" The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
— Martin Luther King Jr.
A special column is presented this month. I have received an increasing number of calls and e-mails from lawyers about the impact of the economy on their professional lives. What started as concern has grown to worry, and for some, especially those who have lost their jobs, despondency.
As to the latter group, I feel great empathy, particularly since I have felt their pathos in calls and realize they have limited options. I truly wish them the best. For those who remain in place, I felt it was important to offer some perspective and encouragement.
Although hours are down, and most firms would rejoice if revenues are flat in 2009, the spectre of disaster that one could glean from news reports is perhaps a bit too dire. There seems to be no question that many of the layoffs are directly related to the economic downturn. Matters may also get worse before they start to improve.
But, it also is the case, in my opinion, that a sizable portion of the layoffs are a function of firms doing what they should have years ago, namely, streamlining their operations and making the tougher calls on retention that they did not in the past. Consequently, the economy is blamed, in part, for not taking more prudent action during more robust times.
Managing partners of solid, well-positioned firms with whom I have spoken are not forecasting revenue drops in the 20 to 30 percent range (or even above), which would qualify as more than alarming. Granted, these are only forecasts, but, because of what could transpire if they are unduly optimistic (defaulting on covenants, for example, or in having partners who felt misled leaving in droves), they would be harmed by Pollyannaish projections.
Moreover, there are many lawyers who are still busy in this downturn. It has been widely reported that IP and workout lawyers, to cite two examples, are leading the pack in this economy, which seems to be true. Nevertheless, even though litigation has not risen to the fore as it has in other recessions, there are quite a few litigators I know who are as busy as they have been in recent years.
I do not pretend to be an economist and thus temper the statements here with that disclaimer in place. As a student of history, though, it is without dispute that our economy has bounced back not only from the Great Depression, but also the recessions of the ’80s and ’90s and the technology correction at the outset of the ’00s.
I was a student, associate, partner, general counsel and now recruiter through those periods and thus have some life and work experience that allow perspective. Although law firms and in-house law departments changed as a result of those hard times, the sun eventually rose again, as I predict it will this time, too.
For those who are not inherently optimistic, it is a time to dig down deep to draw on that emotion. The onslaught of stories, which now seem to come daily, of layoffs of law firm lawyers is unrelenting. Coverage of the general economic downturn is even more pervasive, as news shows follow one depressing story with three more. Even Norman Vincent Peale may struggle to retain his optimism after being besieged with such stories at every turn.
My suggestion? It is important, of course, to stay informed. Read and listen to what you need to so that you can stay on top of events that affect you professionally and personally.
However, after you have been pummeled with negative story after negative story, as if you were absorbing blows in an ill-conceived "rope a dope" strategy, put the paper down, change the channel or go to another Web site — hopefully a destination that will soothe your soul for a few moments.
My thesis is that if you have had success, especially in challenging times in the past, you will again. The key is to remind yourself of that success and keep it at the forefront of your consciousness. Is this nothing more than positive thinking mumbo-jumbo? I think not.
The importance of expectations has been well documented. For instance, the placebo effect is a pervasive phenomenon in medicine that has vividly demonstrated the power that the mind has on our body if it expects improvement to follow.
Similarly the Pygmalion effect, which finds its roots in the play by the same name written by George Bernard Shaw, has the same impact. Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted a study to test their hypothesis that reality can be influenced by the expectations of others. Their study, in fact, showed that when teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from some children, the children did show that enhancement.
Real estate lawyers, and others in similarly distressed practice areas, may scoff at this. All the positive thinking in the world, for example, will not cause financing and development work to instantly appear. But, if you remain active, balanced and open, rather than desultory, lamenting your decision decades ago not to go into another practice area, you just may capitalize on opportunities that otherwise may escape your attention.
So, just how do you keep those expectations high? I am not sure that anyone has a definitive answer, but I offer these suggestions:
• Keep your inner circle strong. Now is not the time to forsake family and friends; in fact, it is the time to "double down" and draw on their support.
• Reinforce your spirituality — no matter what form that may take.
• Stay in the moment and enjoy your hobbies, as they can bring great joy and fulfillment.
• Find an outlet for your stress. Whether this entails working out, reading a novel, taking a yoga class, meditating, or simply taking more deep breaths — to quote Nike, just do it.
• Surround yourself with positive persons. Although you don’t want to forsake those who need your help, spending more time with people who also set their expectations high, rather than those who will drag you down, also will be of immense help.
•Finally, many persons find that reading positive quotes and books are helpful. If you fit that mold, there are innumerable books and resources that can be found in a split second with a quick Internet search. If podcasts are more your speed, check out "Yes You Can": www.theyesyoucanshow.com and "The Prosperity Podcast": http://documan.podbean.com. These are just two examples; iTunes and other podcast sites abound with similar shows. •
Frank M. D’Amore is the founder of Attorney Career Catalysts, www.attycareers.com , a Pennsylvania-based legal recruiting, consulting and training firm. He is a former partner in an AmLaw 200 firm, general counsel in privately held and publicly traded companies, and vice president of business development. He can be reached at email@example.com .