The golden patina of accuracy and imperviousness

February 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Posted in read this, running, the firm | 5 Comments
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I made a mistake at work last week. Not a proofing error, but a process error. A mistake in judgment. I didn’t do anything illegal, nor did I lose the client any money, and it was ultimately corrected. I have spoken with both the senior associate and the partner involved, owned up to my error, and assured them it would be a profound learning experience. The associate told me, “No harm, no foul.”

Nevertheless, I have been in a deep, deep funk since then. I dread being in the office, and my stomach is in knots when I’m there. I literally cannot eat. I feel as if I let down two people whose opinions I value, with whom I want to continue working. I know, I know: what matters is how I handle the mistake, what I learn from it, that I pick myself up. Outwardly, I’m trying to do that. Inwardly, however, I’m still cringing. I want to hide under my desk. Better yet, I want to stay in bed.

Friends have helpfully shared their work blunders: sending a prospective off to the printers with an error, disclosing too much information in a negotiation. My law school friends have, as usual, been particularly supportive. One told me of a tongue-lashing she was given by the general counsel of a Fortune 500 company. Another of sending documents to the wrong client. The most helpful piece of wisdom was provided by my friend Jill, who pointed me to this blog post. I have been trying to figure out why I remain so depressed, and this piece distills it perfectly. For inherent pleasers, such as I am, law school is awesome. You learn things, you are tested on them, and then you are given feedback in the form of a letter grade. If you do well in law school, as I did, these grades are the signs of approval that we pleaser-types so crave. In a law firm, you may be given feedback twice a year in your review. Otherwise, you spend your long days fielding assignments and completing them with absolutely no idea if you are doing the right thing or, more important for someone like me, doing a good job. I realized that I have spent the majority of my days at the firm feeling like I am on the brink of disaster — that I’m about to screw something up. In some very small way, it was a relief that I finally did make a major mistake, one that I and the people I work for had to acknowledge.

Dear readers, I do not write this for praise — I swear! But just to articulate the anxiety that perhaps so many of us are afraid to voice. As my friend Monique wrote me, “My fellow associates at work rarely admit to being anything less than perfect, so I often feel very alone, and very much like I missed the day in law school when they dipped students in the golden patina of accuracy and imperviousness.”

What is the most difficult thing for me is that I disappointed someone I respect and generally enjoy working for. Most likely, this partner has made mistakes and hopefully will give me a second chance. But what just gnaws at me is that I won’t get that chance and that, really, I’m not very good at what I do (which snowballs into all the reasons why not: I’m not detail oriented? I have no attention span? I rush things so that I can get home to my children?)

I don’t know how to get out of this funk. I did go to the office gym for the first time since I joined almost four weeks ago and ran the fastest three miles I have in months (which admittedly isn’t saying much). Has this happened to you? Were you depressed? How did you get your groove back?

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We’re, like, in the future

January 19, 2011 at 10:49 am | Posted in Massholes, read this, Starbucks | 1 Comment
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Oh my goodness the weather is depressing. During last week’s blizzard, all the snowplows in our town converged to push all the snow from our street — yes, all of it — into our yard. (Our Christmas tree was on the curb — I do not think we will see it again until April.)  Yesterday at work, I was startled at my desk several times as huge chunks of ice fell off the skyscraper office building and hurtled into my window. Today as I drove into the city, it was just wet and gray, the skyline covered in clouds. I’m sick, Tim’s sick, the kids don’t sleep through the night (if one does, the other does not). I mean, I could go on with the boring complaints, but everyone in the Northeast is singing the same tune. And we don’t even have playoff football to look forward to on the weekends.

But guess what? Guess what happens today? Read here for a more technical explanation, but, in short, I can now buy Starbucks with my iPhone. My two most coveted modern luxuries have joined forces, and so it’s like I’m getting my coffee for free. Or, at least I’m not forking over a debit card, which makes it seem free. Remember when we were younger and movies depicting “the future” would have people looking at each other as they conversed over television screens? We were like, Whoa, no way.  Now I can do that over my phone — my phone that is not attached to a cord and that I carry around with my everywhere and with which I buy Starbucks. How did the future get here? Sometimes it still gives me a little thrill. And right now I’ll take them where I can.

New Year’s – again? (as in, already?)

December 31, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Posted in little bug, Little O, music, not yet written, NYC, read this, running, SAHM, Starbucks, tax law is sexy, the firm, Uncategorized, wine, yoga | 1 Comment
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You know I love New Year’s resolutions. Two years ago, my resolutions were clearly defined and yet highly unattainable. Last year, they centered around  simply finding happiness (hot showers, more wine, more yoga…). I understand why people eschew resolutions in that they set unachievable expectations, leading to disappointment, etc. etc.  Looking back over the past two years, it’s clear that I’m not one who makes resolutions and actually sticks to them, but I do get a lot of pleasure out of making them (in that I set up some sort of idealized vision of the future?). This year, I’m less able to articulate my New Year’s resolutions — I have some vague ideas about living more simply, lowering instead of raising my expectations, and trying to exist in some sort of more tempered universe. Of course, in the back of my head is a little voice saying, “Run more! More yoga! Spend less money!” but at the end of the year that included birth and death and health issues and lots and lots of sleepless nights — and somehow, in the midst of it all, a growing sense of contentment — I’m going to resist the urge (at least publicly) to enumerate my Resolutions.

