Ed. note: Welcome to “Notes from the Breadline,” a new column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Some details have been changed to protect the author’s identity (and job prospects) — she’s still searching for work, as will be covered in future columns — but her story is true in its essentials.
This week the column will appear today and Thursday, and then each Tuesday in subsequent weeks. You can reach Roxana — perhaps to offer her a job? — at roxanastthomas at gmail dot com.
How quickly things change. This morning I had to stop for a moment to ask myself what month it is. January? No. February? I think so. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it is February-something, although it’s hard to say when tumbleweeds blow through the Outlook calendar that remains on your BlackBerry, prepared to accept the appointments you do not have and the meetings you will not schedule. Is it Thursday? Friday? Tuesday? That’s even tougher. Those are all days on which one might have a conference call, or a motion due, or a litigation department dinner to sit through while rolling your eyes and emailing a friend across the room (like sixth graders disguised in business attire and outfitted with less crinkly note-writing tools).
But none of those things happened yesterday, or will happen today, and I am wearing the same thing I slept in and, for that matter, wore to the gym. And I haven’t washed my hair since whatever day was three days ago, which I couldn’t tell you the name of.
I should explain, as a preliminary matter, that I did not engage in this mental exchange after suffering a concussion, or upon waking from a bender. I’m just having a hard time believing that, a few short months ago, I was saving to buy a house. That I set up a bank account from which to make extra payments toward my student loans. That my 401(k) actually increased in value from one month to the next. Or, better yet, that I reveled (albeit somewhat sheepishly) in the ability to treat myself to sushi a couple of times a week, or to pay what women pay for a haircut in New York, or to buy gas at the height of the summer price explosion. I am not talking about a life of profligacy, Manolos, or the newest new iPhone, my friends: I’m talking about what it was like to have a job, which I am suddenly without.
It seems that it should have taken longer to go from that state of being to this one — that I should have seen it coming, or had a chance to prepare for life in the breadline. If depicted in a movie, it should have happened over the course of a montage, in which scenes involving a giant beach ball would give way to a long view of people diving into the leaf pile, wearing mufflers, and then pulling the Christmas tree home in lightly falling snow. Calendar pages would be shown, tearing off and floating away. It would not have happened in the sudden, execution-style fashion now favored by firms. If depicted in a cartoon, this disturbingly popular approach would involve an Acme catapult.
But, I have to admit, as much as I still wake up feeling stunned by this sudden reversal of fortune, I wasn’t deeply shocked when my turn came. We — meaning I and every lawyer (and, for that matter, non-lawyer) I know, at my firm and others — had been predicting catastrophe for some time. If you’ve been through it, you know that there is, in fact, a difference. The knowledge that your head might be on the chopping block protects you from pure, unadulterated shock, but it doesn’t spare you from the stunned realization that you’ve finally been fed into the wood chipper.
Check back in on Thursday, when we’ll revisit the Palin-esque scene of my own “termination,” as they say in the trade.
Update: Future posts in this series will be collected here.