Monday, November 22, 2010

Big Questions, Cute Pictures

I attended our firm's all-attorney meeting on Friday in Houston. It was a fun time, combining several hundred lawyers with lots of food and drink (and fancy bowling! I got a strike, which was a highlight, along with the sangria), but it left me with a lot to think about. Much of the meeting celebrated the firm's successes, new clients, and newly named partners, which led to wonder (not for the first time), where on earth do I want this career of mine to go? I'm quite happy where I am right now, but the BigLaw career path is unusual (though not unique) in that you pretty much have to decide what you want to do with it in your first few years. It's an unwavering, year-by-year progression toward a single goal; a goal that if you don't meet, you pretty much have to leave. Five to six years from now I'll be up for partner, and I need to have been working pretty hard with that goal in mind in the years leading up to it. It's not something you just fall into. And rather than making things more clear, the big meeting, fun as it was, just left me feeling more ambivalent.

Of course none of this is anything I need to worry about today, or even for the year couple years, but I can't help but wonder sometimes. I like my firm, I like my work, and I like the people I do it with. I've done well so far, working with a lot of high-profile partners in other offices and am generally beloved and requested by those who've worked with me in the past. But I don't know what I want long-term. There are aspects to being a partner I think I would genuinely enjoy (outside of the money, which of course, I would enjoy- I literally fantasize about mailing in final payment on my student loans) and there are aspects, mostly related to the time committment involved, that I would not . And of course there's no guarantee I'd make it even if I tried. Which leads to another quandry- what would I do if I wasn't doing what I'm doing now? Austin is a small market with very few in-house litigation positions. I don't have any desire for the few prosectuor or government jobs available here (though there's a few in DC I'd love, not that JP would ever move there with me). I'm certain I wouldn't want to work for one of the other big law firms in town. I like where I am and if I can't make it work here I don't think anywhere else would be better. There are smaller firms, but from what I can tell, their hours aren't much different and the pay is quite a bit less. Plus I honestly like BigLaw type work. I like big cases where it's worth the client's money to spend a lot of time thoroughly researching, debating, and writing on various topics of law. It's good nerdy fun and perfect for me. I don't know how good I'd be at a real lawyer job; I kind of feel like I'm in academia or still in law school.

The immediate answer to all of this is to just to continue to work hard where I am, keep my options as open as they can be (and since JP's first student loan bill came in the mail yesterday, they aren't open much at all until he gets a job and we pay down most of our $190,000 of grad school debt), and be grateful for the job that I have (which I am). So I'll pretend to move on (but I really can't help thinking about these things and when I think about something a lot I feel compelled to write about it, though I'll probably delete most of this later) and tell you about our weekend, which was the original topic for this post. This was supposed to be my first non-working, non-horribly ill weekend since early September. It wasn't. I ended up working much of Sunday, but it was a lovely two days, and I really, truly enjoyed spending ever single waking moment with the kids on Saturday.

First up, family Christmas pictures! We just did the fancy newborn portraits, so holiday pics were a quick session at Portrait Innovations. Claire had to be stuffed into her 6-9 month Christmas dress, which she will definitely not be able to wear on Christmas and Landon forgot how to smile. Seriously. He looked like he was in pain, and JP and I realized how hard it is to describe to someone else how to smile ("open your mouth, no wait don't; show your teeth, no not that much; just think about something funny! lift up the corners of your mouth- no, not like you're trying to eat something, like you're happy; you know, just SMILE!"). But we did get one good shot of the two kids:

But even there, you can tell he's on the verge of a pain-filled smile grimace. Poor kid, he really was trying. The Biscuit, on the other hand, smiled her way through every single shot. I have a CD of 102 images of Clairebear smiling. This picture is already framed on my desk:

JP had 5 hours of swim lessons lined up after the photo session, so the kids and I headed to the park. Landon somehow became a Big Kid overnight and swung on the swing all by himself. It was very nearly an emotional moment for me. But then I realized how mis-matched his self-selected outfit was and started laughing instead.

(He is also wearing one black sock, and one navy blue sock, just to complete the image.) He made a new friend, a little boy about the same age who had recently moved here with his parents from India. He spoke using about 90% Hindi words and 10% English, but he and Landon jabbered away as if there was no difference. I don't think Landon even noticed; after all, his sister talks to him all the time and she doesn't speak English. She gets her point across just fine using other sounds, and apparently this little boy did too. They ran around and made up all kinds of games- it was really quite awesome to watch. I chatted with the little boy's mother, who wanted to know all about the neighborhood and the schools and what it was like having a second child. She admired Claire, who had been hanging out happily in her stroller watching the world go by (and smiling at it, of course).

