Author Topic: Stumbled Upon a Corporate Memo Stating I Might Get Fired...Need Some Advice  (Read 10017 times)

ReadySetMillionaire

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I contemplated posting anonymously, but oh well. Long post ahead, but the summary is that I found a memo stating that I might get fired and I'm looking for some advice on what to do short and long term. For any attorneys who have PM'd me before--I welcome your PM's and/or posts in this thread. So, onward...

Please do not quote this original post because I likely intend to delete it. Thank you for your understanding.

I graduated from law school in 2014 and have been at a well-respected firm since September of 2014. I was hired so a partner could transfer his ERISA practice to me. To make a long story short, he can't delegate work to save his life. And then, because a lot of other attorneys assumed he was giving me work, work dried up for me at the end of last year and I had pretty low billable hours in 2015. This resulted in a "talking to" by the firm's board of directors at the end of last year.

I've since had a much better 2016. I'm on pace to bill substantially more hours, I've been more enthusiastic at work, etc. I've also made it a point to be "me" more of the time--outgoing, sarcastic here and there, etc. I even painted and redecorated my office (with the board's permission), grew a beard, started wearing a bit more modern (but still very traditional) dress clothes. I think being "me" has resulted in a better attitude and thus a better work product.

But last Friday, I was searching our document system for my time sheet. I searched by my name and saw that my name was mentioned in a memo drafted by the firm's "Long Term Planning Committee." Being a curious dumbass, I opened this document. There was a section which read, in part:

Quote
The Committee feels that the issue of [ReadySetMillionaire] needs to be addressed. Since the Committee's second meeting, other issues concerning [ReadySetMillionaire's] tenure with the firm came before the Committee.  These issues would be enough to create an uncertainty among the Committee members as to whether recommendations as to [ReadySetMillionaire] would be practical given the fact that there may be some resistance in retaining him.

The Committee recommends that, at the next shareholders' meeting, [ReadySetMillionaire's] status be resolved so that further changes can be considered in light of either his assignment to ERISA clients or his departure."

Accidentally finding this shattered me. I couldn't work for the rest of the day.

Somewhat luckily, one of the people on the committee is an 80 year old attorney who has taken me under his wing. I asked to get beers with him and, without me asking, he pretty much said yes, the vultures are swirling. I asked what I did and, of course, I was sarcastic to the wrong partner at the wrong time.

Short story on the incident: I was sent to a courthouse an hour away to file certain papers. Upon getting there, I didn't have the right papers. Note--the partner who assigned me this task gave me these papers to file--I don't think it's in dispute that it's her fault that she didn't give me what I needed. My only job was to drive it there and file it, I didn't have what I needed, and thus wasn't able to file it. Also note she and I get along decently well--she's mid 30s and we get lunch every so often (so she knows my personality).

So the next morning, she had the day off, but she sent me a profusely apologetic email. She apologized like 3-4 times. I replied something to the effect of, "[Partner]--no worries. I am going to [that same courthouse] next week and will take care of it then. In the meantime, I was able to use the mileage check to buy flowers for my fiance, so all is not lost. We'll talk on Monday to make sure we have everything this time around."

According to my 80 year old partner, she made a huge deal about this. This was one of the firm's biggest clients and she fucked it up by not giving me the right documents. So per the 80 year old partner, she "is getting ahead of this by laying the entire blame on you." Seriously.

In retrospect, the sarcastic comment was extremely dumb. I know. I thought she would know I was trying to make light of a bad situation, but man, this apparently pissed her off to no end, and she's tight with the important people, etc. But man, blaming the entire situation on me is just absurd.

Now, aside from that incident, another global note that I think is important: four partners are retiring in the next eight months. All four of these partners worked their entire careers at my firm and likely brought in $1M in annual revenues. Now they will be owed $100k/year severance for the rest of their lives. Note that I know this because of the same Committee member who told me something was up. Anyway, part of me is thinking that this entire thing over one comment is just a cover up to lay off an associate because the firm will be short on cash.

So to my question--what should I do to solidify my position at this firm? This may sound odd at this point, but I really like my firm. I like almost everyone I work with. Most everyone there is an unbelievable mentor and has forgotten more than I know. My benefits are pretty good, I like the location where I work, and I can see myself flourishing there for a long time.

So here's my plan: I am actually good friends with the partner with the ERISA practice who is retiring at the end of this year. We get beers regularly, he stops in my office and chats for almost an hour probably twice a week, he even sent me a two page email with hiking recommendations for my recent trip to the North Cascades. Since finding this memo, I've made it known to him that I am doing every damn thing I can to learn ERISA, and he seems to be open to finally delegating some work to me. Thus, I'm doing everything I can to latch onto his practice to give me at least some leverage (for those who don't know, ERISA is extremely technical but a very lucrative practice, so being able to do this would be a high leverage move).

I also intend to really emphasize my relationships with the 4-5 partners who give me 90% of my work. I have good relationships with all of these attorneys and, quite frankly, I see them going to bat for me. I'm very active in a lot of their biggest files and I can't imagine they'd want the burden of explaining everything to a new associate. I also can't see partners who don't give me work having more of a say over my future than the partners who do give me work. I'm probably wrong in that regard, but that's the inference I've been told.

On the flipside, I need to prepare for the worst. I might get fired sooner rather than later. This means the obvious things like preparing my resume and saving money, but I think I need to start preparing to be a solo practitioner. I've posted this before on here, but I didn't want to go solo until probably 3-4 years out. Now that may be expedited and I'm honestly not sure if I'm ready for it.


All this ranting aside, is my plan a good to prepare for the worst but try to stick it out a good one? Or am I doomed at this firm long term and should start planning my exit accordingly?
« Last Edit: August 14, 2016, 09:53:35 PM by ReadySetMillionaire »

OneCoolCat

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Sorry you are going through this.  I would actively start looking for another job if it were me.  Based upon your story I think you are being used as a scapegoat and I think the Committee Letter looks bleak.  You absolutely cannot let anyone know you read it because if anyone knows that you saw that then they pretty much have to let you go.  Try to be less sarcastic, especially around the young attorney, and keep your billables up but definitely be sending your resume out.

ender

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What can you do to increase your billable hours?

