What would you do if you lost your job? For me, the answer was
easy: start over. Last year, I was laid off by Mintz, Levin, Cohn,
Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo PC in Boston, where I had spent the first
six years of my career. Although the news came as a shock, it had
long since become apparent to me that I needed a change. My layoff
forced me to confront that need for change, and I did so with
enthusiasm and some trepidation.
When the news hit the firm that my job would be eliminated through
"economic downsizing," most of my colleagues looked at me like a
car-struck animal on the side of the road, hoping for a quick and
painless end. I, on the other hand, looked at them the same
After all, I was excited about this new opportunity to make a
change. It felt both wonderfully liberating and frightening,
particularly because my husband had just been laid off only two
weeks earlier, and we had two young children depending on us at
My tenure at my former firm was an overall fulfilling and positive
experience. I worked with inspirational colleagues, received
invaluable mentoring and training, and grew tremendously as a
professional. I loved it there and will never forget it. But I
joined the firm during law school and without a real plan as to
what I wanted to do, apart from litigate. Now, six years later, I
was tasked with the same question all over again: "What do I want
to do when I grow up?" Starting over was an obvious answer.
The first thing I did was contemplate leaving the practice of law
altogether. I saw this as my opportunity to accomplish neglected
wish list items. After working on endless document productions,
drafting mountains of discovery and racking up enough hours on
Westlaw to own stock in the company, I decided that I was done with
My second child was only six months old and I was just plain
tired. I had been practicing as an intellectual property litigator
without any science background whatsoever. Patent law in particular
did not come naturally to me and I found it increasingly difficult
to find my place in the section. I knew that it would be difficult
for me to bring in IP referrals and foster client relationships.
Particularly in light of my changing lifestyle and family demands,
I doubted my continued allegiance to IP, even if I were to practice
at another firm.
So, I did what any insane person would do: I began to check things
off my bucket list. When my efforts to join a roller derby team
didn't pan out, I volunteered for an unpaid internship at a premier
Boston event planning company. My first day consisted of
researching bongo music for an upcoming fundraiser. It was fun and
easy and a dramatic change from the past six years of my
A new, exciting workplace was just what I needed. I spent three
months there working as an assistant to event planners. Gradually,
however, I found myself thinking and acting like a lawyer again. I
realized that I craved legal professional fulfillment, and
event planning was not my final destination.
I went back to the drawing board and created a list of my
professional and personal strengths, weaknesses, likes and
dislikes. I thought about what I set out to do with my law degree
in the first place.
My analysis quickly led me to family law. I had enrolled in law
school fully expecting that I would become a family lawyer. But in
my penultimate year, I reached a crossroads in my studies and
decided to take a patent litigation course instead of family law.
As the saying goes, the rest is history. Choosing patent litigation
opened doors for me and ultimately landed me my big-firm IP job. I
never did take that family law course.
Now that my career was in my hands once again, I revisited my
original plans. I joined a great family law practice in March 2010,
Witmer, Karp, Warner & Ryan LLP. Today, I am facing the
challenges of learning the ways of a small firm while at the same
time tackling an entirely new practice area. Not even the
courtrooms I enter are the same as before.
Although the transition to my new professional life has been
humbling and occasionally frustrating, it has also been exciting
and extremely rewarding. I now realize that the only reason that I
had felt ready to be done with "being a lawyer" was because I was
unhappy with my career path. It has been almost a year since I
started at Witmer, Karp, Warner & Ryan, and I am finally
getting confident enough to call myself a family
The economy compelled me to confront the tough professional
question of whether to stay at a job for a paycheck or to find
professional fulfillment. In the end, I chose to follow through on
my original plans of being a family law practitioner, and I have
not looked back. It is a decision that I may have never have
reached had I not been forced to do so. For that, I am tremendously
Through the process of starting over, I have learned a great deal
about myself, what I can accomplish and how I handle stressful
times. I have also found my place as a lawyer and that is extremely
rewarding. I encourage every attorney out there to explore this at
some point in your career, and now, more than ever, ask yourself
what you want to do. Your strength and capabilities may surprise
you and may lead you to opportunities you never expected.
Doris M. Fournier practices family law and probate
litigation at Witmer, Karp, Warner & Ryan. She has done
extensive pro bono work assisting victims of rape and domestic
violence. Fournier is admitted to practice in Massachusetts and the
U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. She serves on the MBA's Civil
Litigation Section Council.