Review (phew?)

November 18, 2009 at 10:19 am | Posted in little bug, Starbucks, tax law is sexy, the firm | 4 Comments
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I was so sure I was going to be let go/laid off/fired (or whatever the current euphemism is for what is happening at BigLaw performance reviews these days) on Tuesday that I booked a painter to begin working on Thursday. Rumors were rampant at work about cuts to be made, not based on performance, but based on hours. Although due to no real fault of my own I’d like to think (I’m a tax lawyer, I don’t work on deals, I don’t do document review), my numbers were, by BigLaw standards, atrocious. So, by Tuesday morning I had done some cursory research of Massachusetts employment law as it relates to maternity leave (can your maternity leave be halted once you have begun it?) and also had consulted with former colleagues who had been downsized right before their maternity leaves to compare what sort of severance they had been given. I was prepared.

I walked into my review with a truly racing heart. My nerves were tingling in a way they had not since I opened up that letter from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners. I also had convinced myself that being laid off right now would be great, actually. I would have three months at home with my Little Bug before the baby arrived. I could get the house decorated, prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas, cook, watch Oprah. Tim could truly focus on his increasingly demanding job for awhile. I’d have the baby, and in the spring I’d think about what came next.

At the same time, I was thinking about how and with whom I’d network. I’d try to start freelancing for the Boston Bar Journal. I’d join some professional groups. I’d get my references lined up. And I had already started to do some soul-searching: why were my hours so low that I was laid off? What sort of message was I putting out – consciously or subconsciously – into the universe about my desire to work full-time at a big firm? What could I have done better? And, worse, I had started asking myself: was this really an hours-based layoff? Was I really a good lawyer?

In the end, I had a glowing performance review. I was truly stunned when, after the first few moments, it became clear that not only was I not going to get fired, but that people actually appreciated my work. “Come on, you didn’t really think they were going to let you go,” was the chorus from my family and friends. But I did – I truly did. See, I’m not sure I’m world’s greatest tax lawyer. This stuff is difficult, and not only do I not take to it as intuitively as others, I’m also quite sure I don’t work as hard. I get Starbucks with my colleagues. Most nights, I rush out of here to get home before 6, and I don’t work from home unless I really need to. I write on my blog, I read the news, I watch crappy TV. If they were going to have to let the lowest-producing lawyers go for economic reasons, why not me?

Oh, I am so lucky to have a job – any job – right now. I have stimulating, supportive colleagues. A caring nanny whom my child adores. A husband who rarely travels and will get home in lieu of me almost any night I ask (and when he can’t, family who can step in.) And, the bottom line is: I could stay home if I wished. I am acutely aware that I have this choice. But, historically, I’m also really bad with choices: I second-guess to the point of anxiety. (I’ve written about this before, of course.)  I am extremely satisfied and proud and grateful in the wake of this review that my choice to become a Big Law attorney seems to have been a good one, but it doesn’t make walking out the door each morning any easier. I am supporting my family and (hopefully) becoming a role model for my daughter, who can now say, “I want to be a lawyer!” But is that any better than being home with her, reading to her, making her lunch? I just don’t know. I can’t know. As irrational as it seems, maybe the choice should have been made for me.

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Equinox

March 22, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Posted in little bug, Starbucks, weekend, yoga | Leave a comment
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spring-light

Spring light

I think the spring equinox got to me this weekend. Is the equinox supposed to make one feel more balanced and calm? I have felt more on edge for the past three days than I have in months. Perhaps it is the light, very sharp and yellow, yet still not giving much warmth. I worked from home on Friday, and I was embarassingly unproductive (which leaves me starting this week feeling nervous …) I know part of the problem was my mind racing over the whole fellowship/sabbatical offering.

I was really looking forward to Saturday — Margo and I signed up for a day-long yoga intensive at a hotel on the waterfront with Baron Baptiste. I’ve been doing yoga at his studios in Cambridge and Brookline since I moved to Boston in 2003, and just before I started law school I went to Hawaii for a 10-day teacher training with him. Say what you want about commercially “famous” yoga teachers (the common complaint is their supposed cult-like status) — they become popular for a reason, and usually they are phenomenal teachers.  (I also used to study with Shiva Rea in L.A., back when she only taught a few classes a week at Yoga Works — now she travels the world teaching at conferences and has her own clothing line and videos.) I do think Baron is inspiring live — so much energy —  and I was looking forward to getting some yoga mojo back, not to mention a day to myself and five or six hours of serious, sweaty yoga.

