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.


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New Beginnings

January 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Posted in little bug, Starbucks, the firm | 2 Comments
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My “vacation memo” has been distributed; my out-of-office message is on, directing all inquiries for the next six months to my secretary. And, in a stroke of brilliant timing, my firm announced on Tuesday that it finally would support iPhones, so I was in line at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning at the Apple store to (finally! finally!) acquire one.  The tech guys finished configuring it literally five minutes before I left yesterday. I’m not due back until mid-August (though I was told that if I wanted to push it until after Labor Day, that was fine too!). It felt very strange walking out that door, toting seven volumes of Tax Code regulations (which I’m sure will sit untouched in my home office for six months, but you never know…). I felt sort of — dispensable. But I am, and that’s OK. I’ll miss my work friends quite a bit — a group of smart, interesting people who have kept me laughing and functioning for the past year and a half. I won’t miss the not infrequent uncertainty that comes with the job: self-doubt and second-guessing — all self-imposed — about my abilities as a tax lawyer. In the end, though I truly like my job and my firm and being a lawyer. I’m grateful I graduated from law school in 2008 (and not 2009!) and was fully and gainfully employed during the past year-and-a-half of utter upheaval in the BigLaw world. And that my firm has such a generous maternity leave policy. I’m so lucky, I know, to have this upcoming time, this new beginning.

Now what? I guess I wait for this baby, but I’m actually not at all impatient. I vaguely remember labor and labor pains and think I’ll be ready for those this time around. The baby’s room is set up, all his little clothes have been washed in Dreft. But he’s not expected for another week or so. I wanted to begin my leave early, however, so that I could have time with my Little Bug. A week or so to focus on her, read her books, make her lunches, ballet dance around the family room, etc. I’m trying not to feel too emotional about uprooting her from her position of absolute adoration. I know she’ll love her brother, and as many of my friends have told me upon having a second child, “Your heart expands.” I know this will be true, but I can’t quite comprehend it yet. 

I’m a bit at loose ends today, then. No one has any expectations of me today, other than my family. No assignments are due, no clients or partners await me. Our beloved nanny, Janet, had her last day with us yesterday. She, too, is moving on, to a family with a newborn who will thrive in her love just as my Bug did (a family who can give her more hours than I possibly can over the next six months!) She has been taking care of Buggy since she was six weeks old (and I had to begin my third year of law school) and Buggy loves her immensely. I am so grateful to her for enabling me to walk out the door every day to work without a second thought about my daughter’s care. But for now it’s just me, and Buggy, and Tim, waiting for our little boy. 

Thanks to the new iPhone (again: hooray! I know everyone else has had one for months/years but can I just say how amazing it is?), here’s a bit of a photodocumentation of Day 1 of my new life:

Extra snuggling in mom and dad’s bed, watching “Little Bear” (as I didn’t have to be out the door at 7:30!)

Preschool drop-off

Then mom heads to, where else…

My year so far…

January 17, 2009 at 10:04 am | Posted in gastronomy, little bug, running, Starbucks, tax law is sexy, the firm, wine, yoga | 1 Comment
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The first two weeks of 2009 have been frigid and snowy. I feel a bit guilty for not writing, but I’ll now do my best to catch up. Here’s a short list of 2009’s milestones thus far:

1. New Year’s in the Country

snowplows

Little Buggy and her friend, August, check out the snowplows on a snowy New Year’s Eve night.

We woke up New Year’s Eve day to a veritable blizzard but wouldn’t let that keep us from heading out to Tim and Isabella’s newly renovated farmhouse in Concord. (In any event, I was in charge of the wine for the dinner party, so I couldn’t let everyone else down, right?) We took the T to North Station and then the commuter rail out to Concord, and I have to say, when we stepped off the train and Tim, our host, was waving to us on the snowy platform in his Barbour coat and wellies, I felt as if we had arrived for a weekend in the English countryside. (However, note to self: in the future do not take a toddler on a train without adequate snacks.)

iz-dinner

From this…

There were four couples for dinner, exquisitely prepared by Isabella and her friend Lisanne (both of them true gourmets). We started with prune gnocchi (with a fruity and sweet Dolcetto d’ Alba that perfectly balanced the prunes — by far the best wine pairing of the night), then salad, then a pork tenderloin roasted with fennel and rosemary (with a Chateauneuf du Pape, which I picked really only because it’s my favorite wine, although it did go well with the pork…) I also had brought some cool dessert wines — a Bonny Doon framboise, a sparkling Shiraz from Australia, and some port to go with the chocolate fondue we were to have for dessert. However, we didn’t quite make it to the last course, as the evening devolved (evolved?) into a spontaneous dance party in the home’s detached studio, where we rang in the New Year as Little Buggy and little August slept away in the main house, peacefully oblivious.

