Ah, geez. Give me a break. I just got here.

Man surprised Just when I thought that the Great Recession was past us, bam!  Law.com publishes an article announcing,"Law Firms Predict More Layoffs Among Non-Equity Partners, Support Staff."

I mean, a gal can't catch a break over here.  According to the article, "A new survey released Tuesday by national consulting firm, Altman Weil shows that law firms nationwide still expect to conduct layoffs in 2010, though at a lesser rate than in 2009.

The survey, titled "Law Firms in Transition 2010," said 67 percent of law firms cut support staff, 43 percent cut paralegals and 44 percent cut associates last year, while only 25 percent cut equity partners and 26 percent cut non-equity partners. The firms polled said they believe there are more layoffs on the horizon and that support staff and non-equity partners remain in the crosshairs for the bulk of them."

For once, just for once, I want to be ahead of the game.  Not the last one dusting off the keyboard and  turning off the lights. So, what's an astute paralegal to do?  Look for warning signs.  Bail before the ship sinks.  Dust your resume off, get your Go-to-Meetin'-Sunday-Best suit out of mothballs and rev up the ole Packard sitting in the garage.  For once, we're not going to be the last to know, the first out the door or the one who forces herself to keep walking past those open windows.  I'm going to look for the ten top warning signs that lay-offs are coming.

1.Partners and top Administrators are suddenly doing a lot of closed door meetings.  I mean a lot.  When they emerge, they seem to hide the papers they went in with.

2.The budget gets thrown out the window and new severe cuts are made.  Coffee is no longer offered, training dollars are gone and someone wearing Cobby Cuddler shoes and a girdle has appeared.  They say she is an efficiency expert but you know her as The Terminator.

3.There's a buzz in the office and it's not about growth.  People are gossiping.  Rumors abound about what partners are suddenly finding offers somewhere else, and it's not on your 14th floor.  In fact, the rumor mill is so thick with stories, the only way you know if something is true is if Millie, Mr. Vanilli's secretary, nods her head knowingly when approached with the latest in gossip.

4.People around you are disappearing.  They call these lay-offs.  You assume that they are dismissed because they had low billables, their work wasn't up to snuff or they didn't really fit in. However, revenue generating people seem to be staying.  Funny, though, how Suzi got a pink slip.  She's been here 12 years.  And wasn't Andy slated for retirement soon?

5.Associates are doing paralegal work; paralegals are doing secretarial work and secretaries are hardly working.  In other words, the entire firm's level of competency has slipped a level.  People are taking on lower level assignments because there's no work flowing in from the top.  Your best friend down the hall is scrambling to keep up her billables and just yesterday, spent the day taking staples out of some exhibits so the paper would go through the photocopy machine.  She billed six hours for that.

6.The firm isn't performing well.  It has lost a couple of major clients yet to be replaced.  A memo went out yesterday stating that minimum billable hours were going up but no one knows where to find the work.

7.People leave but their positions are not filled.  It's been six months since your colleague, John, left for another firm.  Yet, the firm seems to be taking a very long time to fill a run-of-the-mill, garden variety, 2 year litigation paralegal spot. Other paralegals have taken over John's workload and it seems as though John's position has suddenly vanished.

8.Your boss and other supervisors suddenly give you the cold shoulder.  What's up with that passive-aggressive behavior?  No more beer on Friday nights; no more chatting in the stairwells, just formal, professional shop talk. There's a lack of casual interaction. You begin to feel you've done something wrong. Three months later, you see your colleague's positon eliminated.  You're sure you are next.

9.Everyone's salary is frozen.  You don't think you'll see a cost of living increase this year and you can forget about that bonus.

10.There are no more job postings on your firm's website.  It's been a month since you've seen your firm's name in the recruiting section of The Times. You HR department suddenly refuses to pay recruiting fees and to top it all off, that new paralegal assistant you were promised six months ago – well, there's a hiring freeze now, so you're just going to have to wait.  In fact, the firm suddenly finds outsourcing a very attractive option.

Ahhhhh, come on, guys.  Not another round of layoffs!  I just got here.  My chair isn't even broken in, my coffee cup doesn't have any rings on the bottom and I just found the bathroom on the 3rd floor all by myself. To top it off, I just became eligible for the 401K plan.  C'mon, folks.  Give a gal a break here!