(Max Gerber)

Many highly credentialed law school graduates join Am Law 200 firms each year knowing they don’t intend to stay for very long. Few of them, however, join with the expectation that the terms of their departure will be decided for them. But in 2008 and 2009, as the markets crashed, law firm leaders across the country decided to lay off associates. By our count, nearly 2,900 Am Law associates lost their jobs during that time.

Five years later, what’s become of those laid-off lawyers? Our research shows that those unlucky 2,900 have ended up in every corner of the legal profession—small firms, in-house departments, government positions and back in Big Law—as well as working in industries far removed from the law.

We found six lawyers to talk about where life has taken them in the five years since they left their jobs. Most have already moved on from the first place they landed after the layoff. Each recalls the details of their final days in their law firms a bit differently. (The interviews on the following pages have been edited for length and clarity.)

Some, like Sara Pak, from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, remember emptying their desks and leaving within hours of being laid off. Others, like Nancy Cremins, from Robinson & Cole, received a multiweek springboard to help land a new job. “It’s a hard thing to lay off people, and they tried to be humane about it,” Cremins says, recalling how two firm leaders cried in her office as they told her the news.

Joi Bourgeois, a legal consultant who provides outplacement counseling to lawyers leaving big firms, says the 2008–09 layoffs fundamentally altered the industry. “The trajectory of an associate in a law firm has changed irreversibly because of the momentous shift that took place,” she says. “The more an associate has a sense from day one that they’re in a business, they’re better positioned. You cannot be the same associate in 2014 as you were in 2000, because the vehicle has changed.”

One and Done
The downturn didn’t force Ian McLean out of a job. But it coincided with his decision to try something different.

Family Affair
Being laid off by Sidley led Bobby Olson to a job with his father’s company.

Busman’s Holiday
Getting “Lathamed ” made Kevin Silberman realize that big law life wasn’t for him.

In Tune
Once an aspiring Broadway performer, Lynne Zagami Riquelme embraces her new role.

Network Effect
Nancy Cremins drew on every connection she had to find the right fit.

Start-Up Mode
After leaving it all behind for awhile, Sara Pak begins another chapter.