Tags: BigLaw, iPhone, maternity leave, stay at home mom
My “vacation memo” has been distributed; my out-of-office message is on, directing all inquiries for the next six months to my secretary. And, in a stroke of brilliant timing, my firm announced on Tuesday that it finally would support iPhones, so I was in line at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning at the Apple store to (finally! finally!) acquire one. The tech guys finished configuring it literally five minutes before I left yesterday. I’m not due back until mid-August (though I was told that if I wanted to push it until after Labor Day, that was fine too!). It felt very strange walking out that door, toting seven volumes of Tax Code regulations (which I’m sure will sit untouched in my home office for six months, but you never know…). I felt sort of — dispensable. But I am, and that’s OK. I’ll miss my work friends quite a bit — a group of smart, interesting people who have kept me laughing and functioning for the past year and a half. I won’t miss the not infrequent uncertainty that comes with the job: self-doubt and second-guessing — all self-imposed — about my abilities as a tax lawyer. In the end, though I truly like my job and my firm and being a lawyer. I’m grateful I graduated from law school in 2008 (and not 2009!) and was fully and gainfully employed during the past year-and-a-half of utter upheaval in the BigLaw world. And that my firm has such a generous maternity leave policy. I’m so lucky, I know, to have this upcoming time, this new beginning.
Now what? I guess I wait for this baby, but I’m actually not at all impatient. I vaguely remember labor and labor pains and think I’ll be ready for those this time around. The baby’s room is set up, all his little clothes have been washed in Dreft. But he’s not expected for another week or so. I wanted to begin my leave early, however, so that I could have time with my Little Bug. A week or so to focus on her, read her books, make her lunches, ballet dance around the family room, etc. I’m trying not to feel too emotional about uprooting her from her position of absolute adoration. I know she’ll love her brother, and as many of my friends have told me upon having a second child, “Your heart expands.” I know this will be true, but I can’t quite comprehend it yet.
I’m a bit at loose ends today, then. No one has any expectations of me today, other than my family. No assignments are due, no clients or partners await me. Our beloved nanny, Janet, had her last day with us yesterday. She, too, is moving on, to a family with a newborn who will thrive in her love just as my Bug did (a family who can give her more hours than I possibly can over the next six months!) She has been taking care of Buggy since she was six weeks old (and I had to begin my third year of law school) and Buggy loves her immensely. I am so grateful to her for enabling me to walk out the door every day to work without a second thought about my daughter’s care. But for now it’s just me, and Buggy, and Tim, waiting for our little boy.
Thanks to the new iPhone (again: hooray! I know everyone else has had one for months/years but can I just say how amazing it is?), here’s a bit of a photodocumentation of Day 1 of my new life:
Extra snuggling in mom and dad’s bed, watching “Little Bear” (as I didn’t have to be out the door at 7:30!)
Then mom heads to, where else…
Tags: law firm layoffs, sabbatical, stay at home mom
If you are reading this and you are a relatively young associate, you read Above the Law and so know what went down at my firm yesterday. If you’re not a lawyer (and thus not addicted to the train wreck that is abovethelaw.com — Must. Stop. Looking. At. Carnage), I’ll try to summarize as briefly as possible:
Many, many law firms — large and small, prestigious and niche — are laying off associates. Most law firms will not lay off first-year associates. The reasons for this are both selfish and somewhat humane. If you lay off first-years during a downturn, what third-year law student is going to take a chance on you? Especially the most coveted law students who tend to have more choices when it comes to recruiting (or, at least, used to). (The economics behind it are something like this: the more “prestigious” a firm, the more it can charge. How do you get to be “prestigious”? You boast that you can hire the top students from the top law schools. Thus, these students are heavily recruited and [used to] spend their 2L summers being wined and dined.) The humane reason, I’d like to think, is that if you get laid off as a first-year associate, you’ll have an incredibly difficult time finding another position (although I’m sure this is also tied up with reason #1).
What law firms can do in lieu of retracting offers or laying off current associates is push back the start date for incoming associate classes. Instead of staring in September, new associates would start the following January, thus saving the firm six months of six-figure salaries (x 180 new associates). My firm has chosen to do this, leading me to believe that its financial future is not as stable as they assured us a few months ago (shocker). My firm also has taken an innovative step, now being adopted by a few other top firms (see today’s WSJ, which of course I can’t link for you because they charge for online content!) of offering one-year public-interest law “internships” to all associates. You can take a year’s leave of absence from the firm to practice law at an approved public-interest focused organization — e.g., an attorney general’s office, the local district attorney’s office, a legal services organization, a nonprofit. You’d forgo your six-figure salary, but the firm will pay you a respectable $60,000 (more than you’d make working there normally). Plus, you retain your health benefits (huge).
This would be an attractive option for me if I did not have day care costs. I’d love to work for a DA’s office or Greater Boston Legal Services, but the reality is, after child care, I’d clear very little (if any, after taxes) of that $60,000. In fact, I’d probably lose money.
The other option offered by my firm is a year-long “sabbatical.” You won’t get firm “credit” for that year, since you wouldn’t be practicing law, which means that if you took a year off obviously you’d come back as a first-year associate (or second-year or whatever year you are). You would be paid a stipend of 20% of your salary, and you’d also retain your health benefits. And this is where the sirens began to sing for me (“I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each…”)
What if I stayed at home with the Little Bug for a year? We’d have to give up our full-time child care, of course. But the stipend would be enough for some hours of babysitting each week. What if I became one of those “yoga-pants-at-9 a.m.” mothers (so described by Judith Warner in her column today, here – although I actually feel like she got that phrase from me!?)? What if I took Little Buggy to Tiny Toes dance class with all the other toddlers? Made dinner every night? Would I write? Could I write? A novel even?
My days would be spent like this!
My firm is dangling a seductive proposition — “Here: try out being home with your child for a year. Just try it. You may like it!” And if I don’t — supposedly I have a job to come back to.
Rationally, logically, even emotionally this is not going to happen. First of all, I have a job, with a paycheck, in this unstable economy. Moreover, I’m too old to have my career advancement slowed any more than it already is, and I don’t want to come back in a year, still being a first-year associate, only to compete with all the “new” first-year associates. I’m not sure I’m going to be a BigLaw employee forever, but if I leave now, I may be shutting that door earlier than I had planned.
And, finally, I actually do like being a lawyer. It took me a loooong time to get here. Were I a third- or fourth-year associate who had lived the law-firm life for awhile, I might see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try something new and different. But I’ve already written for a living, lived in a ski-town, traveled around the world, lived on the West Coast near the beach, become a yoga instructor. And, even after all of that — even after doing all of those things that I’m sure sound quite exciting to a mid-level associate who has been stuck in a high-rise 60+ hours a week for the past five years — I wanted to become a lawyer.
The only thing I haven’t done is be at home with my child on a regular basis, being her primary caregiver, and that’s why the siren call is so strong right now. What if… what if…
… I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
(Am not trying to be dramatic, but just remembering how much I have always loved this poem…)