Sounds like this situation is catalyzing the problem for not having enough billable hours?

Do people realize you are billing that many more hours?

This is an inherent problem with sarcasm. Normally it is creating humor by demeaning/putting down someone or something else. Making light of a situation where someone else was (apparently) frustrated and upset normally will cause hurt feelings. In an industry, such as yours apparently, where hurt feelings result in people getting fired?

LeRainDrop

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You absolutely cannot let anyone know you read it because if anyone knows that you saw that then they pretty much have to let you go.

I'm worried for you on this point because chances are that your firm uses a program where they can easily see the history of who views, opens, modifies, prints, etc. each document with a time stamp.  What happens if when one of your non-allies, or even a neutral admin, looks at the history and sees that you opened it???

Larsg

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This is actually good for you that this scenario is happening early in your career as doing what you described - towing the current line while preparing for something else - is a critical skill to long term success when working for corporations - especially any firm that has a billable hour model which can be treacherous. First things first: On towing the line: Keep up your relationships and networks with all those you already have a good relationship with internally. If you have let any connections slide, start scheduling breakfasts, drinks, lunches, whatever to reconnect and don't make it all about you. These relationships are give and take and those that last the longest are those that are most sincere where you are there for them too - and can be powerful career builders. Watch the sarcasm, show up with the best attitude no matter what happens as you are building skills so you want to focus on doing your best work. Now is not the time to try and raise the roof if you want to stay. You need to be respectful of the feedback given to you - it does not matter if you agree with it. It is feedback and you don't want to give them ammo by fighting an unfair fight. Instead, you want to show that you are serious, want to stay, are learning, committed, and getting/setting up to get long term billings. The more you can be seen as a long term player that will positively contribute revenue, the better chance you have. Now, to prepare for the worst - if you have not done so already, check your expense and savings levels. If expenses are too high, you know what to do if you have been out here but do not do it out of desperation! Do it because you have reached this point where your 3M skills are being tested. Once you get this down, you will be in better control and prepared for whatever happens. And whatever does happen, sets you up for a better opportunity. I am now in the late stages of my career (will fire in the next year or so), and have been where you are many many times. When you are here, the interesting thing is that in reality there seems to be a universal law in Corporate America where you can either be on the verge of getting fired or promoted at the same time. It comes about like a perfect storm where your mentors and managers opinions about you collide and the shear act of digging in your heals, being determined, and deciding that you want to stay can change the trajectory of your career in ways you never imagined. Your adrenalin gets going, you get up earlier, show up better, and do better which can change the balance and the outcome for the better. At the same time, you need to imagine what you will do if you get fired in spite of all of this and if you do, leave with the grace of a champion. Where would you like to work if you are not ready to fire. Start looking at those organizations and tap your external network. Again, this is a critical skill - something I became highly skilled at over the years :) and have been able to hit a safe landing every time by keeping one foot skillfully in, one foot skillfully out (in the most discreet way) and when I cross this juncture, I can stay, go, networked enough to helicopter out of a few bad scenes I got tired of and so on. Step back, put a plan together on paper (In/Out - at the same time), figure out what steps you need to take daily (show up with your best dress blues, Plan on producing your best work, network your ass off, and don't let any of the evil folks get you down-he/she who wins the mental game...wins! I know you can do it, you are young and have some much ahead. Best of luck and feel free to post your progress under a code title if you need as in "The Red Dog has Landed..." I've done this many times so game on :).

ReadySetMillionaire

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You absolutely cannot let anyone know you read it because if anyone knows that you saw that then they pretty much have to let you go.

I'm worried for you on this point because chances are that your firm uses a program where they can easily see the history of who views, opens, modifies, prints, etc. each document with a time stamp.  What happens if when one of your non-allies, or even a neutral admin, looks at the history and sees that you opened it???

There actually is a program that tracks who opens what. I bet maybe 2 people here know how to use it, and the IT guy only works here part time now. My opening of the document is not on the record after 90 days, so I just have to ride that out and make sure it's not too obvious that I know what's going on.



To the other posters--thanks for the advice thus far. Seems like my plan is a decent one, but man, I walked into the office this morning and things are just weird now.  I definitely need to start tapping my external network so I can prepare for a smooth landing if things go south.

plog

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1.  If they are making plans to make you gone, then you probably don't have a chance to change their minds.
2.  If they are making plans to make you gone, you don't want to change their minds.  Who wants to work at such a place?

Bobby Knight had a great quote about inevitability that I won't repeat here. Long story short, this is an opportunity and you should negotiate your exit. I would start by passing word through your back channel that you are open to discussing your resignation.  See what kind of severance they will pay, what kind of letters of recommendations they can give and any other things you think will help you.  You don't have to just sit around and wait for the ax to fall--and if they have the ax out there's no point in trying to talk your way out of it.   

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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I am sorry you are dealing with this. I think you need to be applying for jobs every day. Even if you survive this, when times are bad at this firm, you're always going to be the easiest person to let go because they came so close to doing so this year.

No more zero days, right? Days you aren't applying to a different job are now zero days.

Cycling Stache

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Be prepared to leave.  You're at a firm, and if mid-size to large-size, people leaving is the norm.  If there's a reason that someone wants you gone, and that person has leverage, you haven't been there long enough to cause anyone grief over your departure.  Sadly, turnover is the name of the game at most places.

That said, hours are your rebuttal.  If you can bill more (and want to), start cranking.  It might be for naught, but firms make money off your billable hours, and high billers are valued for that.  If the next shareholder meeting is 2-3 months away, tear it up until then, and give them a reason to keep you.  That likely buys you time until the next annual review, and by then you'll be more likely judged by your work.

