Type-A partners, once glued to their BlackBerrys, suddenly have time for
their spouses and their children; ladder-climbing junior lawyers linger over
“People are shellshocked,” said one top partner at the firm who, like
many of its current and former lawyers, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear
of retribution. “If they survived the first two rounds, they’re happy to have a
job, but are still very nervous. And if their phones don’t ring, if their work
doesn’t come back with a vengeance, they fear they aren’t long for this
But the natural order of this world has been set on end by the economic
crisis and the possible disappearance of fixtures like the pyramid system (under
which associates are thrown en masse at certain cases, fattening the fees), and
the billable hour itself (increasingly replaced by flat rates or retainers in a
client’s market). The tectonic plates have begun to shift in a nauseating
manner, bringing fear, ambiguity and psychological scars.
“You used to feel the intensity in the office,” said a longtime partner at a big New York litigation firm. “When people walked to the bathroom, they would actually
scurry. Now it’s more of a stroll.
“For the first time in their lives, people feel sort of useless. All of a sudden, you can go to lunch for two and a half hours and really not be missed. It’s a blow to the ego. You’re talking about people who have never really failed.”