plan to repeat our recent
presentation/discussion series designed for unemployed attorneys.
Have lunch once a week with a colleague in the same position to
brainstorm together, confide in one another and cheer each other
on. Connect with peers from past jobs and law school, as well as
those who have served as mentors. Get involved in bar association
committees, community groups, boards, volunteering opportunities,
etc. - these activities will not only keep people mindful of what
you have to offer as a worker and collaborator or leader (and you
never know when that will plant a seed that later pays off
professionally), but will remove you from the passive mode, so that
you can return to experiencing yourself as impactful.
It is also helpful to keep a daily routine, and take good care
of yourself - for this period when you control more of your own
time, you have a chance to pay attention to nutrition, exercise,
perhaps relaxation/meditation, as well as the activities you really
enjoy and may have neglected, such as music, movies, dance, theatre
(check ArtsBoston.org for a plethora of inexpensive options). We
know how hard it can be to allow yourself these pleasures when your
mind is full of worry about your future, but this crisis will pass,
and why not use the time to enrich yourself in non-monetary ways
for which you may not have much time down the road.
If, despite such efforts, you find yourself immobilized by
anxiety or depression, or heading in a bad direction with alcohol
or drugs, give LCL a call. We can't manufacture a job, but we'll
direct you toward whatever kinds of help might meet your needs.
That's what we're here for.
Questions quoted are either actual letters/e-mails or
paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking
assistance from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.
Questions for LCL may be mailed to LCL, 31 Milk St., Suite
810, Boston, MA 02109; e-mailed to [e-mail email] or called in to
(617) 482-9600. LCL's licensed clinicians will respond in
confidence. Visit LCL online at www.lclma.org.