January 11, 2012 at 8:19 am | Posted in small law, the book biz | 1 Comment
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In my current job, I need to do a fair amount of networking. When I was a BigLaw corporate lawyer, I spent my weeknights billing big corporate clients. Junior lawyers had no real client interaction, so networking was entirely self-initiated in anticipation of the day when you would want to flee BigLaw (or they let you go).

As a mother, one really didn’t have time to network anyway. You do your work, you go home and put your children to bed, and then you log back in and bill, bill, bill to try to make up the deficit of leaving working early.

Now, however, I work for a very small firm and am expected to generate a degree of business. In addition, as a literary agent I represent a number of authors and am expected to keep finding more. So I have built into my personal “business plan” that I go to an event one night a week. I set that expectation with our nanny, and I try to tell her as far ahead as possible which night that will be. Often, my husband is out with clients one night a week, as well, and while we try to make sure they are different nights, on some nights the nanny ends up putting the children to bed (which causes me a pang of guilt).

On one hand, being in an entrepreneurial environment with small children is challenging. There is of course quite a great deal more business generation I could and arguably should be doing to try to build up my own little practice. And I still do have to bill a certain number of hours in order to cover costs and, um, make money. I don’t think I was entirely aware of this when I left the corporate world.

On the other hand, there is something really great about changing up the “bed, bath & beyond” routine for a night and mingling with creative people, often holding a glass of wine. Of course, when the event is over at 9 p.m. and I have to get myself home and wind down and then the children are up, just as the moon sets at a very early hour, I vow to go to sleep by 8 p.m. the following night.

It’s all a balance and a juggle, isn’t it?

The billable hour

October 18, 2011 at 4:31 am | Posted in law school, small law, the firm, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Were I practicing at a big corporate firm, my hourly rate would be about $500/hour by now. Yes, it would cost you $500 an hour for my legal advice. Which is so absurd because I’m only a fourth year associate and I don’t know anything. (The WSJ, in this article, explores the ridiculousness of junior associate rates and the ensuing corporate pushback.)

 Anyway, the reality of BigLaw is, if you emailed me, and I responded to your email in my car while navigating the morning traffic on 93N, I’d bill you a quarter-hour’s time. Yup – $125 for an email illegally typed into my iPhone while watching the break-lights in front of me. Corporate law firms are called corporate law firms for a reason: their clients are exclusively (rich) corporations that can afford expensive legal services. In addition, one of the reasons they are paying someone like me close to $500 an hour is that they expect an immediate response to their emails or calls. They are paying me to email them back in traffic.

I won’t tell you what my new billable rate is, but it is quite a bit less. At the same time, I believe it is a fair rate for my level of expertise and experience and service. The upside is that with a lower billable rate, I can actually help individuals, as opposed to corporations. And these individuals have issues that affect their lives and livelihoods — a book they want to publish needs a libel review, a publishing contract needs to be marked-up in their favor, a movie producer wants to buy an option on their book. It feels good to help them. Guess what  — I feel like a lawyer!

Am I going to charge these individuals — individuals with whom I have daily personal contact — a quarter-hour’s time just answer an email? Of course not. It’s much less fraught to bill a corporation than an individual, obviously. But at times I also find it difficult to even charge them for my actual time — valuable time for which they should be paying me. Individual clients, it turns out, read their monthly statements carefully and are not afraid to complain about charges. While you may take some sort of professional development class in law school, the whole client-services part of a legal practice is not something for which a standard corporate experience will prepare you. I’m still navigating this transition with some blunders, and I’m sure that where once I erred on the side of billing everything (adhering to the general BigLaw motto of “bill everything and let the partner mark down your time”), now I likely err on the side of not billing enough. It’s not because I don’t think I’m worth it, but more that I feel sorry for the people on the other end getting their bills. (My time does add up quickly!) Would a male lawyer have these reservations, worry about the feelings of his clients? (This actually is a topic of much debate in law-school professional development classes — the “compassionate lawyer”, etc.)

P.S. For those of you as obsessed with billing as attorneys seem to be, my friend MommyEsq., a former colleague who just went in-house, wrote just last week about why she actually misses the billable hour, here.