But if this partner's comment was enough to put you at risk, long-term, your future at the firm probably isn't great.  That could change, but it's going to be the received wisdom for the next few years.  It's an uphill battle to change that, and probably not one worth fighting.

So my recommendations are to save money and to start exploring options now.  The impending retirement of the ERISA partner you work for is a perfect explanation for other potential employers as to the reason you're making a move (before you're fired!). 

In the meantime, crank up your hours and see if that will make a difference in the review process.  If you haven't found a job by then or are really committed to trying to stay, that might buy you a lifeline to your next annual review, and by then, the immediate danger will have passed, and you will be judged more based on your work and performance.

But long-term, you'll want to know your options for other places to work.  Things could change completely, but I wouldn't bank on it.

little_brown_dog

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Not a lawyer, but I used to be a manager. I have sat in meetings where higher ups plotted to scapegoat, twist truths, and make other ethically questionable decisions. It sucked because the employees in question were talented, hard workers and in no way deserved to be treated that way. Unfortunately, because of specific circumstances, the higher ups felt like throwing these people under the bus (making it seem like something was their fault, withholding a much deserved raise/promotion, etc) was the best move for themselves and for the group. It was terrible, and being a lower level manager I never had much say in the decision.

The only thing I’ve learned about scapegoating is this: People looking to scapegoat someone else are trying to cover their own ass, so they have to be sure that scapegoating another person will achieve that. If the scapegoat doesn’t seem believable or legitimate, they risk blowback from others. You scapegoat someone to preserve your (or your firm’s) reputation…so scapegoating an obviously great employee is risky. Leaders don’t want their employees wandering around gossiping about how shady and untrustworthy they are.

You want to make this decision seem as ridiculous as possible, so you are harder and more risky to scapegoat. Keep doing what you have been doing. Work your ass off and bill those hours. Be friendly and upbeat. Offer to help colleagues and get on email chains showing your collaboration. Keep strong connections and be really visible around the office. It is unlikely, but it is possible that they may pause to rethink the firing if it seems like too much trouble to justify it. It is much MUCH harder to legitimize firing an obviously great and visible employee than it is firing an employee that no one really talks to or doesn’t see. Sadly I know this from firsthand experience.

However, if it is already in the board memo, you are on borrowed time. That means your nice guy strategy may only buy you a bunch of supportive gossip after your firing (“can you believe they did that to him? Seriously WTF”). But even that is a good thing, as you will need these people for references and professional connections.

As for the money piece, the best thing you can do is to assume that you won't have income for a few months. Crunch those numbers and see if your partner's income can cover most or all of your expenses in the coming months. Practice only using their income to cover the bills and save as much of yours as possible.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2016, 08:08:01 AM by little_brown_dog »

TrulyStashin

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Be prepared to leave.  You're at a firm, and if mid-size to large-size, people leaving is the norm.  If there's a reason that someone wants you gone, and that person has leverage, you haven't been there long enough to cause anyone grief over your departure.  Sadly, turnover is the name of the game at most places.

That said, hours are your rebuttal.  If you can bill more (and want to), start cranking.  It might be for naught, but firms make money off your billable hours, and high billers are valued for that.  If the next shareholder meeting is 2-3 months away, tear it up until then, and give them a reason to keep you.  That likely buys you time until the next annual review, and by then you'll be more likely judged by your work.

But if this partner's comment was enough to put you at risk, long-term, your future at the firm probably isn't great.  That could change, but it's going to be the received wisdom for the next few years.  It's an uphill battle to change that, and probably not one worth fighting.

So my recommendations are to save money and to start exploring options now.  The impending retirement of the ERISA partner you work for is a perfect explanation for other potential employers as to the reason you're making a move (before you're fired!). 

In the meantime, crank up your hours and see if that will make a difference in the review process.  If you haven't found a job by then or are really committed to trying to stay, that might buy you a lifeline to your next annual review, and by then, the immediate danger will have passed, and you will be judged more based on your work and performance.

But long-term, you'll want to know your options for other places to work.  Things could change completely, but I wouldn't bank on it.

+1   to all of this.

I left my BigLaw after almost 4 years in a similar situation to what you have. 

1)  Law firms tend to want to save face.  They don't "fire" anyone.  If you are let go, it will almost certainly be "not for cause."  Get that in writing and you can collect unemployment if need be.  It also helped with SoFi -- they gave me a 6 mo. deferment on payments to my SL.

2)  My firm gave me 8 weeks notice.  I stayed on the payroll and could come and go as I pleased.  I used that time to wrap up work /hand it off and then launch my own firm.  I also checked my W-4 withholding.  Because additional income was unlikely for Q4 (starting my own firm and all....) I stopped ALL tax withholding which resulted in my last three paychecks being much fatter than normal.  That helped fill my savings account for the lean early months of firm startup.

3) You can practice ERISA as a solo quite successfully.  I have a good friend who has been solo for many years and specializes in ERISA/ employment law.  So, your strategy of beefing up your time/ relationship with the soon-to--retire ERISA partner is a good one because it serves two ends:  bolstering your current spot/ increasing the odds that you stay put and giving you a solid practice area as a solo.  Win-win.

4)  If you are likeable, outgoing, and teach yourself to effectively market your practice you will do extremely well as a solo.  There are many attorneys out there but few of us are engaging, likeable, and outgoing.  ;)  As an aside, sarcasm is much less likeable than self-deprecating humor.  It might behoove you to change humor strategies.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Thanks for all the replies so far. I will reply to them individually later.


An additional question: should I apologize to the partner to whom I made the sarcastic comment? I just got back from vacation and a notice of hearing was set in that case, so I kind of have a segue to bring that incident up and apologize for it.

The incident in question was about a month ago now. Part of me thinks it's a good idea to apologize for it and get it behind me, the other part of me thinks it will be too much of a red flag that I know something is up. Thoughts?

Midwest

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Thanks for all the replies so far. I will reply to them individually later.


An additional question: should I apologize to the partner to whom I made the sarcastic comment? I just got back from vacation and a notice of hearing was set in that case, so I kind of have a segue to bring that incident up and apologize for it.

