Saturday, April 14, 2012

The New Job: Month 1

I meant to write this post on Wednesday, the end of my first month at the SEC, but I ended up spending the 2.5 hours after the kids went to bed at Marshall's, Ross, Home Depot, and Target. Thursday was the same, though about half that time was spent returning things purchased the night before. My life right now is a mass of receipts, dust, and stuff in piles where it isn't supposed to be. I do love this house, and it's going to look amazing when it's done, but my home is not my calm happy place right now and it's all driving me a little crazy. Ten more days, give or take, and all the projects should be done. I can't wait.

But back to the point of this post (there are three separate piles of stuff staring at me while I type this, I couldn't write without addressing them because they are driving me CRAZY, but yes, moving on) -- I've been at my new job for 5 weeks! And never for one fraction of one second have I regretted the move, the hassle, the expense, the pay cut, or the fact that my new house is a mess. The job is awesome. The switch from a "work whenever the partners want you to/check your blackberry every hour you're at home" type job to a 7:30-4 job with absolutely no outside duty hours checking in is a change so fundamental it can't be described or understood unless it's lived. But I'm going to try.

First off, the things I do miss about the firm:

- The pay, of course. My pay cut wasn't that bad (about $30,000/year, not including bonuses I could have earned at the firm and definitely won't earn at the SEC) because my firm doesn't actually pay market (you get the market salary if and only if you hit 2,000 hours, in the form of a year-end lump sum to make up the difference; I missed this last year because the start of the year was so slow in my section- it didn't matter that I had a bunch of 200+ hour months at the end of the year), but it still stings. It stings more when you're renovating a house, but we'll even out. We never really lived off two salaries because JP had just started his job and we were sending every extra dollar to loans, so the only adjustment will be sending less extra in each month (or not at all, I've given myself a year to relax about those). But still, that first direct deposited (smaller) paycheck was a bit of a gut check.

- Water and sodas. Silly, but true. I now have a water dispenser in my office (I know everyone suggested an electric kettle, which I have at home, but there is no potable water at the office at all. The tap water is disgusting and I'm not a picky water drinker.), which I love, but when that 5 gallon bottle ran out I went right back to dehydrated and headachey within a day. Apparently I'm a little addicted to my daily 12 cups of hot tea. I also miss the free lunches- we got free lunches for any CLE, section meetings, birthdays, random days we felt going somewhere nice... the firm Amex got a lot of use. There is no SEC Amex. I'm going to have to start bringing my lunch because even at $7, I can't be buying it everyday.

- Unmonitored internet. Our internet usage is very tightly monitored and regulated. The most exciting website I visit each day is As I wrote before, I do get a whole lot more done every day because of this, and because I can't/don't "make up hours" at night or on the weekends, it is important to work hard while I'm there, but it is still a big change. I used to manage all our finances, pay bills, online shop, make cards/photo book/party invites, write blog posts etc. all during work hours. Now I have to reserve all of that for nighttime. If you've emailed me in the last month, this is why I haven't responded. It's also why I can't blog as much as I used to. It is amazing how many things I used to look up during the day that I can't now - amazon products, restaurant reviews, travel planning... I now keep a list of stuff to look up when I get home so I don't forget.

- Flexibility. This is the biggest adjustment. My hours are unquestionably better at the SEC, but they are also less flexible. At the firm, no one really cared where you were as long as you were getting your work done and your hours billed. Now, between the hours of 7:30 and 4, my desk is exactly where I need to be. 2:00 doctor appointment? That requires entering in 1.0 hours of sick leave. Leaving at 3:00 to see your daughter's Easter show? 1.0 hours of annual leave. It's all a lot more formal. At the firm, I'd come and go as needed and no one kept track of sick days or vacation days. Now I earn 4 hours of leave every two weeks. This means I'll have a day for my friend's wedding in May, but not my brother's graduation later that month. The flipside of this is that if I ever work an extra hour in a day (like staying until 5:00 because of a conference call), I've now earned an extra hour of leave for the future. And the major upside is that I ONLY work those hours. A more than worthwhile trade-off, but a trade-off nonetheless.

What I love about the new job/don't miss about the old one:

- Owning my career. I have gotten better experience in the last 30 days than my 3.5 years at the firm combined. I own my cases, I make the calls, I decide on strategy... it is terrifying and thrilling and a whole lot of trial by fire. It is also awesome. I am definitely gaining expertise in something highly sought after and even though I love what I'm doing, as an obsessive future planner and primary breadwinner of a family of four, I also love knowing that I can go back to firm life any time I want, and I'll be in a much better position than I ever could have attained if I hadn't left. Experience and expertise are power, and other than being two sections' preferred brief writer, I wasn't ever going to get any in a declining general commercial litigation practice.

- The people. I love my new co-workers. When you're working with a bunch of people who are giving up anywhere from $50-500,000/year to work where they are working, it generally means they really like what they're doing. And it is so much fun to be around people who are excited about their work, who are happy in their personal life, and who all think working at the SEC was the best decision they ever made. And since so many are transplants from big firms in DC, they're also very concerned with making sure the new girl feels like part of the family. Other than the fact that I still don't know where the fax machine is, I'd say I've settled in pretty well.

- The work. The work itself is great. I love investigating our cases- mining databases, making calls, and piecing together a story. I still get scared a few times a day- like when I have to make a call and I'm afraid someone will ask a question I won't know the answer to, and much of what I do just generally feels uncomfortable. But new things are supposed to be uncomfortable and I just have to believe I'll feel confident someday. Hopefully soon.

