The Layoff Code

February 5, 2009 by  

You may not be aware of it, but you have the same problem I do: Them.  We see Them every dayin the firm’s dining room, in the hallways, in the elevator banks.  Even if we don’t realize it, They’re all around us.  Hell, some of Them are us.  They’re a constant reminder of our BigLaw mortality, a reminder that no matter how much of a superstar you may think you are at your firm, you’re always just a few billable hours away from joining Their ranks: victims of stealth layoffs.  And no, I can’t figure out how to act around Them, either.

I knew the state of the firm was changing for the worse when I started getting calls from colleagues a few weeks ago that started with either “Am I on speaker?” or “Hey, close your door” and then weren’t followed, as they usually are, by a blow-by-blow of some drunken interoffice sexcapade from the night before, or a horror story about some partner’s raging social ineptitude.

No, these calls were different.  These calls were about, say, that fourth-year two floors downthe one I always thought was smart and funny and always seemed busy.  Who, you mean Stu? Yeah, Stu; I heard he’s one of Them.  NO! Really? Stu? That’s what I heard.  But it can’t be Stu—everyone loves him, his reviews are great.  I mean, I assume. I know, but I heard it from, like, four different people.  Have you talked to him?  Go ask himask him if he’s heard about stealth layoffs. See how he acts. Already did. He just kind of said “I know” and acted totally normal.  Shit, maybe he’s not laid off, then? Maybe.  Why would people say that he was, then? I don’t know.  I mean, goddammit, Stu?!  He had way more hours than I did last year.  If they’re getting rid of him, then…

And so it goes.

Worse than calls like these, though, is the realization that someone down the hall is more likely than not having the same conversation about me.  And you.  None of us are immune from speculation.  In the past couple of weeks, every time I’ve run into associates I haven’t seen in a while, I can tell that they’re trying to gauge if I’m one of Them.  I can feel them trying to get a read on my body language, searching my face for any twitches that might reveal my employment status.

The worst part?  You can’t even have a bad day anymoreor at least wear it on your face.  Now, if you’re having a really crap day for whatever reason and are just skulking around the office like a murderer, no one assumes it’s because you’ve been up all night on a filing deadline or because you had a blow-out with your girlfriend after clocking another 300-hour month; they assume it’s because you’ve started your firm-issued secret three-month countdown to unemployment.  That’s how bad things have become in BigLawwe’re not only losing our bonuses, our raises, our jobs; we’re even losing our right to be openly miserable around our peers.

So, what do you do? What do you do when you’re cornered with someone you think may be one of Themor worse, cornered with someone who thinks you’re one of Them?  Is there some kind of layoff code?  Are you supposed to just stare at the floor and avoid eye contact?  Or do you toss out an overly casual “So…all OK with you?” and see if they biteand then make sure to work in that things are “great!” on your end?  Or do you sniff around more aggressively, ask if they know anyone who’s been given the stealth boot, and then scan their faces for signs of recognition?  Or does that just make you come off like a bigger douchebag than if you’d come right out and asked them point blank in the first place?

At the end of the day, it looks like the etiquette will only be dictated by how we perceive Them.  So, what do we think, then?  Is being one of Them a source of embarrassment, of failure, or is it actually some kind of  latter-day badge of BigLaw honor?  It is possible that being a victim of a stealth layoff bloodbath is the new BigLaw status symbol?  Are you more of a real BigLaw associate if you’ve experienced all three prongs of the BigLaw depression-recession trifecta: frozen salary, no bonus, stealth layoff?  Then again, if being one of Them is some sort of perverse symbol of BigLaw honor, how are we supposed to deal with the few laid-off associates at every firm who would’ve been laid off in any economy, by virtue of the simple fact that they…just kind of suck?  Is it fair to lump them in with Them?  Where do youhow can youdraw the line?  What do you do?

