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
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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.

What’s next?*

March 31, 2011 at 9:23 am | Posted in law school, the firm, the media | 10 Comments
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*Credit: Aaron Sorkin

The Short Story

My new job: I will be practicing media, entertainment, and general intellectual property law at a boutique Boston firm. The firm is affiliated with a literary agency, and I will become an agent at the agency as well. I have worked out a loose arrangement under which I’ll be practicing law 50% of the time (about 20 hours a week — I just love that we are talking about a 40- and not 60-hour work week here!), and I will devote the rest of my time to the agency, how ever much or little that is. At first, I expect to be in the office every day as I learn both a new area of the law and a totally new profession (agent), but ultimately I expect the job to be very flexible, especially on the agency side. In the end, being an agent is commission-based, so however much I time I put into it, I get out of it.

The Short-Long Story

At the end of my third year of law school — after I had already accepted a position in the tax department at my former, BigLaw firm — my good friend Margo told me about a partner at her firm who also ran a boutique literary agency out of the firm. Margo is an intellectual property lawyer (she is a genius and has a PhD in immunology and practices a type of law I cannot even wrap my head around), and her firm was known for its overall IP practice. “I don’t really understand the arrangement,” she told me, “but it sounds right up your alley. You should meet him.” Margo then wrote an introductory email for me, and I scheduled an informational interview. A literary agent and a lawyer, I thought. How cool does that sound? Also, I had always been interested in what is considered “soft” IP law — copyright, trademark, licensing. It is nearly impossible, if not totally impossible, to do soft IP work in Boston straight out of law school, however, so I had already chosen a different post-law school path (i.e., tax).

The partner’s office did not look like a typical partner’s office — huge bookshelves were crammed with books, an oriental rug was on the floor, art covered the walls. Sitting front and center on his bookshelf was a copy of my oldest childhood friend’s recent book. Yes, he had been her first agent. Already, the karma was good. The law partner and I talked for nearly an hour, and then he called in his partner in the agency, and she and I talked for another hour. “How does one get to do what you do?” I asked the law partner, a 6-ft, 4-inch man who could have walked out of an Updike novel, with his shock of white hair, his black turtleneck and his pressed cords (and, I would later learn, his lovely penchant for a beer or a glass of wine at lunch). “How can one be an agent and a lawyer?”

“One really can’t,” he told me. “My law firm let me start this agency to keep me happy and my clients at the firm.” Why don’t you come work for us as an agent? he and his agency partner suggested. I had a writing, editing, and publishing background and knew a lot of writers. But I had just spent three years and thousands and thousands of dollars to get a law degree. Still, I was intruiged.

Over the next three years we kept talking. Eventually, the agency moved out of its home at Margo’s firm and aligned itself (in a relationship too complicated and probably boring to go into here) with the boutique firm. Free from the oversight of the powers-that-be at the old firm, the agency partners called me up. We can hire you now, they told me. We can hire you to help [law partner] with his media practice and to become an agent. At this point, I was eight months pregnant with Little O. “Can you give me 18 weeks paid maternity leave?” I asked. Sadly, again, this was not the time for me to make a move.

But we kept talking. And flirting with the idea of me working for them in a hybrid lawyer/agent role. And I could never really get the two charismatic partners — the law partner/agent and the other agency partner — out of my head. What they saw (see?) in me is, I think, someone who could step into an agent’s role because of not only my general knowledge of the publishing world, good writing, and editing but also because I am an extrovert. Which, if you have seen any depictions of an agent on TV, no matter how dramatic (think: Jerry McGuire; Ari Gold from Entourage), you kind of need to be. In addition, practicing media, entertainment, and intellectual property law is much more substantively interesting to me than general tax law, so when they were finally able to create a position where I could do both, I decided to think about it very, very seriously.

I am, of course, thrilled by the outcome. I’m nervous — it is a small firm (we were negotiating over whether they could provide me with a laptop! No BigLaw perks here…), and I will be basically starting over as a first-year associate because of the new practice area. Not to mention I need to find agency clients! I mean, this is rather entrepreneurial. But my mind is already racing each night with ideas for books and the writer-friends (or friends I will turn into writers) who should write them. I feel creative and enthused in a way I have not for many years.

The Long Story

A little more than three years ago I decided to start a blog. I polled my family about what I should call it, and my mother came up with Marbury v. Madison Ave. Brilliant! It captures what I hoped to do with this blog: reflect my life as a lawyer and my interest in the law, but also be true to the life I had before law school — that of writing, popular culture, the media.

