When Tyler Coulson left Sidley Austin in March 2011 to walk across the country with little more than $5,000, a pile of camping gear, and his dog Mabel, he knew only one thing for sure: He never wanted to work on corporate bankruptcies again.
A year and a half after concluding his coast-to-coast journey, Coulson, 34, is once again practicing law. And he has a few unsolicited words of wisdom for the 60 former Weil, Gotshal & Manges associates recently laid off by the firm.
In a June 25 post published on his personal blog, Coulson, who lives in Chicago, offers the ex-Weil associates five strategies for “dealing with your layoff.” Written in what he describes as his “dry and midwestern” tone—which some might consider simply sarcastic—Coulson’s tips range from the somewhat logical “change careers” to the darker “drop out of society, punish yourself for your failures, and wish for death.”
Under the heading “Take Solace in the Pains of Others,” he also offers a warning of sorts that echoes commentary by legal consultants analyzing Weil’s June 24 announcement that a drop in demand for “premium legal services” had compelled the firm to reduce its associate ranks, let go of 110 nonlawyer staffers, and reduce the compensation of roughly 10 percent of its partners.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” Coulson writes. “And if it’s any consolation, I doubt you’ll be alone for long—there are likely more hard times a-comin’ for Big Law.” Whether that prediction comes true remains to be seen. A half dozen law firm leaders at other Am Law 100 firms told The Am Law Daily they see the Weil cuts as an isolated event.
Interviewed Tuesday, Coulson said that even though he chose to give up his job at a large law firm, he still keeps an eye out for stories that affect his former colleagues. He insists his Weil post isn’t completely steeped in schadenfreude. “It seems lawyers take themselves too seriously sometimes,” he says. “Losing a job is very serious. It’s not like I’m making fun of these people, but it could be worse.”
Coulson’s own career has taken him far from his days at Sidley. He says he’s working with a classmate from the University of Iowa College of Law on administrative law matters, mostly involving clients in need of licensing help before the Illinois secretary of State. The work-from-home job takes up “a lot fewer hours” than working at Sidley, he says.
Since walking from Delaware to California, Coulson has written and self-published two books related to the adventure. Several media outlets in addition to The Am Law Daily—including Above the Law, the New York Post, and The New York Times—have covered his travels.
Coulson says it has been incredibly difficult to make the transition from months of constant movement to a fairly sedentary lifestyle. “If you get accustomed to hiking with a pack for 10 or 12 hours a day, not having anything to do is almost painful,” he says. In addition to acclimating himself to things like no longer needing to worry about the weather and his next source of fresh water, “walking along the streets (of Chicago) was terrifying,” he says. “It’s hard to explain. I was terrified of cars and people. When you walk across the country, 90 percent of the time you’re in middle of nowhere by yourself.”
Outside of his legal practice, Coulson also posts regular musings on his blog—ranging from reviews of camping gear and tirades about the cost of law school to touching tributes about time spent with his aging father, who has Parkinson’s disease—and is working on a collection of interviews with lawyers.
When it comes to doling out advice, Coulson has one more tip for current and future law firm lawyers: “If people are thinking about walking across country for a career decision, I would decide against that. It’s a great experience, but it won’t get you a clerkship.”