[Ed Note: This post was written for ATL by "Heller Drone," who created the blog Heller Highwater in response to a lack of information concerning Heller Ehrman's dissolution. We asked Heller Drone for helpful advice to offer Thelen associates and staff. Good luck to everybody dealing with these difficult circumstances.]
Being capsized is often something quite jarring and comes upon you suddenly and painfully, say like food poisoning or an episode of The View. And despite the fact that you can see that iceberg in the distance, a soon-to-be ex-staffer of a BigLaw firm can’t always anticipate each and every wave that will buffet his or her lifeboat. Here are words of advice for our colleagues at Thelen and perhaps other firms which are in the process of dissolving:
You don’t necessarily need a blog but it is a nice way of communicating to a large group without hosting a website on your domain, etc. Blogging is a very “turnkey” operation and with platforms such as Blogger or WordPress or Typepad you can be on your way to your first post in less than five minutes. Any stressed and harried soon-to-be unemployed staffer can do it.
Besides a blog, set up some form of networking such as Facebook or better yet LinkedIn. This will allow former staffers to communicate with each other once the firm’s email system is offline.
Know Your Rights as an Employee
Do your research – and if you don’t know where to start enlist a paralegal or associate to assist. Realize that labor laws differ by state and this includes vacation accrual, how to file a wage claim, etc. Make sure you understand clearly anything you are being asked to sign and ask to make a copy of the document, take it home and review it first if possible. Do not sign any of your rights away during what can be a very emotionally trying time.
More tips after the jump.
Start Backing Up Items NOW
While this seems like a no-brainer, time can slip away and you can, and will, be terminated sooner than expected. Hellerites received their WARN Act notice on September 26th and it stated that “there will be work for you” through November 28th. Here it is October 28th and less than a handful of people are still employed at Heller.
Sort through your emails, electronic files, etc. now. If you have a laptop, take it home and back it up to an external drive or to one of many free online services (Lifehacker has an up to date list here (http://lifehacker.com/5064688/online-storage-feature+by+feature-comparison-chart).)
Otherwise, get a flash drive or some other USB device and backup what you need. When in doubt, keep it.
Get It In Writing
Come on. We’ve all been on the receiving end of those lines of b.s. such as “I’ll call you” or “The check is in the mail” or “I promise it won’t end up on the Internet.” It is nice to trust your soon to be ex-firm and those at the helm of the dissolution. Every statement made verbally should be backed up by an email or a memo. And if it isn’t then ask for it.
Take Care of Number One
That means you. Start by stocking up on prescriptions if possible, make appointments for doctor, dentist and optometrist. Check your flexible spending account rules – you may need to make expenditures before your termination date otherwise you lose that money. Consider eliminating or reducing your 401k contributions (better to have that money in your pocket than tied up in retirement funds, especially given the stock market situation). Save all your pay stubs to calculate accrued vacation. Download any and all HR policies now before they are removed from the firm’s website.
And by all means give yourself time and room to grieve, to be angry, to take it easy, to just daydream, to just take care of yourself. Seek out a job coach or someone who can help you find a new perspective in terms of what you want to do with the rest of your life – both professionally and personally. See this as an opportunity, as the glass being half full. You’ll accomplish more than you realize when all is said and done.
Heller Drone can be reached at Heller Highwater, a website devoted to helping ex-Heller employees reach higher ground.