Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Working with the Menu

So, interesting comments from Monday's post- and I mean that sincerely. It's one of the reasons I published that particular diary blog entry - because even though I love my life and generally fail to publish posts not because I'm hiding unhappiness but because finding new ways to describe the urge to pinch myself would be boring and borderline obnoxious, I have doubts. I have moments where I wonder if law school was the right path and I wonder where I want this path to take me. And I know other people have those too.

Up until this point life has been full of options- in high school the future is so far away and on my first day of college I felt I could pursue anything. I initially chose medicine, switched to law at the last minute, and still thought I had a million options before me as I ran full speed towards law school. Once there I tossed around career possibilities and waxed poetic about how I would handle work and family- something easily done when you have no knowledge of the reality of that balance. But now, at the end of my formal academic journey, I am entrenched in my legal path and switching off of it will involve a lot more than randomly deciding to sign up for the LSAT instead of the MCAT.

And that's okay. I know that some of the best opportunities are those you never planned for and that's one of the reasons I'm the only associate in my class without a new luxury car. Our financial focus is paying off my loans so that we can embrace (or at least seriously consider) the opportunities that present themselves down the road. But those unknown future possibilities, while exciting, are not very comforting when you're lying in bed at night wondering if that path you chose to race down at 100 mph and 21 years old, was the right one.

All of that said, I like being a lawyer. The late night freak-outs stem from (a) the ohmygod realization that I'm an adult with an expensive, time-consuming degree, a job, and financial commitments and if I decide tomorrow that I want to be a doctor I can't do much about it (at least not tomorrow) or (b) the lack of a set plan to get whatever it is I want and not being sure if I'm doing enough or too much to get where I don't know I want to go. But that's life on the other side of the ivory tower and I'm just chronicling the adjustment process.

To address a more practical concern many people had, I love where I work, I have every intention of working there for quite some time, and I don't believe anyone at my firm thinks I want anything less than making partner as quickly as possible. In fact, the senior associate I work for the other day sent me an article titled "ten signs you're a workaholic" and told me to be careful. JP laughed for about 5 minutes when I told him that because I am so very far from a workaholic, but I figure it's a good impression to have unintentionally made. As far as children and perceived commitment to your career, while I greatly respect the opinions and advice of those who have worked longer than me, I do think that Austin is a little different. All but two people in my section have children and the last two women to make partner both have three. Many attorneys are flex-time and I can't think of a single person who doesn't have a very time consuming hobby or a family or both. My floor clears out around 6 pm and people work later from home as needed. I work with some phenomenally smart and talented people, but they've self-selected for this office. If you want to be a superstar rainmaker you just don't choose to work in Austin- you go to New York or DC or at least Houston or Dallas.

One thing that has been clear to me is that a huge part of the "luck" involved in stumbling across your dream career opportunity is being a great attorney and having a good reputation among those you work with. And at work I am focused on learning everything I can and doing a great job for those above me; any thoughts about alternative paths or career-identity crises are kept to myself. I've learned a lot from listening to my coworkers talk about their own plans- after all, the firm has no interest in everyone sticking around to go up for partner in eight years, so talk of non-firm futures is rampant. The last two people to have my office are now at the DOJ and we have section lunches with them every other month. It's been comforting to see all the well-defined roads that lead away from the firm.

Today was a good day. I wrote a memo that elicited two "excellent work!" emails from the receiving partners and I sang along to the radio the whole way home. On days like today I can see myself wanting to be a partner, and then I arrive home to a smiley Landon racing through the house yelling "mama! mama! mama!" and I spiral back into doubt over what it is I want after all. But I can live with that in the day-to-day. After all, I don't have a lot of other options right now and hopefully these nighttime musings will have the upside of enforcing a willingness to consider new opportunities as they come. I don't know that you can order a perfect career a la carte, but I'm happy to have one that works right now.


  1. Yay for old cars = financial flexibility. We did recently buy a 4 year old minivan at a stellar price. But I'm still driving my 10 year old Accord with 253,000 miles and we still have our 97 F150 without air conditioning for hauling stuff. My college and old co-workers can't believe I'm still driving that car as an attorney, but NO payment, low insurance, and the mechanic thinks if I want to drive it to 500,000 miles it will make it.

  2. Yeah that's my thought. With the "clunkers for cash" bill I think we'll still look at new cars because that rebate is 4.5x what my car is worth, but it's been incredibly reliable. The only money I've put in it in 7 years of ownership is gas, oil changes, and new tires- now at 11 years old and 150,000 miles it's still going strong!

