Nancy Cremins, Boston

Partner, Gesmer Updegrove

Laid off from Robinson & Cole in April 2009

I was at Robinson & Cole for five years, the first real five years of my career. Then I had a baby in 2008, which I gently call one of the worst-timed maternity leaves of all time. I was in the business litigation group at my firm, and when I came back from maternity leave in the fall of 2008, it was pretty clear things were slow. They laid off 5 percent of the workforce at my firm in April 2009.

At that point, I did what I could to leverage my network in every way I could think of. I called everyone. I emailed everyone. There was such a stigma attached to the process that I think a lot of people felt ashamed. I was the primary breadwinner for a new baby; I didn’t have the luxury of feeling ashamed. I had to find a new job. And, quite frankly, I didn’t feel like I had done anything to deserve [being laid off]. They were making cuts, and whether the maternity leave factored in or not, obviously the year before, my hours were low. If you’re out on maternity leave, you will lose a numbers game. You will. There’s not intentional bias there, it just is a fact. I had a sense that if the ax was going to fall, it would fall on me. And I was right.

I was out of work for exactly nine weeks and started at Gesmer Updegrove in the summer of 2009. I’m not going to say that it was easy to find a job, it’s just that I worked every connection I had, and fortunately I had a lot of connections to work. I’m a living example of, Don’t wait to build a network until you need one, you’ve got to build it long before.

I was just promoted to partner here, effective January 1. I’ve had a great career here. The firm introduced me to the startup world, which is not something I knew really anything about before. I love working with early-stage companies. I’m passionate about helping them. But for losing my job I probably would not have come to it. Lord knows if I stayed at my last firm [whether] I would have made partner. Maybe, in retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to my career.

My advice to others, which may sound a little bit trite, is to see it as an opportunity to reinvent your career or find a better fit. Because if you’re laid off, that means it’s not the right fit. It means you’re not indispensable. It’s important for people to know that if they are laid off, their career is not over. You’ve got to work for it, but it’s not a death knell to your professional success. It’s just not.—as told to Sara Randazzo