‘You’re signed off for four weeks,’ the doctor said. He nodded down at the sick note, one professional to another. ‘May I use the words "anxiety" and "depression"?’Your journey to his surgery had begun five weeks ago. You’d got home from the holiday you now knew you couldn’t afford and the letter was on the doormat. The firm regretted to inform you… difficult economic times… three months’ notice of redundancy… blah, blah, blah.
The news hadn’t been entirely unexpected. You worked in a sector that had been hit hard by the recession. You’d felt a detached sympathy for the thousands already made redundant and now your own number was up.
But still you were shocked. You unpacked the duty-free fags, the straw sunhat, the souvenir biscuits for the soon-to-be-ex colleagues in the soon-to-be-ex office. It was all so normal, except everything had changed.
The first day back in the office: did everyone know? Did they think good riddance to dead wood? Why had that partner smiled? There were rumours of a dozen other redundancies – but who? Or was it you alone who had been judged superfluous?
Wrangling over the compromise agreement had given you a boost. Negotiating is what lawyers do. Or in your own case soon, ‘did’.
There was a constant feeling of something lost, like the jolt you get when, alighting from the train, you realise something’s missing – the umbrella you’ve left on the luggage rack, perhaps, or the scarf you were wearing. There’s a void out there and you’re no longer in control. Your department head treats you as though you’ve already left – what happened to all those jokes? – and the HR department, with its staff of one part-timer, is out of its depth.
Welcome to the brave new world of employment agencies. They claim they will discuss your CV with you, but none do so. And what’s all this about 1-2 years’ PQE? Isn’t that age discrimination? And where are the job ads for 11 years' PQE, plus five years as a legal executive prior to qualification? Where are the jobs for you?
You could turn to LawCare, of course, except that’s for drugs and alcohol problems, isn’t it, and you haven’t sunk that low yet [see below]. The Law Society does something for redundant lawyers, doesn’t it? Except you can’t find it on the website. [See footnote.]
In fact, you can’t find much at all, least of all the will to work. You pick up a file and panic vies with lassitude until you put the file down again. Maybe you should throw a sickie, go for a nice long walk, clear your head. Except you don’t want to be job hunting with a record of absenteeism. Although you could tell porkies on the application form…
You trudged on, networking with anyone who might help – they can’t – and sending your (not discussed) CV to agencies and post office boxes for jobs advertised in the Gazette. How are you going to pay for your practising certificate when it expires and you’re out of work? What about CPD? Can you live on Job Seeker's Allowance? What about the mortgage, council tax, your self-esteem (your what?), credit card bills and…
You’re very near the edge now and then the proverbial last straw: the ‘too busy’ colleague who, with casual contempt, tosses some files on your desk for you to clear up. You’re a senior solicitor, not a trainee. You could shout or throw the files back, which is a bit like having a flashing neon arrow pointed at your head saying: ‘Lost it!’ Or you could go to the doctor and get some happy pills for the daylight hours and sleeping pills for the night – no more waking up at 2.30 every morning.
Except he doesn’t give out pills. You need to rest and address the root of the problem. ‘You’re signed off for four weeks,’ the doctor said. He nodded down at the sick note, one professional to another. ‘May I use the words "anxiety" and "depression"?’
You shrugged. ‘What have I got to lose?’
The lawyer in this piece is an amalgam of solicitors who have been made redundant and who shared their experiences with the writer. The firm is similarly made up of a number of practices. Help with redundancy can be found on the Law Society website. You should type ‘redundancy’ into the search box at the top right hand corner of the home page. The Law Society also runs a Pastoral Care Helpline on 020 7320 5795.
LawCare is not just for drug and alcohol problems but also assists with depression and stress caused by redundancy and other matters. Tel 0800 279 6888.