Instead, my friend Lindsey had a fun and introspective little survey/questionnaire on her blog this morning, which I’m going to adopt. I’m answering these less thoughtfully than I otherwise might (blogging, as I am today, in the short window of Little O’s nap!) But maybe that will make my answers more honest.

What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before? I spent seven months as a stay-at-home mom. I took a weekend trip to Florida with my college girlfriends. I participated in a competitive blogging challenge. I went three (almost four — since September 1, basically) months without running. This last one sounds like a crazy thing to list, but it actually imparted to me an important lesson. I used to think I needed to exercise for weight-maintenance. Eleven months of nursing, however, took care of that for me, and I realized that running in fact gave me much more than the ability to wear skinny jeans. If I have any resolutions at all for 2011, it is to remember that running keeps me sane, not thin.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions and will you make more for 2011? Of course not. And of course — albeit with a more measured approach, I hope.

Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes! I did! But also my sister. And several close friends and seemingly half the tax department at my firm (literally — nine women in my relatively small department had babies this year!).

Did anyone close to you die? My great-uncle. And, just last week, a close family friend.

What countries did you visit? None. Sigh. Again, if I do have a resolution for 2011, it is to “remember Italy” (a metaphor and theme in a striking book I read recently, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson — see Lindsey’s interview with her, here) — although in my case, it would “Remember Paris.” More on this in another post.

What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010? Patience. Acceptance. Faith. Confidence.

What was your biggest achievement in 2010? Having a healthy baby would have to be it. But I’m also proud of myself for going back to my job. It wasn’t clear I was going to, but I do think it was the right choice, and perhaps the first time in my life I’ve done something truly rational, career-wise.

What was your biggest failure? A few work-related ones come to mind. But mostly I regret the times I’ve been short-tempered with Little Bug and a less-than-present daughter, sister, friend, and wife. I didn’t put down my iPhone/work email enough to stay focused on my family.

Did you suffer illness or injury? I feel like I’ve been sick a lot this year — an immune system no doubt compromised by severe sleep deprivation and preschool germs.

What is the best thing you bought? My iPhone and Pilates. (Am I a yuppie or what?)

Where did most of your money go? Starbucks and J. Crew. Ha ha, just kidding. Sort of.

What did you get really excited about? My girls’ weekend in Florida. My husband would tell me that I’m being all “Joy Luck Club,” but oh, god, there was something so refreshing and invigorating and inspiring about spending three days with the women who were with me when I became the woman I am, the women who have been there for me for the biggest hardships and greatest joys in my life, the women with whom I speak an abbreviated shorthand language and who can finish my sentences. And now, at this stage of our lives, the women with whom I can discuss my career, daycare, siblings, husbands and parents. Even though they may not be part of my day-to-day life, the are a part of the foundation of my life.

What song will always remind you of 2010? Have I listened to so little music that I can’t answer this? Probably, however, something country (since that is all Tim and I seem to listen to these days). I really like that song Welcome to the Future by Brad Paisley, though I suspect that was not released in 2010. OK, so, maybe I’ll make another resolution: listen to more music. It makes me happy — just as Glee made me so so happy this year.

Compared to this time last year, are you:

— happier or sadder? Happier
— thinner or fatter? Well, as I was eight months pregnant, this isn’t really a fair question!
— richer or poorer? It’s probably not a good thing that I can’t really answer this literally, but I imagine that since we spent most of 2010 paying two mortgages, poorer!

What do you wish you’d done more of? I wish I’d written more — here on this blog and elsewhere. I have a great idea for another blog, but I can’t seem to find the time to make it happen. I wish I could let myself go with my children — really play with them, focus on them wholly, without thinking about what’s next (be it cleaning up lunch, or what’s for dinner, or how much work I have, or even who has posted what on Facebook).

What do you wish you’d done less of? I wish I had spent less time agonizing over my job — both preemptively before I went back and then also on a daily basis once I was back. I think it affected my relationships with my family. It’s just a job. It’s not the greatest, most important job in the world, it’s not the end of the world, and I’m not a victim. I have to remember this.

How did you spend Christmas? As we do every year, in New Jersey, with my whole big crazy family. We snuggled in during a blizzard and took Little Bug in to New York City to the Museum of Natural History the day after the blizzard — rather ill-advised when it took us 4.5 hours and four different trains to get home!

Favorite TV program? Glee and The Good Wife.

Favorite books? I actually had a lot of time to read and finished more books than I have in years, both fiction and nonfiction. In the former category, the three books that stand out are: Dear Money by Martha McPhee, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. They weren’t earthshaking, but I just loved each one. In the nonfiction realm I really liked No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin (the Roosevelts on the home front in WWII) and The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison.

Favorite films? I only saw one movie in the theater this year — Eat, Pray, Love. (But I loved it. Sue me for my questionable taste!) Recently, I’ve seen The Town and The Kids are Alright on OnDemand, and, surprisingly, liked both (as you know, my taste in movies runs towards the saccharine, e.g., Eat Pray Love…)

What did you do on your birthday and how old were you? I can’t even really remember my 36th birthday! Luckily, I blogged about it. It was spring, and I was still home on maternity leave, and Tim took me to a local Italian joint for dinner because I was craving a real Bolognese.

