Bear with us here, this is a bit shocking ...Cosmopolitan's website actually has some legitimate career advice. Take a deep breath and try not to headsplode.
Cosmo's article, How to Keep Your Job - Reasons You Get Fired, points out three signs that your job is in jeopardy, and what to do about it. We've taken the issues, which are discussed for a generic office environment, and remixed them for lawyers:
The Sign: There's New Blood on the Floor
Mergers lead to redundancies, and redundancies lead to layoffs. Hell, across the pond layoffs are called "redundancies." If your firm just merged, look to see how much of the new cohort shares your specialties. If you have a fairly general practice, it's all just a numbers game, how many generic corporate drones they need. If you have a specialized practice though, you're either clearly at risk, or clearly safe. If you're the only person who does Pizza Delivery Employment Law, you're not going to be canned. In fact, bigger firms have an easier time supporting specialists. But, if another Pizza Delivery Employment lawyer has been brought on, it's time to man the battle stations.
While mergers are the biggest red flag to look for, pay attention to any significant lateral hires as well. If anyone looks like a perfect replacement for you, it's time to take action.
The Fix: Network. Seriously, go talk to your boss and candidly ask about the future of your practice group. The boss might be able to help you secure your position, such as suggesting a partner with a big matter you can jump on. Or, if you've already been scheduled to be cut, you might get a heads up and can start preparing earlier.
Also, when firms merge many partners get the axe, too. They know this and some are already planning their exit strategy. Partners tend to leave in groups, with other folks from the same practice area, and they'll take a few associates with them.
The Sign: You Made a Major Mistake
People make mistakes all the time, but in a tough economy they can be all the more disastrous. Remember, the larger a company is, the more risk adverse its managers are. If you screw something up, your supervisor might not be willing to go to bat for you. Doing so puts his neck on the line in the event that you screw up again. It's safer for him to bring in a lateral who's the same in every way, except for your history of blunders.
The Fix: Stop apologizing. One apology, and that's it. You may think that repeated mea culpas make you sound really remorseful, but this is about business, not justice. Remorse isn't relevant. Instead, pretend that you're new to the job, and are taking the place of someone who just screwed the pooch. Make the boss know that your priority is not covering your ass and winning back favor. Instead, all your energies are focused on mitigating the damage. Someone who can screw up and recover is far more valuable than someone who just screws up and feels bad.
The Sign: Your Assignments are Dwindling
This is especially problematic in a billable hour world. First, fewer assignments are a signal that people are less inclined to work with you. Second, you're not gaining experience, so your value to the company has flat lined. And most importantly, you're becoming less profitable to the firm. Even if you're not a net loss, the firm may realize it could make more money but cutting your position, and spreading your workload over the remaining staff.
The Fix: You're in a tough place, and there's a strong chance that your fate has already been sealed. Your best bet is to try a new course for getting work. If the people you've worked with in the past aren't giving you new assignments, start talking to people who you haven't worked with. Find out who just taught a CLE, or wrote an Op Ed, or has been sending out client alerts. Talk to them, express an interest in their area of expertise (even if you have to fake it) and ask if they have any grunt work you can do for them.
Also, talk to whoever is in charge of pro bono work. These projects might be easier for you to get involved in if you're being blackballed by the regular assigning partners. Sure, you're not bringing in revenue, but firms don't like to cut anyone who's integral to a project, even if it is pro bono. Remember, firms don't do pro bono work because it's nice, they do it to bring in money, either through increased exposure by working on a popular or high profile case, or because other people involved are also big money clients. Many people who are board members of charitable foundations are also board members of major corporations.