Well, after being stuck in the coffee machine room with Stu the other day, I found the answerI cracked the code.  Stu walked in, smiled and said a frustratingly not-at-all-suspicious hello, went about his business, tossed off a “See ya later,” and left.  No facial twitches.  No glint of recognition.  The only awkwardness in the room was coming, in fact, from yours truly, standing there frozen like an idiot, clutching my burnt coffee and trying to keep my face as neutral as possible.  Because as soon as I was face-to-face with Stu, with one of Them, I realized that it doesn’t make a difference who’s joined their ranks and who hasn’t.  Whether “Them” includes Stu, or that guy down the hall, or your first supervisor, or your best friend at the firm, it doesn’t matterbecause when it comes to stealth layoffs, there’s a code all right, but it has nothing to do with Them.   It has to do with keeping your head down, getting your free coffee while you still can, and realizing that when it comes to working in BigLaw, the safest place you can be is sitting smack in the middle of a headhunter’s office.  But, hey, don’t take my word for it.  Just ask Them.

An excerpt of this essay was also published today on everyone’s favorite legal tabloid, Above the Law.  Make sure to check it out here!


52 Responses to “The Layoff Code”

  1. Anonymous on February 5th, 2009 12:39 pm

    free coffeeeee!!!!!!!

  2. Anonymous on February 5th, 2009 12:51 pm

    You just got swindled!

  3. Anonymous on February 5th, 2009 12:54 pm

    LT – Is this a regular thing on Above the Law now? Are you going to post in between?

  4. Anonymous on February 5th, 2009 1:48 pm

    This post makes me want to kill myself. It’s a good piece, sharp, well-written, just f***ing horrible. Is this what its really like out there????

  5. Pacific Reporter on February 5th, 2009 1:49 pm

    This post sucks.

  6. Anonymous on February 5th, 2009 2:01 pm

    Excerpt? More like 98%.

  7. Southern Lawyer on February 5th, 2009 2:33 pm

    Why Do I feel like the same person just posted 6 times in a row with nothing to say???

    BTW, BFW, I went to your link for “Above the Law” …good god man, those people who commented on your post are assholes!!! And, are obvious quite proud of themselves…

    We don’t have layoff issues down here but that sounds stressful! And, in light of THAT and your really super commentators on ATL seriously makes me rethink ever leaving the South.

    ps. free coffee?? I always heard those fancy firms cater meals and whatnot for you

  8. Anonymous on February 5th, 2009 3:23 pm

    This bit is genius. Well done.

  9. Bill Dugan on February 5th, 2009 4:33 pm

    This is tough stuff. But what does this have to do with sexual olympics at the firm? This website is supposed to focus on that. The Legal Tease should be more titillating, not focusing on layoffs. If she wants to be topical, talk about who’s banging who behind the refrigerator.

  10. Eileen DeBonis on February 5th, 2009 5:53 pm

    Dugan, you disgust me. The topic of the day is layoffs, not who is getting laid. Have some compassion, will you? And that does NOT mean offer to provide your weenie to us women if we get laid off.

  11. Anonymous on February 5th, 2009 10:36 pm

    This is dead on. Nice one. (The commenters on ATL are retards, btw — keep em off here if you can)

  12. El on February 5th, 2009 10:58 pm

    Bill Dugan — WTF? Since when does this site have to do with sexual olympics only? Not even half the posts involve sex and some of us actually notice that and appreciate it instead of turning every comment section into a forum on issues that have NOTHING TO DO with the article. Gimme a break.

  13. Alex Hump on February 6th, 2009 9:24 am

    Bill, I guess men like us have to be more “sensitive” to the female readers. After all, the title of this website is “” and the writers are “Legal Tease” and “Sweet Hot Counsel”. With that as a backdrop, how could you EVER get the idea this website might have some sexual connotations associated herewith?

    Perhaps the Legal Tease ought to take a vow of chastity! When this happens, we can rename the site “” and entertain posts from people like Eileen and the other dour women who keep those mercury dimes firmly between those scrawny knees.

  14. Hey Pacific Reporter on February 6th, 2009 10:35 am

    … suck

  15. Bill Dugan on February 6th, 2009 1:01 pm

    El, I think the Humpster said it better than I could. Since the focus of the site is sexual, why bother with downer topics? After all, we are not asking for the women to take their tops off, so why all the scowling? Lighten up, babe!