Whose job is more “important”?

October 14, 2011 at 8:28 am | Posted in small law, the firm, weekend | 6 Comments

As any lawyer-mom will tell you, as stressful as stressing about your billable hours may be, just as stressful are the spousal negotiations that occur along the lines of “whose job is more important?” (This isn’t limited to lawyer-moms, I know — one of my doctor friends has the same negotiations with her doctor-spouse.) Weekends may subtly simmer with resentment — who gets to work on Sunday afternoon? Anecdotal evidence tells me that generally, unless she’s closing a deal, it’s the lawyer mom whose work takes a backseat, and probably this is because she’s on some type of reduced-hours schedule to begin with. So, let’s say because of those reduced hours or just because of the nature of their respective jobs, she’s making less money than her husband. Though I think all of us educated feminists are loathe to admit it, whether consciously or unconsciously, because we earn less money, even though our jobs are just as demanding as our spouses’, we end up losing that endless negotiation.

For me, this was one of the most difficult and stressful aspects of BigLaw. I was a junior associate on reduced hours, and I made rather significantly less money than my husband. He’s not an attorney, and I respect the responsibilities and demands that his executive position brings. But in my profession, I was being evaluated on a wholly objective standard — the billable hour. Whether or not I was on reduced time, if I didn’t bill the hours, I wouldn’t progress or succeed.  So if the nanny was sick or there was a doctor’s appointment or I didn’t work on the weekends, this had an immediate effect on my billables. And yet because I was the one working “part-time” those responsibilities fell to me. Don’t get me wrong — I wanted them to. But I also saw myself as the junior wage-earner and thus my job wasn’t as important. The billable hours slipped away, and I felt like a failure.

As you all know, I left BigLaw. I took a massive paycut. The upside of that paycut is an infinitely more flexible working environment — not to mention that I love my job. And yet here’s another upside: there’s no more job-related gamesmanship. My husband now makes much more than I do. In a way, he’s now the primary breadwinner. In addition, I’m not being evaluated solely on billables. So if he calls me at 5 p.m. and says, “Can I work late?” I no longer seethe with ill-concealed resentment. Or if he wants to go into the office on a Saturday, I’m a little bummed to miss out on the family time, but I don’t feel like his working highlights the fact that I’m not working (something which made me feel guilty and awful about my own work performance). If you know me, you know I am a flag-waiving feminist, so this next statement may sound very un-feminist: my husband’s job is more “important” than mine. And that’s OK. It’s our reality for the time being, a new reality and a risk we collectively undertook. Admitting it has taken away what I now realize was a corrosive undercurrent of stress and anxiety in our family life and in my professional life.

Sick days, revisited

October 13, 2011 at 4:45 am | Posted in small law, the book biz, the firm | 2 Comments

At my former BigLaw job, staying home when ill would make me feel worse than hauling myself into work sick as a dog. Oh, the anxiety! I would lie in bed feeling resoundingly guilty, my Blackberry burning up in my hand. I felt the need to reply to every email, every voicemail instantaneously. Mentioning that I was home sick was a sign of weakness, and anyway I was afraid no one would believe me. (What? Why did I think this? I have no idea.)

Yesterday, I emailed my colleagues around 7 a.m. to let them know I’d likely be in late morning — I had been up all night with some sort of stomach bug.

“Please don’t come in and get us all sick,” one pleaded. But I had a few emails that needed to be sent. “I’ll do it for you,” offered another colleague. Granted, this particular piece of business was agency-related, not billable legal work, but to offer to do it for me so I could stay home? Relief.

Later that morning, an email popped in my inbox from a legal client. Could we have a phone call at 11:30 a.m.? I emailed around to let everyone know that I’d call in. Immediately, another email from a colleague: “We don’t need you for this call! Back to bed!”

Is it my BigLaw work ethic or BigLaw fear that makes a legitimate sick day somehow worse than going into the office sick? I think it more likely that it is the latter!

Anyway, it’s fun working with non-lawyers, and even more fun working with lawyers who actually prefer me to stay home when sick.

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