If I were a devotee of The Secret (like my sister!) I’d say that, three years ago, I put out in the universe what I really wanted to do — somehow merge these two aspects of my background and, indeed, my personality. And it has finally happened. So will the blog change? Will it become an “agent’s blog”?

In part, no. I know that my family and friends read this blog, but I’m also thrilled every time I hear that another lawyer or another mom or another lawyer mom or another lawyer dad or another law student has found me here. I will still be practicing law — this was very important to me, as I do like being a lawyer and it was a long road to become one. And I want to write about my new practice and to continue to write about the challenges that the lawyer-parent faces (although hopefully mine will change in nature now that I’m no longer working for a huge firm).

At the same time, I recognize that in my new role as agent I will need to think about being a businesswoman and an entrepreneur. I am of course aware of the role that social media — blogs, Facebook, Twitter — plays in this.  Were I a writer trying to find an agent, the first thing I would do is Google “agent blog”. And I’ve done so — many of the agent’s blogs I find are full of practical advice: how to query, how the publishing business works, etc. I’m in no position to be offering practical advice yet, however.

Writers who are drawn to me, then, will initially have to want to work with me because of what I can bring other than years and years of publishing industry experience. They will know that I am working with an incredibly reputable agency and will be backed with the support and experience of my colleagues. They will know that I have 10+ years of experience as a writer and editor myself. They will know that I also have business experience as an attorney and this will bring a different context and perspective to what I can do for them in terms of real-world issues such as negotiations and navigating the world of selling books. And maybe if they find this blog, they’ll get a sense of me as a person because, ultimately, the writer-agent relationship has to be very personal. A writer has to feel confident that his or her agent is advocating for  the writer’s best interests, whether the agent is helping shape and edit the manuscript or interacting with a publishing house.

I’ve been deliberately vague about for whom I’m working because I want to think through my social media strategy a bit. Do I start a new blog that is solely for my agency work, and, in doing so, freely give my contact information, the name of my agency, my thoughts on the business? Or do I stay here at Marbury v Madison Ave — the blog with the prescient name — and stay true to what I have been doing, which is writing about my work and, at times, my family and hope that this will attract the types of writers with whom I’d work well? In other words, writers who want to work with an agent who is a lawyer and a mother and a friend and a runner and a wine drinker? I would, of course, have to make myself a bit more public. It’s not like anyone reading this who doesn’t know me couldn’t easily find out who I am, but neither is it like I’m a public figure in the First Amendment sense.

Dear readers, what do you think? Keep this blog as it has been and if I choose to attack the social-media marketing world, create a new blog just for that? Or try to meld the two here?

Bye, bye BigLaw

March 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Starbucks, tax law is sexy, the firm | 9 Comments
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Tomorrow is my last day at the firm. Yes, it has been a few weeks since I posted — and, obviously, I’ve been busy. I decided to pursue what I hope will be a truly life-fulfilling path — the one I almost decided to follow after my maternity leave. I do not regret returning to my firm, though. Not one bit. I leave knowing I have left nothing on the table. I leave having been re-immersed in tax law and hard work. I leave having reestablished my professional and personal connections here.

I’ll write more about my new opportunity soon — next week, in my week off between jobs. Right now, however, I’m sending almost three years of files to records, having good-bye coffees and lunches with the colleagues who have become my friends. And I’m surprisingly emotional. Change makes me anxious, even good change. I am not sorry I’m leaving all this behind. But what is “all this”?: A huge, multinational law firm in a gleaming high rise. A nod of recognition when I tell people where I work. The confidence that came with knowing that, after years of professional hopscotch, I actually was capable of landing a prestigious job. (“Prestigious” — I feel the need to surround that in quotes, recognizing all of the external validation implied by my last few sentences. But it’s true! I’ll admit it! I’m proud that I work(ed) here.)

No, I’m not sorry to be leaving on my own terms in an anxiety-producing economy. But I’m still nostalgic about the milestones. I came here with one baby, I leave with two. At times I felt like I did a good job. Mostly, I felt rather stressed, but that, too, is part of the fun of being a BigLaw attorney — you can sit around and kvetch with your other lawyer friends about how stressed you are. Highlighters and sticky tabs and blackberrys and binder clips; empty Starbucks cups, free dinners after 7, free cab rides after 8; the same turkey wraps at every department lunch. Getting into my car with NPR and a mug of coffee and seeing my skyscraper in the distance as I headed for the highway, wondering what would happen today. Seeing the clock tick towards 5 and wondering if I’d be able to leave in time for bathtime.