  16. Anonymous on February 6th, 2009 7:11 pm

    Wow… I can’t believe Alex brought himself down enough to consider Bill Dugan a friend… I mean, liking sex is one thing… but relating yourself to a sexual retard like Dugan? Why?

  17. Bill Dugan on February 7th, 2009 6:10 pm

    You need to get laid, dillweed; the Humpster and I go back a while and we have all we need without your asswipe anonymous comments. If I were you, I’d find a knothole and stick your hot dog in it.

  18. El on February 8th, 2009 1:30 am

    I admit, i can’t believe i’m actually praising “Alex Hump.” but I have to say that the idea of “” is pretty f**ing hysterical. LOL. (And no, Alex, don’t take this as a suggestion that I’m game to start it up.)

  19. Eileen DeBonis on February 8th, 2009 7:11 am

    I will have you dumb guys know that I have PLENTY of men looking for my attention. In fact, this weekend, I had no less than 2 dates where both men went home very happy (but without sex). So I am living proof that we women can (i) have a good time and (ii) maintain our morality in so doing.

    Those who are REAL men can appreciate what I have without feeling the compulsion to have me do sexual things either to myself or to them. When will you guys ever learn that cheap sexual escapades do not make for a lasting relationships. Guys like the ones on this site are likely to go about bragging that they got to second base, third base or more. And what will that get them? A hi-five from another adolescent law student? Maybe, but that’s about it. What difference does it make a week later when these same douches are trying to get to 3rd base with another woman? And what about the next week?

    Is your life so shallow that you spend all of your time constantly trying with different women to get your hands where they don’t belong? What is the point? Get with it. Get into a serious relationship with a woman for more than anatomical reasons.

    And women, don’t encourage that behavior. You don’t have to keep a dime between your knees as suggested. Just know to push away these sleazebags once they start to go where they do not belong.

  20. Anonymous on February 9th, 2009 1:58 pm

    I vote that we all give Eileen a sex toy. This will keep her happy between men.

  21. Bill Dugan on February 9th, 2009 4:53 pm

    I agree with Anonymous. Eileen is in need of something inanimate as there appear to be no live takers for her. Even the Southern Lawyer hasn’t stepped up to the plate here, so I think either a conventional dildo or a strap-on is in order. We’ll still need someone to apply it, unless, of course, Eileen already has some putz lined up for this purpose. This would not be sex in her book since neither a conventional dildo or a Strap-On is the real thing.

  22. Dirty LAWndry on February 9th, 2009 6:04 pm

    I remember the “layoff code” very well when I used to work for BigLaw. That’s why I don’t regret going solo at all.

  23. Snively Whiplash on February 10th, 2009 12:11 am

    Someone got canned a few months ago and you know what I noticed right before he left. He seemed a bit happier right before. His emails were more jovial and I sensed restrained jubilation. Maybe that is the code.

  24. Anonymous on February 10th, 2009 10:56 am

    Bill Dugan, that is so stupid it does not even make sense.

  25. Bill Dugan on February 10th, 2009 1:35 pm

    What don’t you understand? That foreplay with a sex toy is not the real thing? I suggest you try it and then tell us why it is the same thing. Even the HUMPster knows that!

  26. Alex Hump on February 11th, 2009 1:10 pm

    I knew that. But remember, Eileen is in a class by herself, and I am NOT interested in providing any assistance. If you’re not going to, then we are going to have to rely on the Southern Lawyer to bone her.

  27. Bill Dugan on February 12th, 2009 7:26 am

    Im not sure it will come off. Humpster. Where does Eileen live? Will she be willing to travel just to get boned by the Southern Lawyer? Where does the Southern Lawyer live?

