Sara Pak, Los Angeles

Entrepreneur

Laid off from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
 in March 2009

Pak, a corporate associate, knew her time at Fried, Frank might not last long when her billables fell dramatically to 80 hours a month. Although she had survived an initial round or two of layoffs, her time finally came in March 2009. “Everyone was not necessarily surprised,” she says, “but it was surprising when it happens to you.” It took less than 15 minutes for a partner to explain to her why she’d been laid off, she recalls. “I didn’t have anything to say. There were other people who were smarter and negotiated their packages.” She and a friend, who had also just lost his job, left the office, went back to her apartment in Brooklyn to make breakfast, and spent a fun but “surreal” day together.

With nothing left to tether her to New York, Pak moved back to her native California. She spent the next several months traveling, first to a yoga instructor training camp in Bali, then throughout much of Asia. She eventually ended up on a small island off Thailand. “I became a scuba instructor. I had my little scuba instructor boyfriend and we lived in a little hut on this island,” she says. “I rode little scooters.” It was, as Pak calls it, “an interesting vacation,” but something nagged at her: “You do that for a couple months and you realize you spent $200,000 on this legal education and you’re not doing anything with it. I felt like I should at least see if I could still have a career. So I eventually came back. But I did have a blast.”

Living at home in Los Angeles with her mother, Pak sent out a handful of resumes, and within a month found her next job, working in-house at Nuveen Investments Inc., an asset management firm. “When you’re in a big law firm setting and don’t have ambitions to make partner, you fantasize that the in-house jobs are perfect.” In some ways, she says, it was, including less arduous hours and a slower pace. “But, my realization was, you have to speak a completely different language. You forget that when you’re in a law firm, everyone has the same vocabulary. … I really think in-house lawyers are translators.”

Pak left Nuveen last May to work for a friend from college who is a commodities trader. She started off running his hedge fund, and now the two are exploring a series of business ventures. “I’ve become sort of an entrepreneur at this point. It’s a new chapter.”

Today, Pak looks back on her time at Fried Frank with the detached perspective of someone who is no longer in the race. “I remember at the time thinking it was the most important thing. If I fail at law firms, I am a failure. And when you come out, a year or two after, you realize—nobody else in the world cares.”—Sara Randazzo