Although I occasionally opine on how to improve your lot as a lowly employee, my primary theme is that you should not be an employee. Working for someone else is a sucker’s bet. Aside from the fact that you put your destiny, either short or long term, in the hands of someone else, what is the sense of making someone else money for your efforts when you can put that money in your own pocket? But I know the employee mind set is firmly ingrained in a large percentage of the drone population, and that knowledge was reinforced this morning by two articles that caught my eye.
The first was a simple chart in Business Week (I sometimes read actual, printed magazines – can you believe it?). It was captioned as the “Layoff League Table” and set forth the largest layoffs over the last few years. Here are a few:
Look at how these top six layoffs stretch across several industries – technology, aerospace, financial, retail and automotive. Even government and quasi-government jobs were not safe, with the Air Force cutting 40,000 employees and the Postal Service trimming 30,000. I cannot tell you how many Boeing executives have passed through my office, all telling tales of how they expected to be employed forever.
Then I saw an article in a local lawyer rag, written by Adil Haq, who was an associate attorney at a large firm called Heller Ehrman until it imploded. (I already made the Heller pun, so I’m going to pretend not to notice the author’s name.) I mention the author by name because I hope the next time Adil Haq Google’s his name he finds this post.
Many large law firms have gone the way of Heller Ehrman. They allow their overhead to grow and grow and leave themselves vulnerable to any downturn in the economy or defection of a profitable practice group. Fresh out of law school I worked as a drone at a law firm called Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to obtain some experience so I could start my own firm. When clients would come to the reception desk to meet with an attorney, they would be handed a catalog and invited to take the walking tour of the art collection while they waited. GD&C later had to eliminate that office because of budget concerns. What a surprise. But I digress.
So Adil Haq writes an interesting article called Heller Confidential about his job search and work experience, and basically concludes that the entire process is kind of a joke because associates end up at their chosen firms “based on a hodge-podge of superficial reasons (e.g., the color of the walls, the friendly nature of some partner during a callback), anecdotal evidence rumors, and useless [insider] information.” Having received a pink-slip after just one year of faithful employment, Haq claims to have learned his lesson. He will now place loyalty to self over loyalty to the firm, since the firm let him down.
Welcome to the fold Adil, but you still haven’t learned the complete lesson. You go on in your article to explain that you will now have your eyes open when you get a job at the next law firm. Adil, what are you thinking? Your eyes can be open to saucer-size, but that won’t alter the basic reality of working for someone else. Your next firm may have rock-solid financials, but you still will be subject to the vagaries of the managing partners. Your next article will be about how you played the game and worked the 70 hour weeks for ten years, but were still passed over for partnership. You’ll conclude that at the next law firm you will better read the signs to make sure you are on the partnership track. Eventually you will find your way to my office, wanting to sue for age and/or name discrimination.
You are never safe if you work for someone else, whether it is Boeing or Heller Ehrman. Adil’s situation is classic. He is staring into the abyss of his future life, and opting to step over the edge and live as a drone because he thinks that is the only option. Now is the time for Adil, and you, to cut the umbilical cord and go work for yourselves.