Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Downside of the Upside

BigLaw lawyers make a healthy salary. The actual "healthfulness" of it could be debated after you take out $2,000+/month loan payments and $2,000/month childcare payments, but still, I'd say it's hard to make more as a 25 year old than you do at a top law firm paying market rates. I've quoted this before, but an older colleague summed up the situation nicely, "The majority of the year, we're overpaid, and we're overpaid because of that 15% of the year that we spend working late nights and weekends, and for the personal events we're made to miss because of it."

Remember when I wrote this on Friday. That I had arrived at work at 7 a.m. so I could leave early for the kids' daycare festival at 5? Well, everything was going according to plan and I was packing up at 4:45 when I got an email from a partner with the subject, "do you have plans this weekend?" and text asking me if I wanted to jump into a new case with a doc review starting right now for a production deadline on Monday.

Now I've needed a big case and this one sounded like something I'd love (the partner who sent the email is one I worked with on my super big case last year and I know she was actually looking out for me in suggesting my name for this one), but the training was at 5:00, just when the festival was set to begin. I waited a minute, thought about whether it really mattered if I was at the festival (no, my Room Parent task was done on Monday when I quasi-professionally shrink wrapped our auction basket with a hair dryer), whether I was really missing anything important (tasty snacks and Landon jumping in a bounce house, but no), and whether this was worth turning down (no), and said, sure. Actually, "Sure!". I've found fake enthusiasm often leads to the real thing.

JP attended the festival with Clairebear in the baby bjorn and Landon running between bounce houses. He texted me updates as I unpacked my laptop and called in to my training (while taking a few seconds to whine about my situation on facebook). I got home at 7, exhausted after a very long week, and put myself to bed by 9.

Bright and early Saturday morning Landon and I headed to my office to pick up some documents I had printed from home the night before. He LOVES going to mommy's work - the pieces of scrap paper to color and tear, the multitude of highlighters and colored pens, the juice in the fridge (we don't keep juice at home), and the pictures of him all over the office - it's one of Landon's very favorite places. His enthusiasm was almost contagious and I wished I could bring him to work every day, for a few hours anyway.

Back home, I logged in to start reviewing my 267 documents (which quickly morphed to 1,120). JP had swim lessons we didn't want to cancel, so I had to be creative with the entertaining of the Landon:



Three plastic serving bowls from his 2nd birthday party, a cheap set of measuring cups, water, two big dogs, and a play kitchen. He played for a solid 2.5 hours without any complaint. He was so good, it actually made me more sad that I couldn't join him. Claire slept- she really is the most agreeable baby, and then woke up and smiled at me from the floor.



After a bottle and a change, she sat with me on the table and helped out by staring intently at her toes for many minutes. And then, thank goodness, JP was home again to entertain the kiddos while mommy kept on working.



I sat at the kitchen table all day, reviewed nearly 1,000 documents, and billed 15 hours. My parents and brother arrived around noon to help move my sister out of our house and garage and into her new apartment. I barely saw them because I couldn't leave my laptop and then they had to drive immediately back to Houston last night so they can help my grandparents go through all their stuff today in preparation for their upcoming move to a retirement community (the same one my other grandparents are at, actually).

So, not the best of weekends. My back hurts from the kitchen chair, but for some reason the thought of picking up all my stuff and moving it to the study sounds overwhelming. JP and the kids are now at the park and I am not and that sucks. I don't mind working hard all day, and I don't mind logging back in at night after the kids go to bed, but I really, really hate when my weekends get interrupted. That family time is very nearly sacred, but I guess you can't always be overpaid, sometimes you have to earn it.

15 comments:

  1. Ugh, litigation. It's great that the partner is getting you right back into projects and great that you are finding ways to get it all done without sacrificing the important stuff. :)

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  2. Hey, if you have to do doc review, what great company at least, eh? :)

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  3. the fact that you only have to do this "15%" of the time is AMAZING. i am also supremely bitter as my firm requires this probably more like 85% of the time :-P

    do you think you'd consider changing where you work if it became a regular thing? would you continue working at your firm if the conditions changed to require weekend work on a regular basis, 200+ hour months, and regular interruption to your plans ?

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  4. Probably, but that's why I work where I work. I've said many times that I wouldn't work for many other firms and I wouldn't even work for my own firm in any other city (my office is unique). I've had a number of 200+ hour months, I can usually just cram all that work into evenings so my weekends are free. That was also part of my switch to litigation as I found corporate ruined WAY more events (and evenings and weekends) than litigation where there are hardly ever surprises. Sudden massive doc reviews notwithstanding...

