On a Monday morning in early March, two associates sat in an East Coast office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius discussing a firmwide e-mail from chairman Francis Milone. It warned that because of the recession, 55 lawyers and 161 staff members would be told that day that “their employment will end.” These two associates felt relatively confident that their jobs were safe. But as they chatted, the phone rang, and the number of the partner both of them worked for popped up in the caller ID box of one associate’s phone. They panicked.

As one associate looked on, the other answered what turned out to be a routine work-related call. After a collective sigh, the associates discouraged the partner from calling anyone else until later that day, after a meeting that had been scheduled to discuss the layoffs — the unofficial all-clear for associates unaffected by the cuts. (These associates, like all quoted in this story, spoke on the condition of confidentiality.)

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