The incident in question was about a month ago now. Part of me thinks it's a good idea to apologize for it and get it behind me, the other part of me thinks it will be too much of a red flag that I know something is up. Thoughts?

FWIW, I would think hard before apologizing about something that happened a month ago.  If you can show concern about the client and their upcoming hearing (even offering to help), that would be appreciated and show maturity. 

A question as someone who works in an industry with billable hours - When you saw you were short on work, did you actively look for opportunities to pick up work? 

I worked at a firm my first year out of college and didn't understand the game as well as I should have (they weren't feeding me work and I wasn't as aggressive in asking as I should have been).  They were unhappy with my billings and made my life miserable.  When I moved to another firm, I learned from my past and have always been a top biller.

Fair or not, you can't be passive in getting billable hours.  Whatever happens, Good luck!
« Last Edit: August 15, 2016, 10:03:12 AM by Midwest »

LeRainDrop

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An additional question: . . . Thoughts?

Personally, at one month out now, I would not bring up that email.  I think it would come across as weird, like you said, a red flag.  She would start to wonder, why is he bringing up this one sentence from an email he sent a month ago?  I would just go out of my way to be very friendly and respectful to her, and ask her if she could use your help on anything, etc.  Perhaps you can compliment her about something?  But you don't want what you say to come across as fake; it's important to have genuine warmth towards her and others.  I know this is easier said than done because you have all this stuff running through your head and the anxiety of it all, but the quicker you can set that aside and just focus on being your awesome self going forward, the better off you will be.

radram

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Thanks for all the replies so far. I will reply to them individually later.


An additional question: should I apologize to the partner to whom I made the sarcastic comment? I just got back from vacation and a notice of hearing was set in that case, so I kind of have a segue to bring that incident up and apologize for it.

The incident in question was about a month ago now. Part of me thinks it's a good idea to apologize for it and get it behind me, the other part of me thinks it will be too much of a red flag that I know something is up. Thoughts?

Perhaps use your sarcasm to your advantage.  If you apologize with sarcasm, it shows you as being you, you understand she was offended/angry, and no red flag.  A month is a little late for that though.

bacchi

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Dude, if that set her off, it wasn't your sarcasm. She was going to bury you anyway. Who's she going to blame for fucking up? Herself or an associate?

jackiechiles2

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To fully understand the dynamics here, how large is the firm?  How many partners do you get work for?  How often does this particular partner give you work?  Have you screwed anything else up for her?

The reason I'm asking, is it seems rather sudden for her to push for your firing after an email that I wouldn't call sarcastic by any means.   Was the filing late as a result of your not having the right documents?  Is she mad at you for not going back that day and handling it?  An hour mileage check is like $60 at most, so I don't see the uproar over the filing mistake.


NoStacheOhio

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Dude, if that set her off, it wasn't your sarcasm. She was going to bury you anyway. Who's she going to blame for fucking up? Herself or an associate?

Agreed. Honestly, I don't even feel like the original comment qualifies as sarcasm. It's making light, sure, but not really at anyone's expense. OP could've said that completely honestly, and it wouldn't read much differently to me.

chesebert

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Thanks for all the replies so far. I will reply to them individually later.


An additional question: should I apologize to the partner to whom I made the sarcastic comment? I just got back from vacation and a notice of hearing was set in that case, so I kind of have a segue to bring that incident up and apologize for it.

The incident in question was about a month ago now. Part of me thinks it's a good idea to apologize for it and get it behind me, the other part of me thinks it will be too much of a red flag that I know something is up. Thoughts?

Perhaps use your sarcasm to your advantage.  If you apologize with sarcasm, it shows you as being you, you understand she was offended/angry, and no red flag.  A month is a little late for that though.
Bad advice. Joke/sarcasm almost never ends well in a law firm/IBD/consulting/accounting environment.

The simple steps to success at those places (assuming you start from ground up with no help and no client) -- do your assigned work, do them well and don't complain.

OP, start reaching out to recruiters now (if you have not stayed in touch with them). One bad record in your file is enough to eliminate your chances at partnership. Leverage your current job to get midlaw or biglaw now, even if it means you need to take a cut in seniority (but will be compensated multiple times of what you are being paid now).

Grinding out in small law at sub $50k a year is never a long term solution anyway (assuming you have moderate law school debt). Your goal should always be moving up the food chain and make as much as you can. You are in a good position to do that now. Don't let this chance go by the waste side.

Also, if I were you, I wouldn't waste extra time building relationship with other partners. As I said earlier, your chances at partnership is pretty much nil. Even if you can stay for the next 3-7 years, you may not make much more than what you are making now (I presume your firm does not have guaranteed annual salary increase). You are at a good time in your career to move to midlaw/biglaw as you have some experience but can still be trained. If you are willing entertain going in as a first year, you may have a shot at some of these places. Your pay will instantly double/triple and you have much much better exit/lateral option if you decide you don't like your new home.

No need to feel bad about relationships you have built or loyalty or any other similar feelings. You need to maximize your own value and I am positive your firm feels the same way about you - maximize firm's value. 
« Last Edit: August 15, 2016, 12:42:02 PM by chesebert »

chesebert

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Dude, if that set her off, it wasn't your sarcasm. She was going to bury you anyway. Who's she going to blame for fucking up? Herself or an associate?
+1.


ReadySetMillionaire

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To fully understand the dynamics here, how large is the firm?  How many partners do you get work for?  How often does this particular partner give you work?  Have you screwed anything else up for her?

The reason I'm asking, is it seems rather sudden for her to push for your firing after an email that I wouldn't call sarcastic by any means.   Was the filing late as a result of your not having the right documents?  Is she mad at you for not going back that day and handling it?  An hour mileage check is like $60 at most, so I don't see the uproar over the filing mistake.

Firm is about 22 attorneys. I do not get work from the pissed off partner regularly. I cover hearings for her and we've never had any issues.

