You've got an inkling you're going to be fired. Maybe the boss has had it in for you since he or she took over. Or you're a victim of another giant corporate downsizing. Or you're the loser in a power struggle. Whatever your age, income or place in the company, consider talking to an employment lawyer.

Not to suggest you'll have a legal claim against your soon-to-be former employer.

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Far from it, says Robert B. Fitzpatrick, a Washington attorney specializing in employment law for nearly 40 years.

He says that legitimate claims are mostly limited to obvious or egregious discrimination, harassment and the like, but companies that have been sued before are wary of incurring the expense again. A brief consultation with an attorney can put you on the right footing to negotiate a graceful, and prosperous exit because your employer knows you've got legal backup.

Much of what Fitzpatrick does for employee clients — he also represents employers — is limited to looking over a severance package before they sign. Chief executives and other bigwigs usually know how to bargain on their own but still come to him for advice. He rarely sees workers under 40 years old.

"As long as you're properly counseled by someone like me, you're going to get to a deal a heck of a lot quicker," he says.

If you're not in the executive suite and just the victim of another mass layoff, your options will be more limited.

Still, he says, "If you think you have issues or you've got a lot of tenure and you're getting offered chump change, it makes sense to sit down with a lawyer who's been around the block."

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