My patient, a senior associate doing IP litigation at a downtown firm, brought me the bad news.
“I got a terrible review last week.”
She seemed calm about it, considering. That’s because she knows how law firms work.
“I’m expensive, and they’re preparing for lay-offs. So they told me I’m terrible. It was ridiculous. They made stuff up off the top of their heads.”
I had to hand it to her. I wish I could have been so cool when the same thing happened to me.
My first year review at Sullivan & Cromwell went fine. Mostly, they didn’t seem to notice me. I wasn’t important enough to review.
Then, in the second year, it was suddenly a horror show. Nothing I did was right. The partners didn’t fool around at S&C – they give it to you with a sledgehammer.
Even then, I remember wondering about that one partner who seemed to like me. Of course, he wasn’t mentioned at the review.
Years later, after I’d given up on a legal career, I realized the truth. They’d probably given identical reviews to ten or fifteen percent of my class that year. We were the ones who left. It was a lay-off. Those terrible reviews were the partners’ way of creating a paper trail in preparation for letting us go – covering their tracks in case we sued.
My patient – an experienced senior associate at her second law firm job – knew how to handle this sort of thing. You don’t let them throw you.