  28. Alex Hump on February 12th, 2009 6:13 pm

    I have no idea where either Eileen or the Southern Lawyer live, tho I suspect the Southern Lawyer lives down South, and Eileen maybe up in New York, but not sure. I think if the two of them decide to hook up, they’d figure out where they would do the dirty deed! It’s just that I can’t imagine Eileen with any man worth his salt. I don’t think the Southern Lawyer will go for her.

  29. Bill Dugan on February 13th, 2009 8:43 am

    That Eileen might not be bad looking, if only for a roll or 2 in the hay. The problem I see is that she probably will have her yap open all the time, and with her strong ideas, unless someone puts a sock in there, the likelihood of having a good time in the sack is going to be low. I prefer women who know when to shut up, and open those yaps only when necessary. While I’ll bet Eileen has a big mouth, men really don’t want to have to listen to that in bed.

  30. Ronsta DeMonsta on February 13th, 2009 9:19 am

    Geez, I’m sorry – I was looking for comments on a pretty well-written article. When I saw all of these comments I realized I must have stumbled onto some teenager’s Facebook page. My mistake. Y’all get back to your adolescent hormone-charged ponderings, and I’ll see you on Career Day at your school.

  31. El on February 13th, 2009 9:32 am

    Ronsta, THANK YOU. I enjoy the articles here, especially this last one, but most of the comments are ridiculous — People: Your comments have nothing to do with layoffs!!! If you want to start some blog (that no one will read) do it. Otherwise, realize the topic.

  32. Eileen DeBonis on February 13th, 2009 10:51 am

    I can’t believe that you 3 dopes are seriously pondering an evening with me and bartering me off between the 3 of you. Why in the world would you ever think I would go anywhere to meet any one of you dopes? I don’t care if you’re in NYC, Philadelphia or down South, you all are not worthy of my time (or the time of any of the other ladies here). I suggest you men find another sandbox to play in, because mine is filled.

  33. Bill Dugan on February 14th, 2009 7:57 am

    Look, Eileen, we aren’t particularly interested in you either; we are all just wondering just how far you would go to get bent. Seeing as how I live just outside of Wheeling, WVA, the Southern Lawyer somewhere down South, and the HUMPster in New York (?), which one of us three would you actually get into a car/plane/train to travel to if you could guarantee yourself a weekend of sin (assuming, that is, that your “sandbox” was available)?
    This reminds me of a poem, for you–which could “woo you” on this Valentine’s Day:

    She offered her honor;
    He honored her offer;
    And for all that weekend,
    He was on her and off her.

    Now that we’ve serenaded you with poetry, it’s time for you to pick among the three of us: Is it going to be:

    1) Me Bill Dugan
    2) Alex Hump and/or
    3) the Southern Lawyer

    Well, make our day, Eileen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. Cathy G on February 15th, 2009 9:07 pm

    Personally, I am not sure I would pick any of you 3 a-holes. The 3 of you do nothing but banter on about sex. And who walks around today calling himself “the Humpster”? Is that ever lame and 1980’s!!!!!! And the Southern Lawyer?!!! Like that is supposed to mean something? And Bill Dugan, you have proven yourself time and again to be a total jerk! Your poem typifies your frat-boy attitude. Im surprised you didin’t hyperlink us over to a porn flick of a female lawyer getting “humped” (har har har).

    I think you 3 guys ought to take stock of yourselves. What bunch of dipshit wimps!

  35. Brenda S on February 16th, 2009 7:55 pm

    You go Girl. I agree that neither Bill Dugan, the Southern Lawyer, nor Alex Hump are == to use an Elaine (Seinfeld) expression == “spongeworthy.”

  36. Snively Whiplash on February 17th, 2009 12:26 am

    The girls (Eileen and Co.) and guys (Humpster et al) both make a good point: the fact that you even interact with each other shows you are all desperate. For someone to get on daily and rant about sex, makes me think they haven’t had any in a while. For women to react to that and condescend to interacting with such guys shows a deep seated insecurity that makes them sweat really really small s#!T. Girls, grow up before you wind up like that dentist woman down in Texas who ran over her stupid husband for banging his secretary. Guys, stop posting comments about sex when you get some. I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot from both groups.