The filing was not late. This was filing garnishment papers which didn't really have a deadline. I just didn't have the right papers, and again, she was the one who simply handed me a folder and said "all this needs to be filed." Said folder did not include local forms, so I did not have what I needed. Despite this, she apparently told others partners that I didn't take the right documents, that I could have found a form in the court's library (I looked, and there weren't).

I regularly get 95% of my work from 4-5 other partners. Maybe I'm wrong, but I firmly believe I have pretty good personal and professional relationships with them. I follow up, constantly offer help, etc.

little_brown_dog

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To fully understand the dynamics here, how large is the firm?  How many partners do you get work for?  How often does this particular partner give you work?  Have you screwed anything else up for her?

The reason I'm asking, is it seems rather sudden for her to push for your firing after an email that I wouldn't call sarcastic by any means.   Was the filing late as a result of your not having the right documents?  Is she mad at you for not going back that day and handling it?  An hour mileage check is like $60 at most, so I don't see the uproar over the filing mistake.

Firm is about 22 attorneys. I do not get work from the pissed off partner regularly. I cover hearings for her and we've never had any issues.

The filing was not late. This was filing garnishment papers which didn't really have a deadline. I just didn't have the right papers, and again, she was the one who simply handed me a folder and said "all this needs to be filed." Said folder did not include local forms, so I did not have what I needed. Despite this, she apparently told others partners that I didn't take the right documents, that I could have found a form in the court's library (I looked, and there weren't).

I regularly get 95% of my work from 4-5 other partners. Maybe I'm wrong, but I firmly believe I have pretty good personal and professional relationships with them. I follow up, constantly offer help, etc.

Yah, I wouldnít apologize. That adds legitimacy to her claim that YOU were completely in the wrong. She could use it against you by casually telling the others that you apologized for it, which rounds out her little story very nicely. Donít give her any more reason to drag this out or keep it fresh in anyoneís mind. If she is trying to prove it wasnít her fault, she will definitely tell someone about an apology to make herself look good. As a woman in business, I can tell you straight up that ladies are notorious for strategically rehashing private conversations with other parties in a biased way to get what they want. It is a form of highly passive aggressive, but extremely effective relational bullying. Saw it all the time, and did plenty of it myself when I was working.

Fuzz

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I dunno.

You're at a 22-atty firm in a smaller market that is going to take on a $400K/year severance obligation? While at the same time, losing 4 partners and their associated billables? Wild guess, but your firm is collecting around $200K to $250K/year per associate? So you need to have 4 associates grinding out billables to cover (1) their own overhead (2) their own salary and (3) the departed partners take, all before the firm makes a profit.

Also, my guess is that this firm has a 1:1 partner to associate ratio. In that case, most partners are just getting a percentage of what they bill. They're not really leveraging anyone's labor. It's more of a clubby cost-sharing arrangement than a real business. I digress.

I'm skeptical this is the train you want to hitch your wagon to. But maybe those departing partners have built up a great reputation and their relationships are being handed off to younger attorneys, who are now going to flourish and do even better. So it could be a great choice.

Leaving that aside, you like the place and you want to work there. I get it. It probably has a dominant reputation in your local market. And it's nice to be a part of a winning team. It's not all about the money (and for a lot of lawyers, we're not motivated by the money. It's about something else.).

Anyway, I think you're doing all the right steps. Do what you can to preserve that relationship, especially with the partners that like you. Be prepare for them to shitcan you for bogus reasons. It happens.

It's your first job out of law school. It will impress others in your local market. It was never going to be your last job.

You don't really want to be in a limbo state at work. You're either moving up or out. I think it's better to leave on your own terms. If they voice to you that your future is in question, I think you should quit, or give notice. And then do everything you can to get them to refer you ERISA work.

If you do get laid off, exercise, find another job or start your own practice, keep moving. I don't have any special insight.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2016, 11:51:18 AM by Fuzz »

ReadySetMillionaire

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+1   to all of this.

I left my BigLaw after almost 4 years in a similar situation to what you have. 

1)  Law firms tend to want to save face.  They don't "fire" anyone.  If you are let go, it will almost certainly be "not for cause."  Get that in writing and you can collect unemployment if need be.  It also helped with SoFi -- they gave me a 6 mo. deferment on payments to my SL.

2)  My firm gave me 8 weeks notice.  I stayed on the payroll and could come and go as I pleased.  I used that time to wrap up work /hand it off and then launch my own firm.  I also checked my W-4 withholding.  Because additional income was unlikely for Q4 (starting my own firm and all....) I stopped ALL tax withholding which resulted in my last three paychecks being much fatter than normal.  That helped fill my savings account for the lean early months of firm startup.

3) You can practice ERISA as a solo quite successfully.  I have a good friend who has been solo for many years and specializes in ERISA/ employment law.  So, your strategy of beefing up your time/ relationship with the soon-to--retire ERISA partner is a good one because it serves two ends:  bolstering your current spot/ increasing the odds that you stay put and giving you a solid practice area as a solo.  Win-win.

4)  If you are likeable, outgoing, and teach yourself to effectively market your practice you will do extremely well as a solo.  There are many attorneys out there but few of us are engaging, likeable, and outgoing.  ;)  As an aside, sarcasm is much less likeable than self-deprecating humor.  It might behoove you to change humor strategies.

Can anyone else comment on firms like this trying to "save face?" Because if that's the case, that would reduce my stress immensely. I don't want to be fired, of course, but knowing that there's a chance the firm might let me out with a soft landing would be a lot easier to deal with.

ReadySetMillionaire

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I dunno.

You're at a 22-atty firm in a smaller market that is going to take on a $400K/year severance obligation? While at the same time, losing 4 partners and their associated billables? Wild guess, but your firm is collecting around $200K to $250K/year per associate? So you need to have 4 associates grinding out billables to cover (1) their own overhead (2) their own salary and (3) the departed partners take, all before the firm makes a profit.

