When L.A. law firm O'Melveny & Myers LLP laid off Anthony Arnold, he grabbed a golf club but not because he wanted to hit the guy who handed him the pink slip.
Instead, Arnold started spending hours perfecting his swing in hopes of fulfilling a longtime dream of becoming a professional golfer. It's what he's always wanted to do and now seems like the right time.
"It's not the best job market," Arnold said. "You have to be a lot more creative in this type of situation, and it's the first time I have been forced to do that."
In fact, many lawyers are being forced to be creative. Past recessions were fairly kind to the legal set, but this one has been particularly cruel. Hildebrandt International Inc., a legal consulting firm, estimates the largest 200 law firms in the United States already have axed 5 percent of their attorneys, and more are on the way.
As a result, let-go lawyers all over Los Angeles are rethinking their futures like never before.
Among them is Brandon Dorsky, who lost his job last month at the downtown L.A. office of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw & Pittman LLP. He's considering a career in the music business, and already has started managing a rock band and a recording artist.
"I think I have a good eye for talent," Dorsky said "And I can offer a variety of services managerial and legal which will be invaluable to a band that is just on the cusp of breaking."
Arnold had attended Harvard University for both undergrad and law school. He moved to Los Angeles after graduation in 2007 to join O'Melveny & Myers as an associate working on merger and acquisition deals. His tenure at the prominent law firm ended when O'Melveny let him go along with 89 other attorneys nationwide. The firm also laid off 110 support staff. O'Melveny was one of six L.A.-based firms to cut jobs, for a total of more than 900 attorneys and staff nationwide.
L.A. market leader Latham & Watkins LLP made the deepest cuts in February, when it laid off 90 associates nationwide about 12 percent of the firm's associate base and 250 support staff. Other L.A. firms on the layoff list are Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.
"Unfortunately, I don't think we have seen the end of it," said Michelle Fivel, an L.A. legal recruiter at Major Lindsey & Africa LLC. "We will see more layoffs trickling through for a while."
It's that gloomy outlook that's leading Arnold and other young lawyers to consider life away from law firms.
Arnold, 26, a Carlsbad native, grew up playing on the golf courses that dot San Diego County. He took a break from the game during his college years because Boston's weather didn't give him a lot of time on the links.
When Arnold joined O'Melveny, he began playing golf again in order to network with colleagues and clients. Arnold specialized in corporate work at the firm, and represented Black Canyon Capital LLC. He also worked with American Capital Ltd. on its acquisition of privately held companies. The game served as a great business development tool. And it became more than a social outing after his layoff.
His last day at O'Melveny was March 31; but for the previous weeks he had been only working a few hours here and there to shut down his office. So Arnold had time to get to work on his game. He spent time on the driving range, and putting and chipping greens every day. He is also planning to join amateur golf tournaments to qualify for Professional Golfers' Association of America events.
"It's about taking what you have worked on in the focus practice sessions, putting it all together, and making a consistent showing day in and day out," Arnold said.
Becoming a professional golfer won't be easy. He will need to play at par and finish in at least fourth place in amateur tournaments. Currently, his handicap is 5.
Arnold has some time to reach his goal. He got three months severance from O'Melveny and will live off his savings for a while. But what if his bank account runs dry and life as a professional golfer doesn't pan out?
He's got connections in the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Obama administration, and he's keeping in touch with friends there. So the future could hold a political job if Arnold doesn't get enough good drives. He is also keeping up is legal skills by doing pro bono work.
"While golf is an important thing in my life, I don't want to put my eggs all in one basket," Arnold said.
Dorsky was an associate in the local office of Pillsbury Winthrop before getting laid off at the beginning of March along with two other associates.
Instead of looking for another law firm, he opted to get into the music biz. He signed on to manage local indie pop band the French Semester, and recently interviewed for a position at Creative Artists Agency.
Dorsky, 26, grew up in a suburb east of Cleveland, where he developed an interest in music as a teenager, deejaying house parties and working at a used-record store. He moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to attend law school at USC.
"In college, I really enjoyed working with musicians and realized that I wanted to do entertainment law," Dorsky said.
He joined the L.A. office of Pillsbury Winthrop and worked in the San Francisco firm's intellectual property department. But his time at Pillsbury Winthrop was short, he had just joined the firm in October 2008.
Dorsky didn't immediately decide to become a manager for musicians.
"I was looking at the legal landscape and in reality, it doesn't seem that promising," Dorsky said. "The legal market is shrinking."
So he launched his management and band services company, Super Good Music. It's a one-man shop at the moment. The French Semester, which has a following in Europe, hired Dorsky as manager, and a recording artist known as TR called on Dorsky to advise him on a record deal.
Dorsky's background in intellectual property will be useful in his new career. He knows how to navigate copyright and trademark law, and can help musicians review legal contracts. He hopes to build a client base that he can bring to a bigger agency such as CAA.
But there's one thing Dorsky had to do to increase his chances of getting a job at the Century City agency: visit the barber shop.
"I had long hair and the recruiting manager told me to cut my hair and I did," Dorsky said. "I was the type of guy who would meet bands at shows and they would be blown away that I was a lawyer."
Arnold and Dorsky could be the pioneers as law firms will likely have to continue cutting costs. Some legal insiders are predicting that nonequity partners will be next on the chopping block.
"If firms cut all those associates, I believe the next type of lawyer they are going to look at are service partners the guys who don't bring in the business, but get a lot of money to service the business," said Alan Miles, of Santa Monica legal recruiting firm Alan Miles & Associates Inc. "We will see a thinning out of the ranks."
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.
Stories You May Also Be Interested In
- District Taps Pillsbury Winthrop To Guide Belmont Construction
- Law Firms Brace For Onslaught of Post-Attack Suits
- O'Melveny's Loss Is Loeb's Wealth Management Gain
- Pillsbury, Shaw Pittman to Merge, Creating One of Largest Law Firms in Nation
- O'Melveny Signs On as Sponsor of Civil Rights Group
- WHO's WHO IN L.A. LAW: PATRICK W. DENNIS
- Gibson Dunn Raises Salaries to New Highs; Other Firms to Follow
- O'Donnell Shifting Focus to Represent Katrina Victims