  37. Xuan Lin on February 17th, 2009 8:53 am

    These recent posts ring true. The men (Southern Lawyer, Alec Hump and Bill Dugan) all band together for strength, much like a club of men, who, as children, built forts together. These men probably get sex less frequently than they would like, and, as a result, brag about it to each other and others on the website.

    The women (mainly Eileen and the woman from Pittsburgh) seem to be overly fixated on preventing men from taking advantage of them. It is possible that as children, they were abused by their fathers or older siblings. I can’t rule out religion as a supportive cause, as there have been all too many instances of strong religious upbringing preventing women from leading active healthy sex lives.

    It is not surprising that these two groups would clash. The men, interested mainly in the moment, are anxious to score, and having scored, to share with their buddies, much like dogs like to show their fellow dogs the soup bone they have been chewing on. On the other hand, the women are anxious to preserve their virtue for the “right” man. As such, they do not take kindly to men interested in “humping and dumping”, as these three men are known to do.

    I suggest that the 3 men funnel their attention into more constructive relationships with women, that will last longer than their erections. The women, in turn, should learn that not all men are interested only in “porking” them, and that if these three men can be more constructive sexually, then there is hope for them too. After all, there will be lasting relationships for all of these people, soon.

  38. Southern Lawyer on February 17th, 2009 10:16 am

    Cathy G , Brenda S, and anyone else! Once again, I feel like I am freaking broken record. I have not made ONE single comment about this stupid boy versus girls banter going on in this entire blog. Before you sully my good name, why dont you just look at WHO is leaving the comments. It is NOT me!! In case you were confused I will leave another copy of my above- post attached below. Please note that my comment is directly on-point to the blog post regarding lay-offs.

    Further “Cathy G.” yes, ….it does mean something…it means I am a lawyer who lives in the South. Quite simple actually. Does “Cathy G.” mean anything?

    Southern Lawyer on February 5th, 2009 2:33 pm Why Do I feel like the same person just posted 6 times in a row with nothing to say???

    BTW, BFW, I went to your link for “Above the Law” …good god man, those people who commented on your post are assholes!!! And, are obvious quite proud of themselves…

    We don’t have layoff issues down here but that sounds stressful! And, in light of THAT and your really super commentators on ATL seriously makes me rethink ever leaving the South.

    ps. free coffee?? I always heard those fancy firms cater meals and whatnot for you

  39. Cathy G on February 17th, 2009 1:17 pm

    Good post, Xuan Lin. I think I agree with you. It helps explain what is going on inside the heads of these guys. And to the “Southern Lawyer,” that is my name. I do not refer to myself as the “Northern Lawyer,” as there are probably lots of people who fit that bill.

  40. Southern Lawyer on February 17th, 2009 4:35 pm

    Brilliant, Cathy G. Perhaps, I simply desire more discretion than you do. I’m sorry you dislike my pseudonym; I’ll consider using my full name and address in the future. Nevertheless, and not surprisingly, you completely missed the entire point of my comment. You will fit in lovely with the other morons on this site.

  41. Brenda S on February 17th, 2009 6:36 pm

    Cathy, I agree with you and Xuan Lin. Don’t be intimidated by the Southern Lawyer or, for that matter, either of the other 2 dorks on the website. You go, Girl, and we’re with you on this one. Let’s stick together on this because It’s strictly right vs. might, and we’re the ones who are right, since their only “might” is their loud crass posts. With all due deference to Eileen, I reiterate that none of these dorks are even remotely spongeworthy.

