“I’m sorry, I have to let you go.”
The head of the firm managed to look sad. I had started working for the firm less than a year before. I had been brought in at 60 years old because the firm wanted an older, experienced attorney to mentor the young guns in the firm.
I flatter myself in believing I had done this, sharing with the youngsters my trial experience, my voir dire questions, my knowledge of search and seizure case law, and my real-world understanding of what made clients tick.
“Can you tell me why?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“My lawyer told me not to say anything,” he said. The old dodge: Blame the lawyers.
“For what it’s worth,” he said, giving me a tiny sheepish smile, “I think you’re a good guy.”
I felt as if the floor underneath me had disappeared. I saw myself falling and falling and falling with no end in sight.
“I don’t like doing this,” the boss said. “You’re the first lawyer in ten years I’ve had to terminate.”
“Why does that not make me feel better?” I asked sickly.
I was 61 now. What the hell was I going to do?
My son would be getting married in two months. Fortunately, I had already purchased my airline tickets to the wedding in Indiana. The firm gave me enough in severance to get me through to then. But what would happen when I returned?
I half-jokingly told myself that maybe I would get lucky and the plane would crash on the way back. Financial problem solved.
I could look for another job, but I couldn’t indulge in the fantasy that I would find one. At my age, no one would seriously consider me, though they would all make a great show of doing so to avoid a discrimination claim.
Falling, falling, falling…
“What do you think I should do?” I said to my boss. He shook his head.
“Could you at least give me a recommendation letter?” I asked, grasping at the last tiny shred of dignity.
“My lawyer recommends we stay out of that,” he said.
When a lawyer loses a job, it’s different from when a real person loses a job. Most lawyers go through their lives with one or two firms, rarely facing the prospect of unemployment. To be fired would be an eternal black mark on my career.
I staggered out the door, boxes of my personal accouterment awkwardly in my hands. I was surprised there was still solid ground beneath my feet.
Two of my colleagues helped me get the boxes into the car and then stood outside with me telling me how much this sucked. I knew what they were thinking: What if this was me?
Finally, I drove off. I tried to pay attention to the road even though I was having an out of body experience.
I was untethered. It felt like my career was in my rear view mirror.