Also, my guess is that this firm has a 1:1 partner to associate ratio. In that case, most partners are just getting a percentage of what they bill. They're not really leveraging anyone's labor. It's more of a clubby cost-sharing arrangement than a real business. I digress.

I'm skeptical this is the train you want to hitch your wagon to. But maybe those departing partners have built up a great reputation and their relationships are being handed off to younger attorneys, who are now going to flourish and do even better. So it could be a great choice.

Leaving that aside, you like the place and you want to work there. I get it. It probably has a dominant reputation in your local market. And it's nice to be a part of a winning team. It's not all about the money (and for a lot of lawyers, we're not motivated by the money. It's about something else.).

Anyway, I think you're doing all the right steps. Do what you can to preserve that relationship, especially with the partners that like you. Be prepare for them to shitcan you for bogus reasons. It happens.

It's your first job out of law school. It will impress others in your local market. It was never going to be your last job.

You don't really want to be in a limbo state at work. You're either moving up or out. I think it's better to leave on your own terms. If they voice to you that your future is in question, I think you should quit, or give notice. And then do everything you can to get them to refer you ERISA work.

If you do get laid off, exercise, find another job or start your own practice, keep moving. I don't have any special insight.

Most of your assumptions are right (in terms of receivables and overall dynamics), but my firm has 21 partners and I'm the only associate. It's a very top heavy organization with four partners set to retire by next April. A few more would likely come shortly after that.

Furthermore, my firm had a merger in early 2014 (before I was hired). In short, one 16 partner firm merged with a 7 person firm, and the waters have never really settled since then. I've been told the compensation structure negotiations are still ongoing and, that partners do not have any financial incentive to delegate work.

Bottom line is that these seem to be turbulent times for my firm and I'm a pawn in a big game that I don't quite understand.

LeRainDrop

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Can anyone else comment on firms like this trying to "save face?" Because if that's the case, that would reduce my stress immensely. I don't want to be fired, of course, but knowing that there's a chance the firm might let me out with a soft landing would be a lot easier to deal with.

Short answer, yes, severance is commonplace even for a "not up to standards"-type firing.  I think they'd draw the line if it were a firing based on intentional bad conduct, like fraudulent billing, which is not at all your case.  Will send you another PM with more info.

jackiechiles2

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+1   to all of this.

I left my BigLaw after almost 4 years in a similar situation to what you have. 

1)  Law firms tend to want to save face.  They don't "fire" anyone.  If you are let go, it will almost certainly be "not for cause."  Get that in writing and you can collect unemployment if need be.  It also helped with SoFi -- they gave me a 6 mo. deferment on payments to my SL.

2)  My firm gave me 8 weeks notice.  I stayed on the payroll and could come and go as I pleased.  I used that time to wrap up work /hand it off and then launch my own firm.  I also checked my W-4 withholding.  Because additional income was unlikely for Q4 (starting my own firm and all....) I stopped ALL tax withholding which resulted in my last three paychecks being much fatter than normal.  That helped fill my savings account for the lean early months of firm startup.

3) You can practice ERISA as a solo quite successfully.  I have a good friend who has been solo for many years and specializes in ERISA/ employment law.  So, your strategy of beefing up your time/ relationship with the soon-to--retire ERISA partner is a good one because it serves two ends:  bolstering your current spot/ increasing the odds that you stay put and giving you a solid practice area as a solo.  Win-win.

4)  If you are likeable, outgoing, and teach yourself to effectively market your practice you will do extremely well as a solo.  There are many attorneys out there but few of us are engaging, likeable, and outgoing.  ;)  As an aside, sarcasm is much less likeable than self-deprecating humor.  It might behoove you to change humor strategies.

Can anyone else comment on firms like this trying to "save face?" Because if that's the case, that would reduce my stress immensely. I don't want to be fired, of course, but knowing that there's a chance the firm might let me out with a soft landing would be a lot easier to deal with.

Yeah definitely seen this at the two firms i've worked at.  Both have had what they termed as terrible attorneys before, and both gave a long period of time warning potential termination is on the way to give guy a chance to find another job. One firm even helped get the guy a job elsewhere. 

jackiechiles2

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I dunno.

You're at a 22-atty firm in a smaller market that is going to take on a $400K/year severance obligation? While at the same time, losing 4 partners and their associated billables? Wild guess, but your firm is collecting around $200K to $250K/year per associate? So you need to have 4 associates grinding out billables to cover (1) their own overhead (2) their own salary and (3) the departed partners take, all before the firm makes a profit.

Also, my guess is that this firm has a 1:1 partner to associate ratio. In that case, most partners are just getting a percentage of what they bill. They're not really leveraging anyone's labor. It's more of a clubby cost-sharing arrangement than a real business. I digress.

I'm skeptical this is the train you want to hitch your wagon to. But maybe those departing partners have built up a great reputation and their relationships are being handed off to younger attorneys, who are now going to flourish and do even better. So it could be a great choice.

Leaving that aside, you like the place and you want to work there. I get it. It probably has a dominant reputation in your local market. And it's nice to be a part of a winning team. It's not all about the money (and for a lot of lawyers, we're not motivated by the money. It's about something else.).

Anyway, I think you're doing all the right steps. Do what you can to preserve that relationship, especially with the partners that like you. Be prepare for them to shitcan you for bogus reasons. It happens.

It's your first job out of law school. It will impress others in your local market. It was never going to be your last job.

You don't really want to be in a limbo state at work. You're either moving up or out. I think it's better to leave on your own terms. If they voice to you that your future is in question, I think you should quit, or give notice. And then do everything you can to get them to refer you ERISA work.

If you do get laid off, exercise, find another job or start your own practice, keep moving. I don't have any special insight.

Most of your assumptions are right (in terms of receivables and overall dynamics), but my firm has 21 partners and I'm the only associate. It's a very top heavy organization with four partners set to retire by next April. A few more would likely come shortly after that.

Furthermore, my firm had a merger in early 2014 (before I was hired). In short, one 16 partner firm merged with a 7 person firm, and the waters have never really settled since then. I've been told the compensation structure negotiations are still ongoing and, that partners do not have any financial incentive to delegate work.