What one thing would have made your year more satisfying? Just knowing from the start that I was going to go back to my job and that it would all be OK.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010? I have to divide this in to two parts: January – September and September – December. In the former, it was black yoga pants and spit-up stained black t-shirts. In the latter, it was black Theory pants or skirt and cashmere cardigans or blazers.

What kept you sane? Red wine. For reals. And phone calls with my mother. Daily, sometimes twice a day. Also, emails and texts from my hilarious friends.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010? You are not your job. In fact, I suspect that nobody really cares what you do except for you. You’re not a victim of some amorphous FIRM that is out to get you (a la John Grisham?) — you’ve made your choice and you can unmake it at any time. You’re not trapped.  Also, even though you may get frustrated that your husband doesn’t like to hash out the nuances of your day, he is listening. More important: baby boys may not sleep and pre-school girls may whine, but it’s all doable. You can be much happier being grateful for what you have than wanting more, more, always more — this easier said than done, of course, especially for me, but slowly, slowly I feel like I’m on the verge of grasping this. I haven’t actually grasped it yet, but at least its a tangible concept now, something I can turn over in my mind, rather than something completely inaccessible.

Life After Law: Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s LIFE AFTER YES

June 2, 2010 at 11:02 am | Posted in NYC, read this, the firm, the media | 5 Comments
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Like any good junior associate, I find it impossible not to check Above the Law. It’s the legal equivalent of the clichéd train wreck… can’t. look. away. One day while trolling through the most recent associate layoff statistics, I found a link to a blog called Ivy League Insecurities and was of course intrigued because, hey, I have a few Ivy League degrees and — as demonstrated, for example, by my need to mention them — I’m insecure.

What I found behind this website, however, was a wonderful surprise (one that suggests that perhaps all that ATL trolling can amount to something good?). Aidan Donnelley Rowley graduated from Columbia Law School in 2003 and worked for a stint as a litigation associate at a big New York firm before leaving her high-rise office to write a novel and start a family.  I was attracted initially to her blog as a fellow attorney and mother, but as I got to know Aidan through her writing, the dormant writer in me was both inspired by and ticked by her tangible enthusiasm — her admittedly rookie glee — during the months and weeks leading up to the publication of her first novel, Life After Yes. Her anticipation was infectious, and Life After Yes finally debuted last month.

Life After Yes stars Quinn, an Ivy League, Big Law attorney who is, on the outside, living a “successful” life. As Quinn begins to encounter the realities of adult life, however — her engagement and the repercussions of her father’s death — she questions (in sometimes inappropriate ways) not only those relationships but the definition of success itself.  What’s next? Quinn asks. And who am I? While the story may be somewhat archetypal, Quinn’s humor and cynicism and wit and real emotion are unique to her.

Aidan will be the first to tell you that her heroine, Quinn, is not autobiographical, but clearly Aidan’s experience as a lawyer is infused throughout Life After Yes. I thought it would be fun to ask her about writing about the law and about being a laywer and about being a lawyer-writer-mom, and she graciously indulged me.

What inspired you to attend law school? What was your favorite class?

When the time came to think about life after college, my mind immediately went to more school. I have always loved school – the classroom culture, the debate, even the papers and deadlines. And then I thought a bit about it and decided that it would be law school since it would “open so many doors.” (At the time, I didn’t think about how many it would close.) My favorite classes at law school were the theory-based. (These were essentially thinly-disguised philosophy courses.)

What type of law did you practice? Do you miss it?

I was a litigation associate during the short time I practiced. I have never once regretted my decision to walk away and focus on my writing and family, but I am nostalgic for the BigLaw world sometimes. There are odd moments when I am immersed in my current reality of baby tears and torn jeans when I miss the power, the pulse, even the pinstripes.

Do you still consider yourself a lawyer?

This is a hard one. I’m not sure I ever considered myself a lawyer. I am not sure whether that was because I didn’t practice for long or because being a lawyer was never going to be me. What’s interesting is that very often, when asked what I do, I say, “I’m a lawyer who writes.” I think I throw that out there because of insecurity, because I know that being a lawyer is seen as quintessentially impressive. Only recently have I begun saying what I should say, what I am proud to say: “I am a writer.”

Was it fun writing about a fictional attorney at a fictional BigLaw firm? Are your former colleagues going to see themselves or their firm in the book?

It was fun and freeing to write about the BigLaw world, particularly because Life After Yes is pure fiction. I was able to cobble together stories I had collected from friends and colleagues. I was able to dream up characters and scenarios and knit them together into a story. If my former colleagues see themselves or the firm in my book, I have succeeded. Because that means I have captured something of the universal ethos of this world. What surprises many is that I did not have a miserable time at my law firm. To the contrary, life was quite pleasant and peaceful. I left because I started to dream of doing other things. As such, when I sat down to write Life After Yes, I had zero intention of penning a scandalous portrait of law firm life. I just wanted to use that life, that world, as a backdrop to make a bigger existential point.

How has being an attorney influenced you as a writer? As a mother?

I am sure that being an attorney has affected me as a writer and as a mother, but it is hard to articulate how. One thing that the law has taught me is the importance of verbal economy and efficiency. It is critical to say what we mean and mean what we say. This lesson, this profound lesson, has great currency in both creative writing and parenting, I think.

