In-House Counsel, Layoffs

House Rules: Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the…

In the Mob, you know a guy is done for when he is asked to “take a ride.” In Biglaw, it’s when the practice group leader asks you to have a drink after work. In-house is different — there is an announcement of restructuring, there is a rumor cycle of what department is getting hit, then there is a waiting period to see which people “take a package” voluntarily, and then the other shoe falls.

It can be unnerving to see people escorted out of an office with a box or two in hand and a security officer following behind. It is scary how quickly a person gets “wiped” from the intranet. They were there this morning, and a few hours later, all email bounces back. Since you are not a manager, you won’t know until there is a knock at your door.

I remember the first time I saw this occur. I was scared out of my mind at the news of “layoffs.” I visited a senior colleague who talked me out of the tree — she had been through too may of these to count and was nonchalant. First, there is nothing you can do if the decision has been made, and second, a bigger corporation means the odds are ever in your favor. Since that first experience, I have taken the advice to heart, but have also taken steps to ensure I can exit as smoothly as possible if the unfortunate ever happens….

First, I keep up with all of my contacts. They will be my first line of defense should I need any assistance. Those still in firms know who is hiring and who is not, as well as the scoop on the goings on around town relevant to me and my position. I do the same for them with my company. When I hear of job openings in town or elsewhere, I will call one or several of them to get them in the pool of applicants.

Second, I stay friendly with a recruiter who has also become a friend. I send people her way, and she keeps me apprised of what is happening in the circle in which she specializes.

Third, I stay involved with my relevant association. They have a wonderful job site with postings around the world. I have a profile there with an editable résumé that can be tailored to fit any position that might be interesting.

Finally, I never say no to speaking with headhunters. If they are open enough to give me the information I need to assess an opening, I will always listen, and yes, explore a job opportunity. Thus far, I am happy where I am, but you never know when an opportunity for promotion may arise. If you think your GC doesn’t do the same thing, consider his résumé. I guarantee that most of them have worked in different positions for several corporations. Anyone would be foolish not to always keep their ear to the ground.

Internally, I never fail to try to learn something new. If there is an opportunity in my wheelhouse, but with a bit of work outside my specialty, I try to get assigned so I can learn something. I assess whether the assignment is challenging enough, as well as whether the subject matter might be transferable to the outside world. This goes back to maintaining an easily editable résumé. Once a deal with a new subject matter is complete and I have learned enough to be dangerous, I can add that to my search terms when looking for positions.

Look, there are no guarantees anymore — yeah, yeah, death and taxes, I know. But when you accept the state of the profession as far as hiring, you don’t have to live in fear. Instead, you can exist in a state of preparation — which requires a lot less Xanax and Prilosec.

After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at

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