I told my new friend that my view should be taken with a grain of salt, because Claire is an unusual baby, but having two kids was wonderful and seemed a lot easier than having one the first time around. She laughed and we traded war stories about our firstborns. As a working mom whose kids are in daycare most of the day, I don't usually spend much time at parks or talking to other parents, and it was really, really nice. I was sad when they had to go.

We spent the rest of the day reading books, building magnificent block towers, and making Claire laugh (I've got to get her laugh on video, it's fabulous). JP came home, we made dinner, played on the couch, and tucked the kids in bed. And even working from 9-11:30 that night, and getting up with a teething Clairebear every 1.5 hours after that, couldn't mar what was an otherwise perfect day.

P.S. This is from Sunday, but I LOVE this picture of my little football-watching duo. Landon still won't watch TV, but the Biscuit will sit with her dad forever, playing with toys and watching the colors move around on the screen. JP has started narrating the game for her and I've learned more about football than I ever bothered to know before.


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  2. Those pictures are adorable! Claire in a box is precious and Landon's grimace cracked me up. Eli does the same thing! I love how some of your posts so perfectly illustrate the work/life balancing act. Though we're in very different fields, I find myself saying "Yeah!" and "Me too!"

  3. I love the Claire-in-a-Box pic, that is so freakin cute. I also love that you call her Biscuit. She is such a Biscuit!

  4. Landon's smile is the same smile you smile in a lot of your pictures!

    Re the Partner track thing. Here in NZ it works a bit different.

    The big law firms get LOTS of mileage out of Senior Associates - often women who haven't wanted partner track.

    The Partners get paid more to be rainmakers, then the Senior Associates do a lot of the work.

    So for us it's totally viable to remain with a firm - be a popular client contact, but not seek partnership with the governance and client bringing in skills that that implies (here).

  5. I do believe that Landon has entered into the Cheesy Grin/Grimace stage! Until you can get him to say "boogers!" which will make him laugh and works just fine for many years (something about getting to say a word you usually aren't allowed to say, I think-- we learned this from a very straight-laced photographer.) Another photog figured out why this works: a LAUGH looks natural and relaxed; a GRIN strains the facial muscles and never will look natural.

    Oh well, my brother has years of school photos in which he is sucking in his cheeks while trying to keep a straight face (no, I never knew why, either....)

  6. I love the pictures. At least she didn't spit up on her clothes. My poor mom never had a single non-spit up picture of all 5 of us together until my youngest brother was 1, which was only 7 years ago. And by that time I was away at college! At least no one was crying and Biscuit in the box is so adorable!!

  7. Landon looks like such a big boy in that picture!

  8. I have similar struggles in my career in medicine - needing to chart your course very early on. That overlaps with when most of us are starting our family since we delayed in medical school and residency. It makes for a lot of stressful decisions.

  9. I have the exact same thoughts w/r/t my career path at a big firm. Right now, I'm doing very very well, but sometimes I wonder why I am working so hard (and so many hours) for something that I might not even want. It is hard not to think about!!!

  10. I love the pictures!

    re: career path, sometimes I stress myself out over trying to plan out my future but I've realized that I do better when I just take a little bit at a time. I was convinced my 1L summer that decisions I was making were irrevocably changing my life course - applying to certain firms for OCI meant staying in one city rather than moving to another, taking the Bar in that state, etc... Now I know that if I want to do something differently, I can, even if it requires a little bit of work or planning to change. I think if you're this happy going into your third year at the firm, you should act like you're staying there. It's not like you're closing off other opportunities by getting such great experience.

  11. Cherish the photos with the cheesy grin. Twenty years from now, that will be a piece of the memories -- I have about four years straight of one kid with a fake smile and today I love them!

  12. All I can think of is that Friends episode where Monica and Chandler try to get engagement pictures taken... (please tell me you know which episode I'm referring to?)

  13. "Big Questions, Cute Pictures"?
    Now there's an understatement ... those pictures are adorable!

  14. ohhhhhh I wish you guys lived in Chicago still so I could babysit these two! The Biscuit just cracks me up... she really is all smiles. And Landon is too funny... love these pictures!