You’ve created a career of which many disgruntled attorneys probably dream. What’s the best/worst part of that?

The best part is that I am prime evidence that there is life after law if you want there to be. That if you allow yourself to dream, if you acknowledge your aspirations, however imprudent or intangible, they can in fact lead somewhere. Many would say that the worst part is that I am in so many ways a cliché. There are countless lawyers who want to write and who do write. I don’t really care about this. Lump me with them. I am now doing what I love.


Happiness revisited

May 13, 2010 at 4:30 am | Posted in read this, Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Today is Day 2 of Five for Ten’s Happiness posts. I wanted to use this opportunity, for those who may be new to my blog, to repost a review I wrote a few months ago on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. How many of her suggestions have I been able to follow through with? Well, just ask my husband and the lingering clutter in our house, and, certainly, I’m far from getting enough sleep. Nevertheless, I still think her book unique and well considered, and even just posting this is a reminder to reinstate the “one-minute” rule!

In which I consider getting happy

Before you start thinking I have a major crush on Gretchen Rubin (which I do — a major career crush), based on my last few posts (I’ve previously written about her herehere, andhere. And here.), I wanted to share my thoughts on her book, The Happiness Project, and why the book attracted me so instantaneously. (Actual reviews can be found all over the Internet — my favorite so far has been by Gwen Bell, here, who puts the book into a larger, Buddhist-oriented perspective.)

This is a bluebird of happiness, of course.

Rubin is a lawyer-turned-writer. If you are not an attorney, you nevertheless might be slightly impressed that she clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. If you are in fact an attorney, you’re probably more impressed that she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal (I mean, that is as good as it gets in terms of law school credentials!) Obviously, she’s smart and probably inclined towards perfectionism. She loves to write, she has an interest in the law, is driven, and she’s a mother of two. So I can relate personally to many of her motivations.

But the book is decidedly not written for a narrow audience and is relevant for anyone who has wondered, “Why do I seem anxious and ill-at-ease in certain situations?” or “Why do I feel like I’m wasting time worrying about small things?” or “How can I enjoy my life more?” She tackles such questions in what is probably for her a characteristically logical way: devoting each month of the year to examining a certain area of her life and then figuring out how to make herself happier in it. Even if you are not quite as logical, you’ll benefit from her extensive research into studies and literature and psychology — it’s interesting to read about areas such as parenting, marriage, energy, career, pursuing a passion, and friendship on macro level through the prism of becoming happier in them — even if you yourself don’t feel the need to make any major life overhauls.

Just as Rubin herself states that she finds personal anecdotes and shared stories as helpful as abstract anthropological studies, however, her own accounts of how she tried to become happier in these areas of her life were what drew me in. She devotes the month of February, for example, to her relationship with her husband. Her husband, as it turned out, wasn’t that pleased when Rubin tried to dump her anxieties on him right before they went to bed, and would rather watch TV sitting next to her on the couch than gaze into her face for a heart-to-heart. Rubin cites some studies that show that, really, women are best suited for face-to-face conversations with other women and men often are satisfied simply being in the presence of their partner — to them, side-by-side movie watching is as intimate as a dinner a deux. This is probably basic Men-are-from-Mars/Women-are-from-Venus stuff, but it was gratifying for me to see it explained both logically and personally. When Tim and I are finally tucked in bed at night is when I want to turn to him and talk, and I try to do so while he is trying to read and decompress, and he doesn’t focus on me, and then I get upset. After reading this particular chapter, I mentioned Rubin’s conclusions to Tim, and he immediately replied, “I could have told you that.” Of course he could have — but because Rubin has not only read studies and dozens of other accounts of relationships, but candidly examines her own interactions with her husband, her analysis was enlightening to me. And reassuring. For Tim, lying next to me in bed reading is contentment, and if I want to talk through my day with him, maybe I can rethink the time and place to do it. This is not to say that spouses shouldn’t make concessions to each other and strive to be active listeners, but it did suggest to me that there is a whole body of scientific, anthropological, and anecdotal evidence out there to support a slight change in my habits that would result in a desirable outcome for us both. My need to be listened to could be satisfied earlier in the evening (perhaps over dinner) and Tim could read in peace.

Rubin is more organized than I would ever be with her personal “commandments” (which range from “Be Gretchen” to “always carry a sweater” to “act how you want to feel”) and resolutions charts, but I already have gleaned a few tips from the book. For example, her “one minute” rule would greatly improve the quality of life around our house. I’m very clean (hate dirt) but I am not neat (I leave things strewn about, cabinet doors open, toilet paper off the roll, etc.). The one-minute rule suggests that if something takes less than a minute to do — do it! (“I could have told you this!” I hear Tim saying…) I’ve been trying to implement it. Were I Rubin herself, I’d mark off on my chart every night whether I have done so. Not sure if I’m there yet, but at least I have this intention in the back of my head.

