Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Career-Changer

My biggest case just disappeared from my docket. It's settled and gone like a puff of smoke. It's a very odd feeling. I'm actually quite sad. It's great for our client and I'm glad for them, but I loved this case. This case is the reason I am happy as a lawyer.

It all started back in December of 2008 when an email went out looking for corporate associates to assist with a large scale document review. And like most corporate associates in the fourth quarter of that year, I had nothing going on, so I volunteered.

To give you a bit of context, before I got that email asking about the document review, I had called UT's medical school in San Antonio to ask if all the science pre-requisites I had done in undergrad would expire or would I need to re-do them if I applied to medical school in the next five years? I wasn't happy as a transactional associate. I wasn't exactly unhappy either, I just couldn't imagine doing what I was doing for the next 20-30 years. Especially when it took me away from my family. I was going to demand something more from my career, and while I was content to make the best of where I was long enough to pay off my loans (or at least make a really big dent in them), I was looking at other options. I like school and I'm good at it- surely there was something else out there for me.

So I started on the doc review and immediately found it far more interesting than corporate due diligence. This case was based completely on corporate law issues and was also very factual. Through the emails we were reviewing, we were building the story of our defense. It wasn't about finding a certain contractual clause, it was about meetings, dates, times, and people. I wouldn't say I found my calling in the doc review database, but I did enjoy the work more than I had enjoyed anything in corporate.

As time went on and we finished the review batches, all the other corporate associates dropped off the case while I wandered upstairs to our litigation section to see if they needed any more help. Next thing I knew I was drafting affidavits, creating timelines, and otherwise becoming the person who knew the documents best. I was also actively deflecting the corporate work that had started to pick up towards the end of January. Finally, near the end of February I arranged a lunch with the head of litigation to ask about a switch. He was thrilled (he was the one who originally recruited me to the firm), so I scheduled a meeting with the head of corporate later that afternoon. That night my entire office was moved upstairs and I was officially a litigator.

Since then I have spent about 80% of my time on that case. I have run a massive privilege review and exclusively managed a team of contract attorneys, I have drafted sections of briefs, gone to hearings, done all the deposition prep, been on nearly every strategy conference call, and frequently communicated with the client. All on a matter that in 2009 was one of the firm's top producer's of revenue- it was a huge case. I had a central, visible role and was so happy that the partners on the case made fun of me.

There will be other cases, of course. I already have two waiting for me. But this one will always have a special place in my heart. It was an amazing group of people to work with, including two of the most known litigation partners at our firm. And it made me realize that it wasn't that I disliked being a lawyer or made the wrong decision in going to law school, it was that I disliked being a corporate lawyer. It just wasn't the right place for me and I never would have thought to try litigation on my own.

I genuinely like what I do now. I can see myself doing it until I retire. Maybe I won't, but it's no longer an impossible mental leap to imagine it so. And after 3 years of grad school and $140,000 of debt, I'm very glad I'm no longer calling up medical schools to inquire about applying in a few years. It's ending is a good thing for me personally, as it means I'll no longer have a trial in March and April and my perinatologist will be thrilled by that news. But I'm spending the morning being a little sad and a lot grateful for the case that changed my career so much for the better.


  1. It's always a bummer when a big case you're excited about settles and disappears. That happened to me several times over the past year. Hopefully the next big, exciting one comes along for you soon.

  2. That's a sweet post, and congrats on the settlement. It's a bummer not being able to go to trial though. On the plus side, I am sure it will make things a lot easier for your plan of not overworking and stressing to the detriment of your health and baby. And when you first announced you were pregnant again, you were so worried about trial being in May! Goes to show you can plan life only to an extent I guess.

    But, honestly, this post reminds me of why I keep coming back and why I enjoy your blog - that you have a seriously positive attitude and manage to put a good spin on everything. Your posts from the fall of 2008 were not indicative of any misery on your part, and certainly not that you were calling med schools! You talked about how great it was that you got home on time, how it was so nice and secure that you made enough money for your family, how you liked corporate law and rule 10(b)(5) infinitely better than rule 12(b)(6) in law school, etc. etc. Your blog reminds me that success is a lot about what you TELL yourself, the color of the glasses you wear, and how you frame the interactions you have. Reminds me that I need to remind myself to be positive and "love my job" (even if I don't, or even if, like you, i was so stressed out that I got day-long, stay in bed, migraines), if I want to succeed. So, thanks for that. Seriously. You said your parents taught you that quality, and I think it's going to be a huge boon for you in your career.

  3. LL,
    Funny, I was just explaining your happiness with your job/career to my husband last night as we discussed legal career options. Although I'm not going for a big firm, I appreciate your insights and how you make it all work so gracefully. (I always think, "if LL can do it, so can I!")
    Here's to many more cases that you will love!
    Best, MJS

  4. That is awesome that you found your little calling in the firm. It's funny though how we can end up liking things we never thought we would like. It kinda goes to show that it's good to try new things! I know how sad it is when you have to leave a case or a case leaves you. I spent all summer working on a huge construction defect case in which 5 people were seriously injured. I devoted my blood and sweat to that case and then I had to leave for school. It was hard to refocus and I wanted to see my work come to fruition.

    But like you said- there are always more cases! Isn't it awesome to like what you do?! I think it's totally the key to finding the balance betweeen work and home.

  5. LL - you sound exactly like me up until the part where you arranged your switch in one day (I started in Biglaw at the same time as you in another city in Texas...). I got involved in litigation the exact same way and have loved every minute of it, but my lawyerly risk-averse nature is keeping me from making the leap in full...both sections seem to know I want to make the switch at some point (and seem cool with it), I just can't seem to get there!

  6. I'm a lurker but I had to comment because this was such an inspiring post. I hope I get that case that keeps me being a laywer... soon. It was nice to hear that it's possible.

    Congrats on #2, by the way! That's my current quandary. When to have #2. Oy.

  7. Strangely, it was my most interesting legal case that convinced me that getting an MBA was a better career path for me. I'm extremely appreciative of the 5 years I practiced, though.