Monday, January 26, 2015

I Got Fired

UPDATE – a shorter version of this article appeared in the Wisconsin Lawyer, Vol. 88 No. 5 May 2015.  

The following posting is made with permission from the State Bar of Wisconsin who originally printed it as an article with the same name included in Fresh Perspectives, State Bar of Wisconsin, January 2015, Vol. No. 18, Issue No. 1:

They called it a layoff, but I knew better. In 2005 and 2006, I worked at a law firm in the Detroit area that specialized in residential mortgage foreclosure law. Business was booming. At one point, we took in over 1,000 new foreclosure files in a single month. I colorfully referred to the firm as a mortgage foreclosure mill. So when they told me I was being laid off, I knew it was not due to a lack of work to assign to me. I knew I was really being fired.

I recently met a young attorney who works at an actual mill because he cannot find legal work after having a similar experience. Luckily, I never had to do that. The legal job market sucked back then but not as bad as today. My stint on the unemployment line lasted only three weeks. The night I got fired I checked my email and, amazingly, in my inbox was an email granting my request for an interview from a Green Bay attorney who became my next employer and one of my greatest mentors.

There was probably a whole list of reasons why my boss decided to let me go, but the biggest one I can think of is that I was too openly disgruntled. I had a whole list of complaints, some of which, looking back, I have to admit were unjustified. But regardless, I did not find a way to tactfully bring them up. Instead, I handed him a memo ranting about my frustration, my personal financial struggle (student loans), and trying to suggest ways for me to fit in. The problem was that is exactly what I was not doing – fitting in.

My boss’s response to the memo was to fire me approximately a month later. Maybe it was already coming prior to the memo, which just explicitly stated everything that I wore on my sleeve anyway. Either way, the point is the same. I overplayed my hand. I only had a year of experience – all at that firm – and my skills were not all clearly transferrable. I had no need for a “book” as I had no “business.” I had no real leverage.

Worrying about things like trying to get a raise, getting better mentorship, or having my picture on the firm website seemed stupid after getting fired and having to worry about how I was going to pay my student loans without a job. Looking back, I “should have” tried my best to get what I knew I could get from my employer and privately searched for what I really wanted elsewhere. That would have been better for me financially, and it would have given me time to realize things such as the fact that my boss was actually paying me a market rate already. I moved from DC to Detroit. I had no idea what the market rate was because that was the only real job I found – I’ll ignore, as I usually do, the morning I spent working for a certain personal injury firm. That was not for me either.

Above, I put “should have” in quotes because getting fired turned out to be a great thing for me – because I learned from it and I found a better fit for me. I regret the way I acted, and if my prior boss reads this, I apologize for not being appreciative of the job and the opportunities you gave me. But, as they say, things happen for a reason. I have two kids now, a 3½ year old, Clayton, and a newborn, Daphne. They are amazing, and they would not be here if I did not meet my lovely wife, Amie, in Green Bay after moving there from Detroit for work. Life goes on. We live and learn. I have been out of law school coming up on 10 years now and, in that time, I have met many good lawyers who have lost a job, failed a bar exam or had other setbacks in their careers.

Law is a pretty vain profession because we lawyers are the product we have to sell. Don’t let pride get in the way of finding ways to gain the experience necessary to survive, and don’t let one bad experience stop you from fighting to be the lawyer you imagined.

© January 2015 Brandon J. Evans