- The power. I can sign subpoenas. There are NO discovery fights. I get calls returned within minutes, generally from someone a whole lot higher up than the person I called in the first place. I get to spend my time on substance and not nonsense. It's awesome.

- My life. On Thursday it was 78 and beautiful. I got home with the kids at about 5:15 and saw that JP was on a call, so we put our feet in the pool to wait for him to finish. The kid started kicking and splashing, so I grabbed a chair and sat off to the side, watching them splash and giggle. By 5:45 both were naked and running and playing on the top two steps, hunting for diving rings (Landon would "hide" some for Claire on the top step and she'd throw some out into the pool for Landon to swim to), and I just got to sit and watch. It was okay that I hadn't started dinner yet - we wouldn't have even been home yet in Austin. It was a gorgeous afternoon. My phone was still in the car, my blackberry wasn't even on... I'm with my kids a lot and I think they get a lot of attention from me, but in that moment, I couldn't remember the last time I'd spent 30 full minutes doing nothing but be with them without a single distraction. No TV, iPhone, book, laptop, laundry, papers to file, nothing. JP came out to join us a few minutes later and by 6:00 they were bundled in towels and he was simmering some tomato cream sauce on the stove for dinner and the evening went on like any other evening. But that 30 minutes pretty well captures the biggest change in my life in the last month and no list of pros and cons can fully capture it.


  1. Sounds great. I don't know how different our agencies are, but I can ask for advanced annual leave for something important (like the family graduation). I will continue to think Vanguard index funds are the gold standard - if those people are scamming me, we're all totally doomed anyway...

  2. I really enjoy your blog and read it often. I love that you are career driven, yet completely family oriented. I have many things in common with your that are unimportant in this comment, but one thing I do share is an above average salary. In spite of that, I was surprised that you considered a $30k drop in pay not that "bad". That small decrease is more than the average american's salary.. Granted, not attorney pay, which I realize is your context, but have a little perspective!

    1. I know, and I do have perspective (and I knew I'd get a comment like this, and I almost addressed it in the post, but it wasn't the point of the post and it got too tangential, so thanks for giving me the chance to explain). For a private practice attorney to leave private practice, that kind of drop just isn't bad. If I had said it was horrible, that would be lacking perspective. Starting in BigLaw is an weird career arc because you'll make the most you'll ever make in the first few years of your career- unless I go back, I will probably never make as much as I did in my first three years of working (which is why you try to so hard to pay off your loans in the first few years). The in-house counsel positions in Austin that I looked at involved a much, much larger drop in pay and the smaller firms were about the same. I feel very lucky to have found a second career that is even close to where I started out (mostly because those law school loans are still our biggest monthly payment, followed closely by daycare, followed distantly by the house).

      The first three years of our marriage, JP made $35,000/year and that's about what my mom makes as a teacher, and even now my change is only possible because JP has a job. I definitely didn't mean to sound like I don't know what the average American makes, but for any BigLaw attorneys reading this and wondering at the drop that comes with leaving the firm, I wanted to put it in there, since I know I was always curious and the fear of a pay change is a lot of what kept me at the firm as long as I stayed.

  3. I am a state attorney, and my husband works at a Big Law Firm. The difference in our two salaries is $75,000. Oh, and I've been a lawyer longer than he has. So $30K is really not that bad.

  4. I'm impressed at the 30 days being better than 3 years combined comment. Good for you. The big law bs work definitely wears me down sometimes. Dpending on the partner sometimes they really could care less to give good experience.

  5. I love that you have a job that is engaging. I totally get the pay cut trade off. It's the "golden handcuffs" thing. And I appreciate your comments about student loans. It takes a big comment just to go to school for this profession. I love that what you are working on is engaging. gotta say though, it's hard to deal with mgmt that watches how many minutes you are there. That part does stink. Maybe that will get better with seniority. And the website thing? Is that tight because you guys are the SEC? Or is it another we have to monitor our employees thing?
    Kudos to you for the brave moves you have made!

  6. Yes, I missed all those fancy (and paid!) lunches and the free water, coffee, tea and sodas, too. I am glad you are feeling the same, cause nobody around here could believe that free sodas matter so much. They do! 30K pay cut seems fairly ok to me...mine was higher. But you miss that money, even if it is not necessary to survive. But it pays off in other areas, family, children. And you save money with this new life style. Less eating out (ok, more for the single/no kid type), not having to treat yourself for all that stress.

    Goood luck for really completing the move!

  7. >>>But that 30 minutes pretty well captures the biggest change in my life in the last month and no list of pros and cons can fully capture it.

    LOVE IT!!! So happy for you :)

  8. I had to laugh about the water part -- my very first blog post ever (August, 2004) was posted while I was traveling to Dallas and I wrote a little screed about the water because holy CRAP, the water there sucks. I remember specifically it having an aftertaste of DIRT.

    I remember, at first, also being in awe of the different between corporate and quasi-government when I went to work at the Federal Reserve. Unfortunately, I got sucked into the maelstrom that was Check 21, so my schedule quickly got out of control. Sigh. When I left the Fed, I was very disheartened with the whole working thing.

    I chuckled at the missing all the free lunches -- working public accounting with the Ernst and Young Amex card - those were the days! ;-)

  9. I also work full-time and your post resonates with me. 3 years ago I took a job 8 minutes from both our home and our kids' schools, and it was a monumental change in the quality of my life. Getting to spend time like your 30 minutes (although we don't have a pool, it's a shame!) is such a blessing. :) Very happy for you!