But the inevitable happened — after burning the candle at both ends to launch the new website (www.weei.com), Tim started getting a sore throat on Friday night. He barely got out of bed all weekend, and so my yoga intensive (for which I had already paid, of course) went out the window. Instead, I took the Little Bug to see her grandmother and uncle (Tim’s mom and brother) Saturday morning (a trip Tim was to make), and we did errands. This morning we got up early and met Lindsey and Whit for a chilly walk to Starbucks and a playground in Cambridge. Then a nap, then the market, then Sesame while I cooked dinner — and now my weekend is over. I’m not sure I feel either rested or organized for the week ahead. I feel unsettled about my job security (but who doesn’t…). I am enervated and am craving a bit of stability.

Siren Song

March 20, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Posted in little bug, not yet written, the firm | 4 Comments
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If you are reading this and you are a relatively young associate, you read Above the Law and so know what went down at my firm yesterday.  If you’re not a lawyer (and thus not addicted to the train wreck that is abovethelaw.com — Must. Stop. Looking. At. Carnage), I’ll try to summarize as briefly as possible:

Many, many law firms — large and small, prestigious and niche — are laying off associates. Most law firms will not lay off first-year associates. The reasons for this are both selfish and somewhat humane. If you lay off first-years during a downturn, what third-year law student is going to take a chance on you? Especially the most coveted law students who tend to have more choices when it comes to recruiting (or, at least, used to). (The economics behind it are something like this: the more “prestigious” a firm, the more it can charge. How do you get to be “prestigious”? You boast that you can hire the top students from the top law schools. Thus, these students are heavily recruited and [used to] spend their 2L summers being wined and dined.) The humane reason, I’d like to think, is that if you get laid off as a first-year associate, you’ll have an incredibly difficult time finding another position (although I’m sure this is also tied up with reason #1).

What law firms can do in lieu of retracting offers or laying off current associates is push back the start date for incoming associate classes. Instead of staring in September, new associates would start the following January, thus saving the firm six months of six-figure salaries (x 180 new associates). My firm has chosen to do this, leading me to believe that its financial future is not as stable as they assured us a few months ago (shocker). My firm also has taken an innovative step, now being adopted by a few other top firms (see today’s WSJ, which of course I can’t link for you because they charge for online content!) of offering one-year public-interest law “internships” to all associates. You can take a year’s leave of absence from the firm to practice law at an approved public-interest focused organization — e.g., an attorney general’s office, the local district attorney’s office, a legal services organization, a nonprofit. You’d forgo your six-figure salary, but the firm will pay you a respectable $60,000 (more than you’d make working there normally). Plus, you retain your health benefits (huge).

This would be an attractive option for me if I did not have day care costs. I’d love to work for a DA’s office or Greater Boston Legal Services, but the reality is, after child care, I’d clear very little (if any, after taxes) of that $60,000. In fact, I’d probably lose money.

The other option offered by my firm is a year-long “sabbatical.” You won’t get firm “credit” for that year, since you wouldn’t be practicing law, which means that if you took a year off obviously you’d come back as a first-year associate (or second-year or whatever year you are). You would be paid a stipend of 20% of your salary, and you’d also retain your health benefits. And this is where the sirens began to sing for me (“I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each…”)

What if I stayed at home with the Little Bug for a year? We’d have to give up our full-time child care, of course. But the stipend would be enough for some hours of babysitting each week. What if I became one of those “yoga-pants-at-9 a.m.” mothers (so described by Judith Warner in her column today, here — although I actually feel like she got that phrase from me!?)? What if I took Little Buggy to Tiny Toes dance class with all the other toddlers? Made dinner every night? Would I write? Could I write? A novel even?

eloise-swing

My days would be spent like this!

My firm is dangling a seductive proposition — “Here: try out being home with your child for a year. Just try it. You may like it!” And if I don’t — supposedly I have a job to come back to.

Rationally, logically, even emotionally this is not going to happen. First of all, I have a job, with a paycheck, in this unstable economy. Moreover, I’m too old to have my career advancement slowed any more than it already is, and I don’t want to come back in a year, still being a first-year associate, only to compete with all the “new” first-year associates. I’m not sure I’m going to be a BigLaw employee forever, but if I leave now, I may be shutting that door earlier than I had planned.

And, finally, I actually do like being a lawyer. It took me a loooong time to get here. Were I a third- or fourth-year associate who had lived the law-firm life for awhile, I might see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try something new and different. But I’ve already written for a living, lived in a ski-town, traveled around the world, lived on the West Coast near the beach, become a yoga instructor. And, even after all of that — even after doing all of those things that I’m sure sound quite exciting to a mid-level associate who has been stuck in a high-rise 60+ hours a week for the past five years — I wanted to become a lawyer.

The only thing I haven’t done is be at home with my child on a regular basis, being her primary caregiver, and that’s why the siren call is so strong right now. What if… what if…

… I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

(Am not trying to be dramatic, but just remembering how much I have always loved this poem…)

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