Oregon State Bar Bulletin — APRIL 2010
Parting Thoughts
The Safety Net
By Joseph H. Haddad

I haven’t seen it like this in three winters,” advised the stranger. Not wanting to diminish the moment with clumsily chosen words, I kept it short. “Fortunate timing,” I muttered, barely audible over the Oregon surf. As I turned my attention back to the roar of the ocean and its 20-foot high swells, I couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed. Motionless, I reflected on the fact that three winters ago, a wave of good fortune compelled my decision to take an extended leave from the private practice of law.

After admission to the bar in 2000, I began practicing within the litigation department of the largest law firm in Oregon. Certainly, securing such a coveted position would not have been possible without a little hard work and legal acumen, but truth be told, I really benefited from excellent timing. At the turn of the century, the dot-com boom drove the salaries of law firm associates skyward, doubling the sizes of most summer associate classes. Internet and technology start-ups were turning recent grads into overnight millionaires, and Northwest firms responded by jacking up their respective compensation packages to keep and attract legal talent. The rest, as they say, is history.

Regardless of whether my personal window of opportunity was widened because of bona fides or buona fortuna, I wasn’t about to apologize for stepping through it. My first firm became a springboard to the second, a boutique office of a national labor and employment firm that dispensed as much responsibility as I dared to handle. Four years later, I had become an experienced trial attorney with an established career path. Then I caught a run of cards … So I jumped.

Looking back, the decision to take the road less traveled, even if for only a few years, was a relatively easy one. After all, if things didn’t work out, I had my experiences and C.V. to fall back on. However, by the time I decided to return, I was no longer the beneficiary of fortunate timing. Jobs were now scarce. The talent pool had deepened. Salaries were frozen. Months passed between interviews, and nary an offer was forthcoming. Nobody was going to feel sorry for me, because hundreds and thousands of others shared in this plight.

Some would say this is a lesson in making whimsical and foolhardy decisions. Maybe they are right. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think of those in the legal community who have either decided to take a leap of faith or who were otherwise forced into trekking out on their own. All I can offer to those lawyers in mid-air, terrified and unsure of where they might land is: don’t look down.

After a while, I stopped engaging in the cover letter and resume campaign. Instead, I started talking. I conversed with my good friends who were not lawyers. Who did they know? What types of legal services did their businesses need? I expressed interest to an old cabin-mate and friend about meeting with an attorney he knew who needed help. My follow-up inquiries were unrelenting. One day, he telephoned me to state he was at a local restaurant with the aforementioned lawyer, and I rushed over just to shake his hand.

The telephone became my friend. I pestered a guy (who had 12 years earlier tried to steal my girlfriend) because he expressed displeasure over reviewing and negotiating leases. The coach and founder of my recreational league ice hockey team offered “burgers and benefits” for legal advice. Another friend, an old law school classmate, who was now an office equipment salesperson, introduced me to his veep at a coffee shop, and a few weeks later I was in his office taking a personality test to see if my characteristics matched the company’s ideal. Then, the lawyer who I had hurried to meet one spring afternoon expressed that he might have some work and a spare office he could share.

Most importantly, I contacted my old colleagues. They shared ideas, gave me names and suggested other areas of law to incorporate into my practice. I contacted lawyers in the big firm who didn’t remember me, but who decided to meet with me anyway. Without sounding desperate, I communicated my willingness to represent clients with a wide range of needs and scheduled lunches with my dear lawyer buddies whom I had left, three winters ago, to pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Then a funny thing happened. My phone started ringing. The callers on the other end were looking for a lawyer.

From my rocky perch above the ocean tide, I wondered where the current of the sea might take me. This voyage, fraught with peril, didn’t seem doomed any longer, even though I had no notion of my destination or the direction of my vessel. That didn’t matter, because I wasn’t sailing alone.

The author practices employment law and business litigation as of counsel with the Ambrose Law Group. He can be reached at jjhaddad@ambroselaw.com.

© 2010 Joseph H. Haddad

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