She also thoroughly examines the importance of sleep — the lack of which makes us less inclined to do things that make us happy (play with our kids, read a good book, exercise). Duh, we all know this, but, on top of the usual summaries of studies on the importance of sleep, Rubin’s lighthearted account of how sleeping more improved other areas of her life was inspiring. While we’re often aware of good ideas in the abstract, seeing them appliedcan be hugely motivating. As a result, I’ve tried to get to bed earlier (knowing that, if I’m shooting to be in bed by 9:30, I really have to start the process at 8:30) and have tried to limit my reading in bed to 15-20 minutes. Has it worked? Well, two out of three nights I have committed to doing so it has — but last night I got entangled with Twitter and the Internet and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (more on that book when I finish it — wow!) — and then it was 11 p.m. And I feel like crap today, and as a result have eaten like crap and am totally unmotivated to exercise — so there you go.

Of course, Rubin is a full-time writer who works out of a home office and has the flexibility to put her resolutions into action. One of her specific resolutions, for example, is to create a house full of memories for her family, which includes making homemade books with her kids. I had to fight to not get overwhelmed by this chapter (how would I ever find the time to make homemade books, assuming I like crafts — which do not – in the first place?!). I already feel slightly guilty that I am horrible about documenting our family life, and Tim and I often talk about how we really should have baby books and albums. But neither of us has the time — or, more aptly, the inclination — to do so (because if we were so inclined, we’d find the time, right?). Thinking about it only makes me anxious. So, if I’m going to follow the advice in the book, I have to remember to “Be Kathryn” — I hate crafts, and I enough relatives take photos, etc., of Little Buggy that should she decide some day that she wants a photo album I could figure out a way to get it done. Still, I had to remind myself several times while reading the book that there is no way that a person not writing this particular book for a living can actually do all of these things. Instead, the self-improvement junkie in me has to remember that Rubin’s actions are suggestions, inspiration, and context.

This is not, I should note again, a self-improvement or self-help book. It really is quite personal, but I think even Rubin’s reading lists would be interesting to anyone (not just overachieving lawyer types!) — she cites everyone from St. Therese of Lisieux to Samuel Johnson to Elizabeth Gilbert. In short, yes, I’m totally impressed by Gretchen Rubin’s resume, but more impressed that she used her obvious intellect and attention to detail to create a book that goes beyond what seems to be a rash of “I spent a year [cooking Julia Child] [living by the Bible] [fill in the blank]” books and, instead, examines the philosophical roots of happiness and then applies them truthfully, rigorously, and critically to her own life.

Transition to practice (or, why I cried at law school)

April 20, 2010 at 9:17 am | Posted in law school, little bug, Little O, not yet written, politics, read this, tax law is sexy, the firm, the media | 9 Comments
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My triumphant return to my law school last week as an alumni speaker was somewhat compromised by an emotional hiccup. Namely, crying. If you have been reading this blog for the past few (say, ten or 11) weeks, you’ll know that since the birth of my baby boy in February, I’ve been doing a lot of crying. This time, however, the tears were decidedly not hormonal, but, instead, passionate.

If you have been reading this blog since its inception, you’ll know that I had my first baby in between my second and third years of law school. When she was six weeks old, I returned to campus, armed with a breast pump and lots of coffee. “How did you ever manage law school with a newborn?” I’m often asked. Here’s a secret: by your third year of law school — at least, in 2007-08, when the legal hiring market was still running at pre-recession speed — you can pretty much coast. I chose my classes based on when they met, as opposed to content, for a flexible schedule. I had friends who supported me with notes from missed class and law review offices in which to pump milk. And I had a few professors (all women…) who were stalwart champions of motherhood and the law. It was one of these professors who asked me to come speak. And because one is always flattered to be asked for one’s expertise, I blew out my hair, put on a suit, heels, and lipstick, and, feeling vaguely like the lawyer I only so very recently was, I set out for Newton.

The topic was transitioning from school to practice. My professor also had asked me to speak specifically on transitioning to practice with a child and after a maternity leave. I had typed a few thoughts into my iPhone on the transition in general:

  • Ask questions.   No one expects you to know what you’re doing for the first year. If a more senior associate or partner is giving you an assignment and asks you, “Have you heard of the 40 Act?” you may nod yes because you kind of remember skimming that part of the 750-page text book, but you don’t know the 40 Act. Better to pipe up and ask, “Well, what specifically about the Act as it applies to this matter?” then to be stuck in the office at 11 p.m. not knowing what you are supposed to be doing when the client wants an answer by 9 a.m. I’d argue that asking questions makes you look like a thoughtful, careful — indeed, intelligent — lawyer.
  • Worried about work/life balance? Let it evolve organically. It will become clear fairly quickly how different partners/supervisors expect assignments to be completed and how you can assess the urgency of a task. If I’m given a new task on top of a full plate, I’ll tell the partner, “I have this memo due for so-and-so tomorrow and an upcoming filing deadline. Do you think I can still get this new assignment done in the timeframe you need?” You kind of put the ball back in the senior lawyer’s court. In short: don’t freak out before you start that you won’t have a life. If you want a life, you can make it happen. But that’s a whole other post (and blog, dare I say tantalizingly?)
  • Find a peer group. As I’ve discussed previously, I found a support system of other lawyer-moms at my firm. I relied on them  heavily, on matters both professional and personal. But I think this advice can apply to new attorneys no matter where you are in life and no matter what your professional situation. Are you newly engaged, juggling wedding planning  amongst your billables? Find another attorney in the same situation. Are you single and married to your work? I’m sure you have coworkers who would love to have a beer with you at 10 p.m. after along workday.