Oh, I have so much more to write about this experience and the one that lies ahead. But right now I’m strangely overwhelmed. I ache to talk to my father, to compare my corporate law experience to his, to dissect it in a detail that only another corporate lawyer would want to listen to.

Tonight, some law school classmates who work here are buying me a glass of wine; tomorrow I’ll have a farewell lunch with some friends in my department. Saying goodbye can be strange and awkward, but I hope and trust that my new job will be a bridge to maintaining these connections. It still doesn’t feel real — seven years ago, almost on a whim, I decided to take the LSAT and take control of my life. Without this experience I don’t know that I’d have the confidence to maintain that control and take the leap I’m taking now — out of BigLaw towards a big unknown. I’m nervous and nostalgic, but also grateful and proud.

More soon…

Circle Time

February 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Posted in little bug, the firm | 4 Comments

When I dropped off Little Bug at preschool this morning, her teacher came rushing up to me to inform me about circle time yesterday. It is “community helpers” week at school, and at circle time, the children stood up and talked about community helpers they knew. William’s dad is a firefighter; Mary Kate’s mom is a nurse; Emerson’s mom is a doctor; and so on. Apparently, when it was Buggy’s turn she jumped up and said, “My mommy is a FANTASTIC LAWYER!”

Let’s not get all semantic about whether or not I actually qualify as a “community helper.” Anyone who talks to me regularly knows that I am feeling low, low, low about my job as of late (mostly my ability to do it well and what the hell am I doing with my life). Sometimes, a boost of confidence can come from the unlikeliest of sources — such as one’s three-year-old.

Of course, I too am the daughter of a FANTASTIC LAWYER. So it is no small thrill that my daughter gave me a circle time shout out.

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?

The juggle

January 17, 2011 at 8:39 am | Posted in little bug, Little O, SAHM, the 'burbs, the firm, Uncategorized, weekend | 6 Comments

Yesterday morning, I drove the children to a suburb north of the city for a playdate. My friend has three children — a little girl just a week younger than Little Bug, and twin 17-month-old boys. She and I were classmates in college, and while we were friendly then, we didn’t know each other well. We reconnected a few years ago when our girls were infants — we lived just blocks from each other in the Back Bay and were both attorneys. Because she went right from college to law school, she is now a partner at her firm. Nevertheless, we have many of the same experiences being mothers and lawyers. Our girls play really well together, and Little O had fun chasing after the “big” boys. As the kids traipsed around her sunny playroom, we caught up in bits and snatches, and I found myself saying, “Now that we have such a great nanny, it’s really pretty doable.” And I believe that: with quality, reliable daycare, the working parent is free to pursue his or her career with much less anxiety. If the children are happy and well cared for, you can spend your days at work focusing on work, as opposed to worrying about what is going on at home. Our excellent nanny has made that possible for me.

But, then, there are the weekends. And holidays, such as today. When there is no nanny and, yet, because of the nature of our particular careers, we still have work to do. On weekends, Tim and I find ourselves in a seemingly never-ending negotiation about who gets to work when. Today, for example, he is going into the office from 10-3. He asked his mother to come over and help me out, which just means she and I will probably take the children to lunch at the local diner, and maybe she can stay with the baby while he naps and I can take Little Bug to the market with me or something. Fine — I’m grateful for the company and the ability to get some errands done. But I also have about three or four hours of work that I should do before tomorrow — two hours of which I absolutely have to do before tomorrow. When will I do mine? Before 10 or after 3, I suppose. When Tim works on weekends, I don’t begrudge him the time away from our family so much as I feel guilty that I should be working and I’m not. I don’t actually work all that often on weekends — but I always feel like I should be doing so (everyone else at my office seems to be) — and so when Tim steals away to put in a few hours himself, it reminds me that I’m probably slipping behind.

If I weren’t working at all, would these weekend tensions ease? Maybe not because I might feel like the weekends were family time or my time — a break, perhaps, from a long week spent taking care of the children. That would be a different negotiation between my husband and me. But I wouldn’t feel this constant sense of inferiority to my own colleagues, one that I fear manifests itself in my relationship with my hard-working spouse. In a two-career family, does one spouse’s career necessarily take priority over the other’s? And is that the career of the highest earner? It seems that things would shake themselves out this way, but I don’t feel like I’m in the type of job — junior associate at a big law firm — where my career can take second fiddle and maintain any sort of longetivity. Just as I’m starting to feel like maybe I am doing the right thing (and have the childcare to make it possible, at least during the week), I’m reminded that — while many of my colleagues are in the office on weekends and holidays — that will never be me, and I’ll probably never really measure up. This is frustrating, and I feel terrible that sometimes my family bears the brunt of this frustration.

