Saturday, January 24, 2009

French Fries and the Big Boss

The head of our section ("HP" for head partner) stopped by my office yesterday and announced that we should go to lunch. We just had our annual office performance meeting and had all been reassured that the firm's financials were strong, the Austin office was a top performer, and there were no plans of salary freezes or layoffs in the foreseeable future, so despite the unusual nature of the offer, I was fairly certain I wasn't about to be fired. He's famous for never leaving the office for lunch and eats at our little 1st floor cafe everyday, so I was surprised when he threw "leaving the office" out as an option for lunch. He looked a surprised too, and then became flustered when I immediately took him up on it- I'm not sure he even knew what restaurants were nearby. Our conversation went something like this:

HP: Well... what kind of place would you like to go to?
Me: anywhere that serves french fries
HP: I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that.
Me: Oh? Well I am a french fry connoisseur.
HP, amused: So where are the best fries around here?

We ended up at a steak place I suggested (great fries) where I happily ordered a cheeseburger, medium rare and he ordered, with decidedly less zeal, plain grilled salmon and a side of spinach. As soon as the waiter left I exclaimed, "HP! What about the fries?! That's far too healthy." He muttered something about New Year's Resolutions and admitted that my meal sounded far better, and when it came I was quite sure he was right, but I did commend him for his commitment to healthy eating.

It was a good lunch. He's almost the exact same age as my dad (not that I saw a need to tell him that) and full of great stories and a fondness for fishing and his lake house- we get along very well. We talked about Chicago, my aborted plans to attend medical school, and the exorbitant cost of daycare (he was shocked). I remain surprised that so many people find him scary, though when I was little most of the boys on my street thought my dad was scary, all my sister and I had to do was threaten to "go tell our dad" and we'd immediately get our way. They had no idea of course that my dad is a teddy bear with "leaky eyes" who may or may not have cried during an episode of The Wonder Years where they sold the family car. I'm not sure if HP is a secret softie, I think not, but he reminds me too much of my dad to find him at all intimidating.

Lately I've been contemplating a switch in legal specialty, but if HP is willing to make me his protege, as he told me in December, I think I'll stay in corporate a while longer. It's not that I don't like corporate law, I actually like it quite a lot, it's that I don't think I like or care about deals. I understand they will always be a part of corporate practice and I enjoy some of the process, but what I really like is being corporate counsel- finding answers for a company's questions and guiding them through legal matters. I'd love to go in-house one day and I think it's easier to do from corporate. I don't know. It's a strange adjustment to think of a job as a career. I've had jobs, various summer and part-time positions I always knew would end. But this is my first career- I have no end date, no set path, no precise idea of where I'll be in ten years. I only know that I will be working somewhere doing something and that my actions now could have influence on whatever that is. It's no longer based on something black and white like grades and a set application process, it's relationships, a good reputation, and experience. Good grades are easier.

I do wonder what I'll be doing in ten or twenty years, but for now I know that the big boss likes me, I'm enjoying this litigation doc review far more than I expected, and my burger was delicious. That should keep me floating along for a while.


  1. Sounds like it went well!

    I'm intrigued by your comments about legal specialty, because I have the same interests as you. I'm not sure I understand what you wrote -- are you contemplating switching to litigation or another area because you're not crazy about deal work, even though you think corporate is a better path to in-house counsel? Or are you talking about somehow shifting focus within corporate?

  2. If there was a corporate governance or corporate counsel subspecialty, I'd be all over that, but I suppose what I was referring to was a switch to corporate/securities litigation. Litigators deal so much more with the actual law and the law itself is what drew me to corporate in the first place- it was never about the deals for me. I also really miss writing (and even research!) and since writing has always been a strength of mine I wonder if corporate is the right place for me. But hey, there's always the blog :)

    Luckily a lack of corporate work combined with an overwhelmed litigation section means that I can test out this crazy idea of mine without doing anything drastic. There are aspects of corporate practice I like, I'm just already finding things I really don't like and I wonder if it's the right place for me.

  3. This is fascinating. Learning about what works for you is such a trial-and-error process, for each of us. Thank you for sharing part of your path to discovering your ideal work situation. It's scary to me and also comforting to know that everyone has to feel their way, it seems. Some more than others. What I'm learning is that there's no hard-and-fast roadmap to the perfect job, and no amount of book-learnin' or research will guarantee you'll find the right niche. You just have to get out there and do it. Maybe the ideal work situation only results from having negative experiences to compare it to. Maybe we owe our job satisfaction to being thankful for getting away from something much worse. Not that "much worse" applies to you, LL. Seems like you landed close to your target straight out of school, and now you're fine-tuning it. I think that's wonderful. Congratulations on things so far and good luck with testing the waters on your next step.

  4. i think corp gov is so interesting! we just read a journal article by a guy who thinks america's corporate laws are responsible for the drastic and increasing income inequalities in our country- fascinating!

    really, you think it's easier to get good grades than a good reputation and maintain good relationships? i might be screwed...

  5. Grades are definitely more clear-cut. Sometimes it's hard (or impossible) to understand what's expected of you and even if you do understand, it can be hard to deliver - especially with a toddler you very much want to spend time with at home.

  6. Interesting. I guess I'll find out for myself soon enough. I am hoping to work with startups and nonprofits -- smaller clients -- so that the work ends up being more corporate counsel type work rather than deal work. But I think it'll take some effort to send my career in that direction, and I'm not sure how much control I'll be able to have within the first year or two. We'll see.

  7. So I have to know the name of the restaurant. I visit Austin frequently and have to experience the good burger and french fries!