Oh, wait, you want to hear about the crying part, don’t you. Eventually, my professor asked me about my maternity leave. She asked if I worried about taking it, and whether I was worried about transitioning back. I was prepared with tips for others, not to discuss my own situation, and she caught me off guard. Yes, I worried about going on leave, I answered:  Was I too junior? Would all of my great clients and assignments, which I had worked hard to cultivate, be given to others? Would I forget everything I had learned about tax law? When I returned, would I be able to ramp back up quickly enough to bill enough hours? Should I return part time? Full time? Flex time? In a BigLaw environment, did any of that even matter (which I sometimes suspect it does not…)?

“But I’m grateful for my firm’s generous maternity leave policy,” I said. And as I sat there, dark circles under my eyes, sleep deprived, my mind suddenly obsessed with all of my fears about returning to work, the tears arrived. I’m so, so tired (have I mentioned?). My baby is 10 weeks old and not sleeping through the night. Neither is my two-and-a-half-year-old. What if I, like most women whose companies’ leave policies are not even half as “generous” as mine, were back on the job already? What if I had to worry about keeping up with my coworkers and my assignments and my clients operating on four or five hours of sleep, worrying about who was taking care of my newborn?

Why do I have to qualify my maternity leave with the word generous?

I love being a lawyer, and, for the most part, I really like working, as I suspect many mothers who work do. Perhaps some women drop out of the workplace after having a baby because, instead of the oft-cited, “I just can’t leave my baby,” their harsh reality is that they only have four weeks maternity leave. Because society pressures them to breastfeed but doesn’t allow them the time to get their babies on a schedule, nor provides the space and time to pump milk at work. Because, even when they are senior executives, coworkers refer to their maternity leave as “vacation.”

My maternity leave shouldn’t be thought of as “generous.” It should be standard. Hell, it should be a starting point.

I cried because I’m angry.  I’m passionate about my children, and I’m passionate about my career and my education, and why won’t society support this duality?

If you haven’t read Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness, and you care about these issues, please read it. I know Warner has her critics, and I realize that she’s writing about a particular sliver of the population (highly educated, professional women), but I happen to fall into that sliver, and her book has resonated with me to a degree that surprises me in the passion and anger it has inspired. We need a movement. We need quality affordable day care. We need realistic maternity leave. And no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Maybe I can. Maybe we all — I say to you, my small but perhaps similarly inclined readership — can put our collective heads together and do something.

Stay tuned.

Lily Update

January 29, 2010 at 9:38 am | Posted in read this | Leave a comment
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I haven’t posted recently because, when I did, I wanted to be able to provide an update about Lily, the Haitian girl whose adoptive parents have been trying to get her back to the U.S. since the earthquake. (See my last post.)  The news was good, and then it wasn’t. Please read the letter below from Lily’s father, Tim. Lily’s mom Liz — who is four months pregnant — traveled to Haiti to finish what she thought would be some remaining bureaucratic loose ends, but now finds herself frightened in the U.S. Embassy with mobs of people outside. She is with Lily, though, and, as you can see from Tim’s letter, we hope that enough media attention will focus the Haitian Prime Minister — whose attentions are obviously and understandably in a million places — at least long enough to bring Lily home. 

My name is Tim Moore, my phone number is 540-250-2222, my e-mail address is tmoore@daa.com, my wife Elizabeth Moore and I began the adoption process in Haiti three years ago and were approved for adoption on January 7, 2009. Our paperwork was lost in the earthquake, but luckily we made copies of all of our documents prior to sending everything in. We used our documentation to obtain a Haitian passport for our daughter Lily. Once the passport was obtained, we had everything necessary for obtaining a US Visa, sans Visa medical exam. My wife tried to get approval through the USCIS office in Washington D.C., without having to travel to Haiti, but was told that the USCIS office in Haiti is a different entity and follows a different set of rules, and that in order to officially move things along, she would have to travel to the US Embassy in Haiti where her paperwork had been kept.

My wife traveled down to Haiti on the 21st of January 2010. She has been working on getting Lily out of the country since then. She visited the embassy and was told that if she wanted to obtain a Visa, Lily would have to obtain a Visa Medical Examination certificate. She visited the required doctor the following day and obtained the certificate. On Sunday, 24 January, all Visas were stopped by the US government, and only Humanitarian Parole was being allowed. Since this was our only option, we decided to go this route. Since then, and due to the Pennsylvania orphan incident, the release of paroled orphans has taken a drastic turn for the worst as the Haitian Prime Minister has become involved and is requiring his approval/signature of all cases, which is bottlenecking the entire process. My wife along with numerous other families are now sleeping on the floor of the US Embassy in Haiti and have been for the past four days. My wife is also 4 months pregnant.

I am writing to you in hopes that you may have someone on the ground or know someone on the ground in Haiti that might be able to reveal this travesty. It would seem that someone from the US government would be able to move this thing along. If you can help, I would be forever in your debt.

Sincerely,

Tim O. Moore II, PhD, P.E.