  42. prodigal_student on February 20th, 2009 9:25 am

    wow…ladies, ladies…lighten up. i am a female myself so know that before you immediately jump in my shit and classify me as just another member of the “frat”. let us not forget that this IS a blog where sex does come up rather blatantly and frequently. So the fact that the guys are talking about it shouldn’t come as some big shock. True enough, this particular post wasn’t about sex, but who the hell cares? It’s the “comments” section on a blog that typically does refer to sex….there’s nothing saying you have to read the comments, and for damn sure nothing that says you have to reply to them. You ladies are engaging and then having the nerve to be offended by what you get back–everything you’re being “subjected” to is voluntary…inlcuding reading this site in the first place. I checked the blawg directory today looking for things of interest to me and there are a plethora of sites. If you’re going to come to this one, then come–free country and all. But it’s just as free for the fellas as it is for you…chill the hell out and have a little fun–yes, they’re being juvenile but that’s their choice. But guess what, SO ARE YOU! And there’s nothing wrong with us grownups having a little juvenile fun or conversation once in a while…especially in the comments section of a blog…seriously, calm down. And take some responsibility–nothing is being thrust upon you (although it seems that at least 1 of you has 3 offers for such if you’d like!)

  43. Anonymous on February 20th, 2009 6:11 pm

    Prodigal, your stupidity astounds. If the “men” have a right to make offensive comments, the “women” have a right to express their offense. Is that concept too complicated for you?

  44. Alex Hump on February 21st, 2009 9:42 am

    Yea, I kinda dig the Prodigal Student–she has the right attitude. I’ll bet she’s the kinda chick that is into a little fun — with the right guy of course — without turning the whole thing into some sort of morals issue (like Eileen). The right man ought to be lucky to find a broad like her.

  45. Bill Dugan on February 21st, 2009 3:57 pm

    I agree with the HumpSTER! The chick is cool. Why can’t there be more chicks like her. Most female lawyers have a telephone poll up their asses when it comes to having a good time. They need to loosen up and let it hang, man!

  46. Eileen DeBonis on February 22nd, 2009 7:54 pm

    I’ve been away from the site for a while, but find it great that I have gained a number of followers. Women simply don’t need to put up with the antics of these 3 dopey men. I think if we women stand together, we can literally bring dopes like these to their knees.

    The day will come when we really have control, and we can dictate what we want from these men and when we want it. When we get tired of it, we merely will send these dopes along on their way.

    The way I see it, these 3 dopes are no more than 98.6 degree dildoes; no more no less. Of course, to the extent performance is lacking, they can be replaced.

  47. Snively Whiplash on February 22nd, 2009 9:50 pm

    If you have to hire a lawyer, make it a great lawyer.
    If you want to be with a woman, why not have it be a great woman.

  48. C Groh on February 23rd, 2009 7:14 am

    Hear! Hear! Add me to the list of the 3 dopes. As Snively suggests, we should insist on great women. Not mediocre women or snotty women that use sex as a weapon, but great women–women that complement us, support us, and make us happy to be with them because of who they are and how they treat us.

    When we see the women on the Oscars, we see what the top of the heap looks like. We know that not every woman can be a Penelope Cruz or an Angelina Jolie, but we don’t have to settle for a bottom of the barrell scuzbutt who acts surly all of the time to us.

    Women, wake up. You are not perfect either, so stop holding us up to such a standard. If we want to spoon, fine, if not, then don’t punish us. We don’t punish you for watching Nancy Grace every nite — if we did you would never know what an orgasm is. If we want to have sex, don’t turn us down out of hand. Consider that you get something out of it too.

  49. Anonymous on February 23rd, 2009 4:53 pm

    Is a threesome with prodigal_student, Bill, and Alex imminent? Keep everyone updated! Let prodigal show everyone how real women do it!

  50. Northern Chick on February 23rd, 2009 6:42 pm

    I don’t think those 2 men have it in them, personally. They may be no more than needle-dicks when it comes to real-time boning!

  51. Bill Dugan on February 24th, 2009 6:10 am

    Northern Chick, How about you jumping in to help , then? ..I’m sure your hot enough to get our mojo’s going. If not, you’ll at least be able to warm the bed on these chilly NY nights, or at the very least cover the wet spots that can be very cold. Please provide your vital stats so that we can get the concurrence of the HumpSTER to your participation.

  52. Alex Hump on February 25th, 2009 6:10 pm

    Dugan is right but I don’t think I like what Northern Chick has to say, so I am not interested in any kind of mojo action with her.

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