I have 7 days left in my office. When I started at the firm on September 2, 2008 I honestly never thought I'd leave. I knew it was a possibility, floating out there in the ether, but I didn't really think I'd do it. I liked being an associate and I was good at it. Every case was my favorite case, at least until the end when I was on a case in a different section in a different area of law and I finally realized that being a mid-level associate kind of sucks. You get enough authority to be the one at fault if anything goes wrong, but none of the credit if they go well. Still, for years 1-3, I loved my work and was possessive and proud of my cases. I constantly tried to think of more ways to help, ways to make things easier and more organized. I was a chart queen. I could find any document anyone had ever thought they'd seen that was related to the case. I always wanted to do more. I'm not sure if it's just that that type of attitude cannot survive in BigLaw, or if I might still be that way if I'd been able to continue to work on the types of cases I enjoyed, but I look at formerly eager me and kind of shake my head in bemused wonder. It took 3 years, but by the end of last year when I was being volunteered to write all the post-trial briefs for my huge IP case I wanted to unplug my phone, close my door, and hide under my desk. No more, please, no more.
I had my year-end review last week. They weren't going to give me one since I'm leaving and all the partners are mad, but I worked hard last year and those reviews are a pain to fill out, so I wanted to hear what people had to say, particularly since nearly all of that work was in a brand new area of law full of people I had to prove myself to over and over in order to gain substantive assignments. And I got them, and despite all of the misery of that case- working until 4 a.m., winning motions, and then getting screwed out of going to trial- I credit it for 90% of the substantive, learning experiences I've had at the firm. It also provided all of my responses to interview questions at the SEC, and the kick in the ass I needed to apply for that job in the first place. So I'm grateful for the experience and I'm proud of the work I was able to do. One reviewer in that group said "LL is an immensely talented writer" and "has the unique ability to treat each new assignment - no matter what it is - as a new learning experience." Given the ups and downs of that case, and the times I sat in my office wondering how in the hell I was going to be able to write this brief and make the arguments we wanted to make, it was really nice to hear those words. (And to know I won't be working with them again.)
In the past I've felt like a defender of large law firms. And I still think they can be a great place to work. Yeah the hours suck, but you're paid for it and the hours aren't so great at smaller shops either, and the work can be awesome. You can bill entire days to writing legal briefs- wrestling with facts and case holdings and legal theories to your nerdy heart's content. I also had the opportunity to work with some truly brilliant lawyers. I could absolutely see myself coming back to the world of BigLaw again, but as a partner or counsel, not an associate. I will not miss having to pretend like "each new assignment is a unique learning experience," even if it means my acting skills are going to get a little rusty. I'll still be working hard at the SEC, but it will be different. Different work, different environment, different schedule. No clients, no entering time, no pretending I'm thrilled to be drafting a Motion to Compel over something nobody cares about. No time stolen from my family to do a crap assignment on a Saturday afternoon that no one thought of until that moment. No time stolen from my family in general- no checking a blackberry outside of work hours, no checking the cancellation policies when booking a vacation, no being half-present when I'm with them but waiting for an email from a client or partner. They kids are getting older, Landon is going to start having more activities, Claire would already like to play full contact sports- I want to be there for that, and I want to do it while still having a career of my own. And crazy enough, this next position will allow for that while furthering my career farther and faster than the firm every could. Sometimes it all makes me so happy I could cry.
I just got boxes and bubble tape delivered to my office to pack it up. I have more here than I thought- 10 million pictures of Landon and Claire, art, diplomas, two lamps, books, boxes and boxes of tea, vases from floral deliveries... 12 days from today I'll be in a new office, probably a little terrified to actually have to DO the job I managed to convince my seven interviewers I could handle.
But it's going to be fun, and with every day that I get closer to my new job, I realize just how done I was with my current one. Twelve days.