My friend Rebecca Sullivan, a public relations professional, has been focusing her time and energies on this issue to help her friend Liz. If you think you might be able to help, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Rebecca. As I mentioned in my last post, I do not know the Moore’s personally, but perhaps because Lily is the same age as my daughter (and the thought of my 2-year-old alone and frightened after an earthquake renders me almost dysfunctional) — or perhaps because this is the only tangible way I can think to help, by using my words and “social networking” skills to get the word out — I am now quite personally invested in this. I think of Liz, and Tim, and Lily often. Please forward this on. Please help if you can.

In which I consider getting happy

January 6, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Posted in law school, little bug, read this, tax law is sexy | 2 Comments
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Before you start thinking I have a major crush on Gretchen Rubin (which I do — a major career crush), based on my last few posts (I’ve previously written about her here, here, and here. And here.), I wanted to share my thoughts on her book, The Happiness Project, and why the book attracted me so instantaneously. (Actual reviews can be found all over the Internet — my favorite so far has been by Gwen Bell, here, who puts the book into a larger, Buddhist-oriented perspective.)

This is a bluebird of happiness, of course.

Rubin is a lawyer-turned-writer. If you are not an attorney, you nevertheless might be slightly impressed that she clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. If you are in fact an attorney, you’re probably more impressed that she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal (I mean, that is as good as it gets in terms of law school credentials!) Obviously, she’s smart and probably inclined towards perfectionism. She loves to write, she has an interest in the law, is driven, and she’s a mother of two. So I can relate personally to many of her motivations.

But the book is decidedly not written for a narrow audience and is relevant for anyone who has wondered, “Why do I seem anxious and ill-at-ease in certain situations?” or “Why do I feel like I’m wasting time worrying about small things?” or “How can I enjoy my life more?” She tackles such questions in what is probably for her a characteristically logical way: devoting each month of the year to examining a certain area of her life and then figuring out how to make herself happier in it. Even if you are not quite as logical, you’ll benefit from her extensive research into studies and literature and psychology — it’s interesting to read about areas such as parenting, marriage, energy, career, pursuing a passion, and friendship on macro level through the prism of becoming happier in them — even if you yourself don’t feel the need to make any major life overhauls.

Just as Rubin herself states that she finds personal anecdotes and shared stories as helpful as abstract anthropological studies, however, her own accounts of how she tried to become happier in these areas of her life were what drew me in. She devotes the month of February, for example, to her relationship with her husband. Her husband, as it turned out, wasn’t that pleased when Rubin tried to dump her anxieties on him right before they went to bed, and would rather watch TV sitting next to her on the couch than gaze into her face for a heart-to-heart. Rubin cites some studies that show that, really, women are best suited for face-to-face conversations with other women and men often are satisfied simply being in the presence of their partner — to them, side-by-side movie watching is as intimate as a dinner a deux. This is probably basic Men-are-from-Mars/Women-are-from-Venus stuff, but it was gratifying for me to see it explained both logically and personally. When Tim and I are finally tucked in bed at night is when I want to turn to him and talk, and I try to do so while he is trying to read and decompress, and he doesn’t focus on me, and then I get upset. After reading this particular chapter, I mentioned Rubin’s conclusions to Tim, and he immediately replied, “I could have told you that.” Of course he could have — but because Rubin has not only read studies and dozens of other accounts of relationships, but candidly examines her own interactions with her husband, her analysis was enlightening to me. And reassuring. For Tim, lying next to me in bed reading is contentment, and if I want to talk through my day with him, maybe I can rethink the time and place to do it. This is not to say that spouses shouldn’t make concessions to each other and strive to be active listeners, but it did suggest to me that there is a whole body of scientific, anthropological, and anecdotal evidence out there to support a slight change in my habits that would result in a desirable outcome for us both. My need to be listened to could be satisfied earlier in the evening (perhaps over dinner) and Tim could read in peace.

Rubin is more organized than I would ever be with her personal “commandments” (which range from “Be Gretchen” to “always carry a sweater” to “act how you want to feel”) and resolutions charts, but I already have gleaned a few tips from the book. For example, her “one minute” rule would greatly improve the quality of life around our house. I’m very clean (hate dirt) but I am not neat (I leave things strewn about, cabinet doors open, toilet paper off the roll, etc.). The one-minute rule suggests that if something takes less than a minute to do — do it! (“I could have told you this!” I hear Tim saying…) I’ve been trying to implement it. Were I Rubin herself, I’d mark off on my chart every night whether I have done so. Not sure if I’m there yet, but at least I have this intention in the back of my head.

She also thoroughly examines the importance of sleep — the lack of which makes us less inclined to do things that make us happy (play with our kids, read a good book, exercise). Duh, we all know this, but, on top of the usual summaries of studies on the importance of sleep, Rubin’s lighthearted account of how sleeping more improved other areas of her life was inspiring. While we’re often aware of good ideas in the abstract, seeing them applied can be hugely motivating. As a result, I’ve tried to get to bed earlier (knowing that, if I’m shooting to be in bed by 9:30, I really have to start the process at 8:30) and have tried to limit my reading in bed to 15-20 minutes. Has it worked? Well, two out of three nights I have committed to doing so it has — but last night I got entangled with Twitter and the Internet and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (more on that book when I finish it — wow!) — and then it was 11 p.m. And I feel like crap today, and as a result have eaten like crap and am totally unmotivated to exercise — so there you go.

