Lawyer Layoffs and the Prospect of Temping

I can tell from the blog’s search stats a lot of you are worried about layoffs. Not that I needed stats to tell me that, but many of you might find it comforting to know that you’re not the only one worried about being laid off.

Obviously the most at-risk associates are in the specialized finance areas in firms that aren’t very diversified. But as I’ve said before, no matter your situation, you might as well act as if you’re going to get a pink slip in the next two months, and get a plan together.

One idea I haven’t tackled here until now is legal temping. I imagine the very notion makes many of you turn a delicate shade of green. And frankly, rightly so, if you go into it kicking and screaming and feeling like you have now admitted to the world you are the biggest legal failure EVER.

So don’t do that. Instead, embrace legal temping as a great option to buy you time. You should have a plan well before you get a pink slip, and part of that plan is figuring out how to get by financially without the 6-figure salary. Legal temping brings in a ton more cash than working at Starbucks, my friends. At $35/hour, say, and 40 hours a week, you’re making the equivalent of $72,000. And temp projects often demand loads of hour in excess of 40, so you could get much closer to a rate equivalent to $100,000. For a temporary band-aid, that’s not horrible.

Yes, it is stupefying to do nothing but review documents day after day after week after month. Even with the best of attitudes, there will be times that the whole thing will grind you down. Maybe you would truly rather be at home working on your novel. And if you actually will work on that novel, more power to you. You’ve made a choice, that transient poverty and doing work you love matter more to you than income, at least for now. In other words, you are empowered. Say it with me, EMPOWERED. You are equally empowered if you decide that you would feel better about your situation if you brought in some cash, and got out of the house daily.

I know the biggest problem with temping is purely shame. How could you, a graduate of a top 10/20/25/whatever law school, be reduced to temping? Weren’t you ordering temps around not long ago? Yes, downward status changes are incredibly hard. But they’re much easier if you view them as temporary. One temp job does not equal your fate in life. Seriously, you won’t be the first attorney who has been in this situation, and you won’t be the last. This is not a vote on your worth as an attorney.

Even if these are not choices you would make were the world your oyster, that’s OK. They are still choices, and you still made them. If you opt for temping, realize that it is not a life sentence. No place is going to judge you harshly about it unless you judge yourself harshly first. Prospective employers will react to your view of the situation much more than the situation itself. If you project an attitude of “I did what I needed to do,” there is no shame in that. Instead, congratulate yourself — you decided to survive with as much grace as you could muster in the situation. That is nothing but admirable, from where I sit.

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