dancing

…to this

2. I bought a Kitchen Aid Mixer

I woke up New Year’s day to the sun sparkling on the snowy fields and low stone walls of Concord — picture perfect New England. Isabella already had baked banana bread; Little Buggy and August had pulled chairs up to the kitchen island to “help” her. I resolved right then to finally purchase the Kitchen Aid I’d been craving for years, justifying it with cozy thoughts of Little Buggy helping me bake over the years. And, indeed, in just two weeks I’ve made chocolate chip cookies and my own banana bread — more baking than occurred in all of 2008.

elliebox2

Just as fun as baking: hiding in the box

3. Detox

Before all this baking happened, however, starting January 5 (a Monday — the real beginning of 2009) I went on a 5.5 day cleanse: no dairy, caffeine, soy, alcohol (duh), sugar, or grains. The first two days were rather painful only in that I was hungry. But I made myself a rash of healthy things in advance — soups, smoothies — and by Friday I felt great. My skin was clear, and I had lost about seven pounds (for real!) I’m back on the sauce: caffeine, alcohol, dairy, but I feel good about dropping that holiday weight, even if some of it creeps back on. I do sort of wish I could eat like that all the time, but frankly, it’s boring. Interestingly, I didn’t miss the cheese or wine all that much, and the hardest part for me was not stopping in the Starbucks in the lobby on my way up to my office. There is something innately comforting to me (Pavlovian?) about the routine of standing in line, grabbing that cardboard cup, and settling in at my desk to begin the day.

4. Yoga!

I’ve been to yoga six times! I’ve been getting up at 5:45 a.m. to get to the 6:15 class at Prana Power Yoga in Central Square. Even though it makes the mornings a bit more hectic, my days are so much better. I’d like to try to do it every morning — maybe that can be my next goal.

5. Running Club

The 2009 running club was inaugurated by Ellen and me last Saturday on an icy cold morning on the Charles. It was more like “adventure ice running” over large unplowed sections of the path on the river, but we felt rather proud afterwards. This morning’s running club has been cancelled due to the six degree cold outside.

6. Lots of snowstorms.

elliesnow

Helping Daddy dig out the cars

7. Little Buggy is 18 months!

She had her 18 month doctor’s appointment on Thursday. She’s a healthy little girl. Weight: 24 lbs, 11 oz (50th %); Height: 33 1/4 inches (quite literally off the charts for height percentile — greater than 100%).  Both Tim and I were early growers, so that’s not surprising. Still, I wonder if she’ll end up being over six feet, like her Aunt Stephanie. She’s talking almost incessantly these days (wonder where that came from?). I can pretty much understand what she wants, and she can parrot back almost anything, making me realize I really do have to start curtailing my use of four-letter words.

elliekitchen

Cooking away…

8. Work

I’ve been a BigLaw attorney for four months. I feel a little bit like I did when arrived at Princeton and was surrounded by people who, like me, legitimately loved school, and books, and asking questions, and learning. In the tax department, I’m also surrounded by people who are unabashed about their nerdy love of the tax code and the problem-solving it presents. I think this is what makes practicing tax law a bit different from corporate or litigation. In corporate, some people love that rush of the deadline, of staying up late, of making huge transactions happen (well, to the extent that they do anymore…). In litigation, people love doing the case research, writing briefs, looking for that one clue that will turn their case. In tax, people like to sit around and discuss the freaking TAX CODE, inventing scenario after scenario of possible outcomes.

More to my specific interests, however, each time I have the chance to do the college and university tax-exempt work (that I went to my particular firm with the hopes of specializing in), I am reminded of my real passion for education-related issues. This week I attended a conference for college and university practitioners, as well as a firm-sponsored lunch on topics in this area. Many of the issues in this area are far from tax related — admissions, labor, etc. — and I do hope to get some exposure to these areas as well. I also was assigned a pro-bono case in which I’m going to represent the mother of an autistic child against the Department of Education to help extend the girl’s education-related benefits after she turns 21. I’m nervous, as I am going to be the lawyer — but this is the benefit (indeed, the point, I think) of doing pro bono work as a young attorney. You have client exposure and responsibility that you’d never have in your normal place at the very bottom of the pecking order (to wit: I will be spending part of my vacation day on Monday transcribing , word-for-word, a two- to three-hour conference call. Not really using my, um, legal skills…)

Oh, yawn! Was that so boring? (Told you I was a dork.)

Anyway, one more thought about work: if you click on that link to the right to “Above the Law” you’ll see that this must-read legal blog has been listing almost daily firms that are laying off workers or freezing salaries. My firm, while halving bonuses like all the other firms, is not freezing salaries, which is encouraging. Nevertheless, things are nerve-wracking, as they are for everyone in the country. If I have a job in 2010 — bonuses, salary increases or not — I will be truly grateful.

And with that, I embark upon the latter half of the month, promising to update a bit more regularly.

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