Of course, Rubin is a full-time writer who works out of a home office and has the flexibility to put her resolutions into action. One of her specific resolutions, for example, is to create a house full of memories for her family, which includes making homemade books with her kids. I had to fight to not get overwhelmed by this chapter (how would I ever find the time to make homemade books, assuming I like crafts — which I do not — in the first place?!). I already feel slightly guilty that I am horrible about documenting our family life, and Tim and I often talk about how we really should have baby books and albums. But neither of us has the time — or, more aptly, the inclination — to do so (because if we were so inclined, we’d find the time, right?). Thinking about it only makes me anxious. So, if I’m going to follow the advice in the book, I have to remember to “Be Kathryn” — I hate crafts, and I enough relatives take photos, etc., of Little Buggy that should she decide some day that she wants a photo album I could figure out a way to get it done. Still, I had to remind myself several times while reading the book that there is no way that a person not writing this particular book for a living can actually do all of these things. Instead, the self-improvement junkie in me has to remember that Rubin’s actions are suggestions, inspiration, and context.

This is not, I should note again, a self-improvement or self-help book. It really is quite personal, but I think even Rubin’s reading lists would be interesting to anyone (not just overachieving lawyer types!) — she cites everyone from St. Therese of Lisieux to Samuel Johnson to Elizabeth Gilbert. In short, yes, I’m totally impressed by Gretchen Rubin’s resume, but more impressed that she used her obvious intellect and attention to detail to create a book that goes beyond what seems to be a rash of “I spent a year [cooking Julia Child] [living by the Bible] [fill in the blank]” books and, instead, examines the philosophical roots of happiness and then applies them truthfully, rigorously, and critically to her own life.

Expectations v. reality

January 5, 2010 at 10:31 am | Posted in little bug, read this, the firm | 3 Comments
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My New Year has gotten off to an inauspicious start, at least work-life-balance-wise — my nanny did not return (still has not returned) from her vacation, without even a phone call. I’m pretty sure I know what happened: she was supposed to return Sunday night, via Miami, but all the flights were cancelled due to snow and a terminal evacuation in Newark. Her phone goes straight to voicemail, and her mailbox is full. I’m sure she is beside herself at not being able to contact me — she’s probably still stuck in Miami. Still, I’m worried. And am trying to be more worried than annoyed.

By 8 a.m. yesterday it was clear she wasn’t going to show up. Backup daycare at work was full. My mother-in-law graciously agreed to watch Little Buggy at her house (20 minutes away) from 10-3, but that still left a good chunk of my work day uncovered. My solution was to let my office know I”d be working from home and throw some Magic Schoolbus DVDs in my iMac (for some reason, my 2.5 year old loves these movies. Maybe she’ll be a scientist like her aunt and uncle?) and let her watch as much as she wanted. Of course, I felt super guilty about this, but a friend at work, whom I had emailed earlier in the day to vent, told me: “This is one of those days where so-called ‘good parenting’ practices meet reality.”

My work got done, and I tried, thanks to my devouring of Gretchen Rubin’s new book, The Happiness Project (about which I’ll write more when my day care crisis is over!), to act how I want to feel. I wanted to feel calm about this unplanned development and happy that I didn’t have to put on real clothes (any day that a woman who is 36 weeks pregnant can wear sweatpants is a blessing!) or go into the office in day-after-holiday-vacation traffic. And, you know what? It worked. Buggy and I had a leisurely breakfast, fun car rides to and from Grandma’s singing Christmas carols (still her favorites — she has no concept that Christmastime has come and gone!), and cooked dinner together. Sometimes you have to throw expectations completely out the window in favor of reality, and the trick to happiness, I suppose, is making the best of that reality.

Thinking pink

December 24, 2009 at 2:25 am | Posted in little bug, read this | Leave a comment
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We celebrated an early Christmas with some Murphys last night before heading down to NJ today. Grandma Babs clearly hit the jackpot with her present to Little Bug — a ballerina outfit, complete with slippers. Of course, Buggy immediately also wanted a crown and wings so she could be a Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker (how does she remember these things?)

Interestingly, Lisa Belkin, in her NYTimes blog, “Motherlode,” posted a query this morning concerning little girls and pink. How much is too much? Do parents try to avoid it and other gender stereotyped toys, games, and assumptions? I haven’t actively avoided the whole “pink is for girls/blue is for boys”* thing, but I also have made more than a subconscious effort not to infuse Buggy’s toddler life with princesses or ballerinas or dolls. Yet, somehow she inherently gravitates to them. (See the joy in her face, above!)

*I had an ultrasound at my OB appointment yesterday. The midwife wanted to make sure the baby’s head was down. “I already know it’s a boy, so don’t worry about revealing anything,” I told her. “Oh no,” she said, “this ultrasound machine isn’t sharp enough to determine gender anyway. I just need to check the baby’s position right now.” But as she began to do the ultrasound she said, “Oh yes, it’s definitely a boy.” Now, I was secretly very relieved by this confirmation, as I had just ordered some decidedly “boyish” blue-and-white ticking stripe curtains. Not that blue curtains wouldn’t have been lovely in a girl’s room…but, I do love pink and would at least have tried to get some last-minute pink trim or something put on them had the ultrasound revealed otherwise!

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