Bottom line is that these seem to be turbulent times for my firm and I'm a pawn in a big game that I don't quite understand.

Yeesh, 22 partners and 1 associate?  How are the fees split between partners? If you have one partner willing to go to bat for you/feed you cases, then it's possible he'll end up paying most of your salary out of his billables anyways and other partners may just not feed you work anymore. 

chesebert

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I dunno.

You're at a 22-atty firm in a smaller market that is going to take on a $400K/year severance obligation? While at the same time, losing 4 partners and their associated billables? Wild guess, but your firm is collecting around $200K to $250K/year per associate? So you need to have 4 associates grinding out billables to cover (1) their own overhead (2) their own salary and (3) the departed partners take, all before the firm makes a profit.

Also, my guess is that this firm has a 1:1 partner to associate ratio. In that case, most partners are just getting a percentage of what they bill. They're not really leveraging anyone's labor. It's more of a clubby cost-sharing arrangement than a real business. I digress.

I'm skeptical this is the train you want to hitch your wagon to. But maybe those departing partners have built up a great reputation and their relationships are being handed off to younger attorneys, who are now going to flourish and do even better. So it could be a great choice.

Leaving that aside, you like the place and you want to work there. I get it. It probably has a dominant reputation in your local market. And it's nice to be a part of a winning team. It's not all about the money (and for a lot of lawyers, we're not motivated by the money. It's about something else.).

Anyway, I think you're doing all the right steps. Do what you can to preserve that relationship, especially with the partners that like you. Be prepare for them to shitcan you for bogus reasons. It happens.

It's your first job out of law school. It will impress others in your local market. It was never going to be your last job.

You don't really want to be in a limbo state at work. You're either moving up or out. I think it's better to leave on your own terms. If they voice to you that your future is in question, I think you should quit, or give notice. And then do everything you can to get them to refer you ERISA work.

If you do get laid off, exercise, find another job or start your own practice, keep moving. I don't have any special insight.

Most of your assumptions are right (in terms of receivables and overall dynamics), but my firm has 21 partners and I'm the only associate. It's a very top heavy organization with four partners set to retire by next April. A few more would likely come shortly after that.

Furthermore, my firm had a merger in early 2014 (before I was hired). In short, one 16 partner firm merged with a 7 person firm, and the waters have never really settled since then. I've been told the compensation structure negotiations are still ongoing and, that partners do not have any financial incentive to delegate work.

Bottom line is that these seem to be turbulent times for my firm and I'm a pawn in a big game that I don't quite understand.
Too much baggage and too unstable. I would get out ASAP regardless of their decision.

LeRainDrop

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Most of your assumptions are right (in terms of receivables and overall dynamics), but my firm has 21 partners and I'm the only associate. It's a very top heavy organization with four partners set to retire by next April. A few more would likely come shortly after that.

Furthermore, my firm had a merger in early 2014 (before I was hired). In short, one 16 partner firm merged with a 7 person firm, and the waters have never really settled since then. I've been told the compensation structure negotiations are still ongoing and, that partners do not have any financial incentive to delegate work.

Bottom line is that these seem to be turbulent times for my firm and I'm a pawn in a big game that I don't quite understand.

This casts a whole new light on the scenario.  That ratio is exceptionally odd!  Honestly, they could just be discovering over time that it is easier for them to manage a firm where they are all equals rather than have this one non-partner on their hands.  And that is not at all your fault, even though you'd be the one to suffer all the fall-out.  In my experience, it's very common for associates to be the pawns in the chess game among partners.  We used to call it the "divorced parent syndrome" where some of the "parents" were playing out their fights through the "kids."  Sucks big time.

TVRodriguez

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Well that sucks.  But forewarned is forearmed.

Often law firms will let someone go with a "you really should find something else b/c we won't be able to carry you for more than another month or two."  I've seen this happen, and the lawyers were able to work their job search from their old desk.  I've also seen lawyers walked out the same day they were told that it was time to go.  So, no guarantees.

I've never worked in a firm like yours.  I've done big law and small law (and now solo) but never mid-size, and never so top heavy.  So I have no clue what they would do.

What I would do:
1. Save my cash.  I started my practice with $10,000 and some existing clients who came with me and gave me immediate work.  I didn't pay myself for 3 months.  But cash is always helpful in transition times.
2. Look for another job.  Although I do know attorneys who went solo within a few years of graduation, I was not comfortable going solo until much later.  If you're like me, you'd prefer to work a bit longer under someone else.  If you're not like me, you can give solo practice a shot but why not see what's out there?
3. Keep on good terms (as much as possible) with your current firm.  Don't bad mouth the partner who might give you the shaft.  You want to keep this network--lawyers can't afford to burn bridges (can anyone?).
4. Keep your billables up.  Go out strong.


This is a lot to do.  But you know what?  Things have a way of working out.  Work hard and smile, and you'll land where you're suppposed to land.  Deep breaths.  You've got this.

Jack

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Can anyone else comment on firms like this trying to "save face?" Because if that's the case, that would reduce my stress immensely. I don't want to be fired, of course, but knowing that there's a chance the firm might let me out with a soft landing would be a lot easier to deal with.

I'd be surprised for someone in any kind of professional career (e.g. engineering, teaching, accounting, medicine, etc.) to get "fired" instead of "laid off" unless they did something particularly egregious, such as making a very public mistake, breaking the law, or going completely AWOL.

Sibley

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The only thing I would say (from experience) - not everyone likes Direct. Not everyone likes Sarcasm. And even if someone does like it, it rarely works over email.

Yeah, maybe it's your personality. It is mine. I learned to tone it down at work, and it has worked in my favor. You might consider the same. The people who like it will still like you, and the people who don't like it won't hate you.

BTDretire

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Thanks for all the replies so far. I will reply to them individually later.


An additional question: should I apologize to the partner to whom I made the sarcastic comment? I just got back from vacation and a notice of hearing was set in that case, so I kind of have a segue to bring that incident up and apologize for it.