    It was funny to realize that I really am the only person without a new car (tally: 4 Lexus, 2 BMW, 1 Infiniti) and even better to know that I don't care in the slightest.

  3. Well, one thing I like about your site is that commenters are pretty respectful. :-)

    Interestingly enough, I have found myself a new job with responsibilities. Doing some things for my husband's company - it's unpaid (but otherwise, we would have to pay someone anyway, so I would rather do it myself.)

    I am nervous about it and hell NO, it is not something I would like to do long-term. But still, it will be good for me to have a job with some pressure to it.

  4. Also, would love to 2nd the motion for old cars. We did buy a new car when my son was a baby, but because we needed a 4-door sedan at that point. We have every intention of driving each our cars to at least 150k miles. At least. Oh sure, I love having a shiny, sparkly new car, but I love having NO car payment even more so.

  5. Hey LL! Yes, I would agree that Austin is different. In my office in Dallas (140 attorneys) I'm the only full time female associate with a young child. There is one other associate with a toddler, but she only works three days a week and she's not in litigation. There is one female partner with small kids. We call our Austin office "the Spa." lol. It's a lonely trail to blaze in these parts. Ahhh, to be in Austin for oh so many reasons (like breakfast tacos and Trudy's). Enjoy!

  6. By the way, we are living parallel lives. Maybe I don't blog as much anymore because when I read your posts, it's pretty much what I would've written anyway :)

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  8. Sorry-- terrible typos.

    I enjoy reading about your experience because I, too, am struggling with the home/work balance. For me, in a non-tenure job, the scale has tipped toward the home side, but I sometimes think about tipping it back the other way...

  9. I like reading your posts about this subject. My husband is graduating law school next year and I know he's so nervous about what kind of job he's going to find (if any in this economy).

    I'm trying to urge him to take the worry day by day- you never know what's going to happen tomorrow! I really hope that he lucks out like you did (not saying you got there purely by luck!) and finds something he loves.

  10. I would caution against public sector work in the legal field. I elected to go to into it right after law school. I make reasonable money (GS-14) and I do have the 40 hour work week. On the other hand, it's just not a dyamic workplace (outside of certain departments of the DOJ, and you certainly aren't going to get the work life balance in those departments). I don't feel rewarded for doing good, or hard work. I'm at the mercy of career civil servants...oh geez, I could go on.

    If you want to zone out for 40 years, eventually learn the ins and outs of your job so well that you can do it on auto-pilot, and collect a pension-yes, you can kick it here, and I'm sure they'd be happy to have you. If you want more from your career, it's probably not the place for you.

    I'm half afraid to publish this because I'm sure you have other public sector attorneys who read this blog and are going to get upset by my comments-I'm not saying it's all bad. I do work with other people who work very very hard and are very smart (I put myself in that category). Unfortunately, you aren't always rewarded for it. I recently designed the recall of a board of directors from the bottom up, in an area of law that was modified 3 years ago, and has no caselaw. That's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I've done on this project over the last 6 months.

    So far the only comment I've elicited from Career Civil Servant Penultimate Boss is --BLANK--. I think he gave me a call to criticize me about how I didn't fill out one of the six electronic workload tracking systems he's imposed on us during his tenure.

    Anyway, I believe each person is responsible for his own happiness and satisfaction so I've made the best of it. I give every project my all, I've picked up leadership opportunities (I'm also a union steward and chair a committee on healthcare advocacy) and I maintain good relationships with my private sector cohorts (most of my job is regulatory transactions and I work with private law firms). I think because of this attitude I've given myself a wonderful background for transitioning into an entirely different field. But you have no idea how many people run up against The Wall* and then decide to zone out for the next forty.

    The best thing I can say is that federal employment is mostly recession proof because the unions make it impossible to rif, you can "help" people (as opposed to big corporations), the job is utterly and totally ethically comfortable and they will give you decent work right off the bat (I started closing multi-million dollar deals within months of starting). I do not feel bad about anything I do.

    *Be prepared for this. Once you go public, it can be hard to go back. Firms are suspicious of you, even if you work on private transactions from the regulatory side. For instance, I work a lot with Nixon Peabody but if firms like that interview me their major concern is not my ability to do the work (which I've done since my second day on the job, it's all sink and swim because we're understaffed) but my willingness to work private sector hours.