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.

How to say no (or, how not to say no)

December 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Posted in the firm, wine | 1 Comment
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When was the last time you had an ear infection? I haven’t had one in, oh, 25 years. But I have had so many in my childhood — easily 30 or 40 (I really don’t think this is an exaggeration) — that the signs are obvious and tell-tale: sore throat, a clicking sound when I swallow, a stomach ache, drippy nose, and, of course, pain. Two nights ago I awoke at 3 a.m. (or maybe one of the children woke me…sigh) with my ear pounding, and it felt as if someone had stuffed an ear plug in it, or cotton. I couldn’t hear a thing. As you may have read if you’re keeping up with me, I’ve been sick for about two weeks. I had a cold and then it got worse and then it kind of went away and then last weekend it started coming back. Finally, though, the not-hearing thing inspired me to go to the doctor.

Instead of going into work in the morning, then, I called my primary care physician. But because I often let details fall through the cracks — such as finding a new primary care physician closer than 45 minutes away (in my defense, for 20 months of the past four years or so I’d been having regular ob visits and thus no real need for primary care appointments) — I had to trek to Cambridge. I was wearing leggings and snowboots under a puffy down parka — hair unwashed, no make up. While I was at the doctor, I got an email that a client needed a letter by 11 a.m. — a letter I had been planning to email later that afternoon, from home, when I returned from the doctor. I didn’t have time to drive all the way home, so I had to head downtown and send it from the office.

I slunk into my office in my horribly inappropriate work attire (leggings — yeesh!), and wrote the letter. All the while, my ear was clogging up more and more, and I could hear almost nothing out of my left side, which is a very strange sensation. I tied up some more loose ends and then packed up for my vacation, which is supposed to start tomorrow, figuring that I’d spend today working from home and recovering.

I hit CVS on my way home to pick up my prescription for antibiotics, and in the parking lot I received another urgent work email, inquiring about a matter I had researched more than a year ago — a tricky area of benefits law about which I know almost nothing. At the time, I’d had to reach out to a senior attorney for help. What to do?  I was shaking with fever, my ear ringing in pain — and, oh yeah, Tim was away.

I pushed off the query. I hope I did so tactfully, but of course I’m second guessing myself. It felt awful. If there was ever a time to say no, this was it. And the motto at my firm seems to be that you should turn down work if you don’t have the bandwith to do a good job.

Is it the end of the world? Probably not.  Could I have articulated myself better? Most likely.

So, anyway, once again, I find myself (and this seems to happen every year) sick at Christmas. After the doctor gasped at the sight of my ear drum, she asked if I had been getting enough rest. This is a rhetorical question. I mean, no — at least one child wakes me up at least once a night. I’m exhausted! I haven’t exercised in three months! I don’t think I’ve eaten a fruit or vegetable in at least that long! Clearly, my body hates me and is trying to tell me so.

 And, like every year when I spend Christmas somewhat sniffling and feverish , I start thinking ahead to the New Year and all the things I will change: my diet, my sleep habits, exercising regularly, and so on. 

Maybe what I also should be doing is saying no a bit more. Not to work, per se, but to the other things sidetracking me and keeping me in this seemingly permanent, semi-exhausted state, in which I spend most of the day feeling totally ineffective at everything. These things include: zoning in front of the TV too late at night, that third cup of coffee, puttering around aimlessly at bedtime instead of actually going to bed.

I’m frustrated — frustrated that I haven’t been taking better care of myself, that I am a crappy unreliable lawyer, that my ear hurts.

Luckily, it’s snowing fluffy flakes outside and tomorrow we head to New Jersey for Christmas. I just ordered petit fours from the Konditor Meister to bring with us.  All four of us will be sharing my mom’s guest room, so I imagine I won’t exactly be catching up on sleep, but I’m looking forward to a break from our schedule. I’m looking forward to the Christmas lights and my mother’s beautiful decorations. Can one drink wine on antibiotics? Probably not, but I’ll look forward to a fat glass of wine by the fire nonetheless. And then I’ll come back in January and try again.

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