In 2008, I was fired by Paul Hastings three days after I returned to work after having a miscarriage. The firm knew about my pregnancy - and my subsequent miscarriage. I thought the firm's timing of my termination was deliberate and to put it mildly, insensitive. In response, I wrote a lengthy email detailing my perspective of the situation and turning down their offer of three months severance in exchange for an agreement promising to keep my termination and the firm's handling of the termination secret. That email went viral.
Even now, five years later, when Above the Law happens to reference my email, traffic to my blog spikes. I'm sure many are curious. Whatever happened to that woman? Did she get her ass kicked? Did she show them by going in-house and refusing to hire that firm? Did she ever manage to land another job interview? Does she regret what she did?
Like the thousands of comments that my original email spurred, I'm sure many of these questions have nothing to do with me. They are more about the reader's own concerns and anxieties. What happens to an employee who sticks out her middle finger at her former employer? Does she get away with it? Or is she shot down to wallow in her own remorse? What can I do to protect my own job, ensure I make partnership?
Well, I'll tell you what happened to me. For a brief period after the termination, I worked on a few projects as a contract attorney. Then my friends started referring clients to me, and I handled my own cases until my son was about a year and a half. It started to feel overwhelming to handle my own cases solo while also raising a child, so I decided then to refer those cases out and become a stay at home mom. That's what I have been doing for the past three years.
During that time, I also had a second child. My days have been filled with trips to Sea World, to Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, and playdates. I have time to read with my children, to answer all of their questions (and there are plenty from a 3.5 year old), to prepare their snacks and their meals, to bathe them, to roll around in the sand and to giggle with them. I wouldn't have traded that time for anything. Not even a law firm salary.
I've also had the luxury to think about what I want in life. And I've allowed myself to admit that I really don't want to be a lawyer for the rest of my life. I've always known that, but it's another to decide to act on that -- to give up that bar membership, to dismiss the 100K in student loan as just a minor financial miscalculation (and thank goodness I paid off my debts within the first three years of my practice), to decide that the three years spent in law school wasn't really a terrible waste of time since I learned so much.
I may have arrived at this decision even without the Paul Hastings incident. But it certainly made it easier. I saw a different perspective to what it means to be a stooge in a big law firm. The people who were involved in my termination were not evil. I actually liked them as individuals. But maybe the type of people who succeed in that type of environment are those who simply go along with whatever is asked of them. Not raise a stink. Be a good soldier. Check your spine at the door.
I remember participating in our litigation department meetings in the few months leading up to my termination. A few associates in our department had stopped showing up for work, and no one knew what happened to them. Did they quit? Did they get fired? Did they transfer? What happened? Well, we figured they got fired because some associates stayed in touch with them, but no one knew of the circumstances. During our department meetings, I remember raising my hand and asking about those associates who disappeared. I directly asked, "Are we having layoffs?" Several of the partners acted astounded that I would even think that the firm was having layoff, but refused to acknowledge that those associates had been fired. The department head simply said that he could not talk about them because the information was private.
What was amazing about those meetings was that no one -- not even one other associate -- was willing to ask questions about what was going on. Maybe some already knew the details because they were friends with those who left. But I know many other associates were in the dark with me because I had asked around and no one knew. I was astounded that I was working in an environment where people were afraid to ask basic questions about their job security.
After I left, a few of the younger associates thanked me for asking those questions at the department meetings that they said they were too afraid to ask. It says something about today's corporate environment in America that people can't ask basic questions -- that my one email should spur such interest and such a reaction.
For me, it was a healthy experience. I not only gained a new perspective, but I now feel more confident about myself. I feel like I can do so much more than I thought myself capable of doing. I also left the firm with a healthy sense of respect for myself. I can speak up for myself, and I can defend myself. That feels pretty good.
I'm trying to figure out my new career. It hasn't been easy trying to fit that in while I'm also taking care of two little ones. At the same time, it's a luxury and a privilege. Not many people are in a situation where they have the means to stay at home with the children and the means to invest in a new career. I feel blessed every day.
I'm just living my life. And trying to be a decent human being and a good citizen. And use my time wisely. All that good stuff. Not too different from what you are probably doing.