The incident in question was about a month ago now. Part of me thinks it's a good idea to apologize for it and get it behind me, the other part of me thinks it will be too much of a red flag that I know something is up. Thoughts?

 I don't see the sarcastic remark as being negative to the partner, I see her as just plain moving the blame to you
to cover her a$$.

ender

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The only thing I would say (from experience) - not everyone likes Direct. Not everyone likes Sarcasm. And even if someone does like it, it rarely works over email.

Yeah, maybe it's your personality. It is mine. I learned to tone it down at work, and it has worked in my favor. You might consider the same. The people who like it will still like you, and the people who don't like it won't hate you.

+1

This is particularly true when someone is really upset/frustrated. Making a blunder related to one of the firm's largest clients is a situation where the partner probably wasn't excited to have someone make sarcastic remarks.

human

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Was the client even upset the filing didn't take place at that time? Were they even aware of a timeline the partner had in mind?

That many partners and 1 associate doesn't make sense at all. Unless you are billing 3000 hours a year with maybe 5 years as an associate and you are well known to some of the big clients I'm not sure you could save your job if they truly want you gone. If you had that kind of presence this partner probably wouldn't try something.

I'm not a lawyer but many (not most or all) of the high performing lawyers I know are quite arrogant and sarcastic. I see this in IP and commercial law, so your original intent to "act yourself" doesn't seem to be a bad idea. But these lawyers/partners are all big dogs, they get results and keep major clients and usually have the best and brightest associates slaving on their files working 20 hours a day.

Maybe look for work at another firm with a reference from you mentor, but this time get your billables up. You may have sat around too long at this job and now the new sarcasm is rubbing some people the wrong way. You should have demanded work your first year' not just sit there and wait for it, maybe you have already created a slacker reputation for yourself . . .

totoro

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Hi there.  I received your PM.  I'd say a law firm creates its own culture but the reality is that law is a business.  Understand where the business is at.

I'm in Canada so there are probably some differences ie. ERISA - we don't have it.  I would say that a niche practice is probably the way to go though.  Develop your expertise in this area while you are at the firm and have as much client contact as possible.  Can you ask the partner you have a relationship for advice on this area?  If so, I would. How do you get ERISA clients?  Figure this out if this is the area you want to practice in and start trying to get clients once you know how the system works if you do not already.

As for the sarcasm bit, meh.  She is covering her butt and let her but let key people know how it actually transpired in a low key way.

If they are going to let you go in Canada you would need notice and you'd be eligible for employment insurance.  Not a bad place to start a solo practice from, especially with a couple of clients who might come with you.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Thank you all for your input. I wish I could reply to each of you, but I've actually been given a couple of hefty assignments since yesterday afternoon and I'm quite busy.

Anyway, thanks to the input here, I feel like I at least have the right mindset now moving forward. Work hard, begin to tap the outside network, and don't be blind as to the structural problems in my own firm.

One last question, I promise: should I stop contributing to my 401k and HSA (totals about $800 per month)? I'd hate to do that, but my own personal checking account is pretty low due to my recent vacation; my fiance and I also have a joint Ally account with about $9k, but that is for our upcoming wedding and I'd hate to tap into that. Would you cease to save for retirement in my scenario?
« Last Edit: August 16, 2016, 07:15:45 AM by ReadySetMillionaire »

chesebert

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No. I would cut back my other spending to build up the EF (unless you have other means of accessing cash, such as a LOC or margin account).

Jrr85

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Most of your assumptions are right (in terms of receivables and overall dynamics), but my firm has 21 partners and I'm the only associate. It's a very top heavy organization with four partners set to retire by next April. A few more would likely come shortly after that.

Furthermore, my firm had a merger in early 2014 (before I was hired). In short, one 16 partner firm merged with a 7 person firm, and the waters have never really settled since then. I've been told the compensation structure negotiations are still ongoing and, that partners do not have any financial incentive to delegate work.

Bottom line is that these seem to be turbulent times for my firm and I'm a pawn in a big game that I don't quite understand.

This really makes a lot of the advice to you inapplicable.  First, there is no long term future for this firm.  It's insane to pay retired partners $100k per year when they are leaving a firm with no associates.  Does the lawfirm own its office building outright and the 4 retiring partners essentially paid for it?  Even then, $100k per year forever would be crazy; $100k per year for say seven years would represent something less than a $2.5M office building.  Eventually, the lawyers with the client relationships are going to figure out that they're much better off starting their own firm or moving to another firm and taking whatever clients they can with them without the drag of that $400k per year retirement obligation. 

Second, I don't think anybody can tell you anything about your chances for making partner.  It's such an odd structure, it's going to depend on the personalities of the group and how they want to operate.  Generally though, I would assume that you will only make partner if you have enough of your own clients that you can leave and go somewhere (or start your own practice) and take them with you.  If you are just working other people's files, why would they make you partner?  Even if they did make you a "partner", I suspect your compensation wouldnt' change that much beyond that to reflect the work you bring in yourself.  Otherwise, why would anybody share work with you?  Much better to do it themselves or hire a new associate where they can keep a chunk of the revenue. 

If you want to stay with some of the people you work with, I would try to latch on to the partner you like working with the best that you also think will be best positioned to start his own firm or move somewhere else.  Don't latch onto somebody that has a lot of wealth tied up in the assets of the firm or that is somehow personally liable for the retirement obligations to the four retiring partners.  If you can't do that, you need to be preparing to jump ship. 

The more general advice about cutting expenses, keeping resume up to date, contacting head hunters, etc. are all still good for your situation.   

BTH7117

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Nothing to add, except hang in there.  I remember making a similar mistake at an old job (tried to help someone and it blew up in my face).  I wasn't fired, but I did not think it bode well for my future promotional potential.  I left about 6 months later and it was honestly the best thing that ever happened to me professionally.  Sometimes fresh starts work out well for all parties.

You'll get through this.