    But yeah, if this was 85% of the time? There's no way I'd work here, or given that my loans, daycare, and husband's lack of a job may require it, at least there's no way I'd be cheerful about it.

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  5. You managed to bill 15 hours while being alone with the kids for half the day??? I cannot imagine doing anything remotely close to that that with my one kid, unless I parked him in front of the TV all day.

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  6. It was one of the many times I wished Landon was interested in the TV (he absolutely is NOT and gets very annoyed if we have it on for any reason), but he plays for hours in the backyard by himself and I can watch him from my spot at the kitchen table. He's out there right now actually because I am STILL WORKING (and getting quite crabby about it).

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  7. (P.S. - That dark orange color looks nice on you. Which I guess is good since you're a Texan.)

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  8. I always make DH haul my office chair downstairs when I am working from the kitchen table. We have an office, but I hate being locked away from the family so I almost always work at the table--my butt just can't take the dining chairs!

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  9. I know this post is about the downside, but I find this really encouraging to know that one day when I do have a husband and a family, I can still work, take on big projects, and be able to manage different activities. I hope you eventually got a better chair!

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  10. I hope the doc review turns into some great work on an interesting case...sounds like a good way to really get back into the swing of things at work (or at least build up hours to get some flexibility later on)

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  11. LL, I'm commenting on MJS's comment and your reply because I have been wondering how you've remained so happy at your firm. How many hours do you bill per month??????? I had 4 200 hour months last year and still didn't meet my firm's billable hour requirement of 2080 (I only billed around 1900). I'm exhausted and wondering how I'm going to keep this up after baby number 2 arrives in a couple of months. You seem so happy and make it look so "doable" but I wonder why it seems so much more impossible for me than for you, and if billing less hours accounts for that. If you billed around the same PLEASE share with us your secrets for survival :)

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  12. As far as entertaining Landon goes, have you heard of moon sand? We have a sensory table - basically a big rectangular tub on a stand - that we fill with anything my son wants and he plays in it for hours! Beans, shaving cream, rice, sand etc. are all somehow more fun when he has them in his table rather than in their usual place. The best thing we've found is moon sand, which is essentially moldable sand. It's so cool I get distracted and find myself playing with it when I should be doing dishes. It's a great entertainer to have in your backyard (or kitchen, for those of us who live where it rains more often than not).

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  13. Hi Balancing Act! I'm glad to see you again and hope your pregnancy is going well!

    I haven't had a normal year yet, so it's hard to give yearly numbers (year 1 I started in corporate right after the market crashed, then moved to litigation but work was spotty until I was fully integrated; year 2 I was super busy but then my case settled and I went on maternity leave), but I'd say I averaged about 160-170 hours in a normal month which would have taken me to ~2,000 for the year. We don't have an hours requirement, though our first bonus level is at 1950. I've found 160 to be very manageable; 200 is less so, but I work a Lot at night, billing an additional 4 hours after the kids go to bed.

    I think the key to my general happiness is a super short commute (no time lost in the car not with kids or working) and the ability to leave every evening about 5:30 to have dinner as a family and spend time with the kids. I don't love working every night until midnight, but I'll absolutely take it over being stuck at work past 6 (which almost never happens). A partner once told me you have to find the one thing you need to stay happy, and then fight to keep it, and for me that is family dinner at 6:15 and our 2 hours of evening time. I had a 220 hour month and only missed dinner when I was traveling. I sacrificed a lot of sleep, and all TV/reading time, to keep those 2.5 hours in the evening free, but they were important and the month didn't feel that terrible in the end.

    I work with people who feel the same way and that has made all the difference. I wish more firms and partners lived the truth that you can be very productive and create great work product and still leave at 5:30 or 6 every day (at least in litigation where we're on a court-ordered schedule and surprises are relatively rare; I don't know if that's possible in corporate). I was the only person in my section last year who got the highest possible evaluation category, so obviously my work isn't suffering, I wish more firms could see that.

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  14. Thanks for sharing LL! I think you're right about your commute (mine is 35 minutes each way, but it's worth it for good public schools- at least that's what I keep telling myself!). And being able to leave at 5:30 and work from home is key. So glad that firms have caught on to that. It has saved my sanity! Anyway, so glad that everything is going well for you at your firm and at home!

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  15. Maria Nordin10/7/10, 7:56 AM

    OK sweetie, take those socks off that baby! I want to see her precious toes!!! I believe that their feet are the cutest parts :-). Love to all.

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