Thursday, January 20, 2011

Work Talk

Work has suddenly exploded. I've been temporarily turned into an IP attorney, which I'm less than thrilled about it, but it's hours and good work and I'm still at the stage where I'm glad for any experience doing just about anything. I didn't work one minute of the 3-day MLK weekend, which was glorious even if it's killing me right now. But I got to work this morning at a time when I'm usually still asleep, and I was so productive that I'm giving myself lunch off to search the internet and catch up on blogs.

Thanks for some of your questions on the last post. I have thoughts, in some cases many thoughts, on what you asked, I just haven't yet had time to write about any of it. Then Kelli sent me an email with a question that has come up before and is an issue I think every blogger (and to a lesser extent, every facebook poster and twitterer) thinks about: how do you decide where to draw lines for how much you reveal about work? Kelli, currently a SAHM, has received an opportunity to work part-time in a corporate/professional position from home. She says, "I would like to write about some of this on my blog, as I transition from being a 100% SAHM, to something in-between. I've noticed that you do talk about work, but not in too much detail. Do you have any advice/words of wisdom for how you decide what you will and will not talk about on your blog when it comes to your professional life?"

So, talking about work. I have a somehow looser stance on this than some of my other lawyer bloggers that I read. Fundamentally, I feel like I'm allowed to talk about the fact that I have a job and I'm allowed to talk, in general terms, about what I do in that job. It's my life, I talk about it all the time, and I think it's okay to transfer that conversation to this particular forum. Being a working mom is a big part of who I am and being a lawyer is a big part of that part, and I feel that I can share this aspect of my life without violating attorney-client confidentiality, ethical obligations, and/or concerning my firm's HR or PR departments.

I work for a large law firm- people know we exist, we have an entire website dedicated to advertising the fact that we exist and that we do the types of work that we do. I have a page on that site that talks about the type of work I do and the types of cases I have worked on. So I think I can say "I'm working on this securities class action and blah blah blah." I would never reveal a client name (even though that is also frequently public since there are articles about our representation all the time), nor my firm name (even though it would be incredibly easy for anyone who reads this blog to figure out where I work), because that gets too close to a landmine of confidentiality issues and I enjoy whatever googlenimity that I still have. Plus, those details aren't relevant to my discussions about my life as a working mom. My blog is fundamentally the story of me, and while my firm doesn't know about it in any official capacity (though a few of my friends who work here read it), I don't think it would be a problem if they did. Several people I work with have family/kid blogs. They use their real names and don't talk about work/life balance like I do, but I think the basic guidelines are the same. As long as I'm not bad mouthing my firm or our clients or revealing privileged information, they're not going to care.

So that's a general overview of my approach to talking about work. I treat it as a component of my life, because it is, but I don't get into details on assignments or legal issues because (1) they're not relevant to my discussions of babies, cookies, or shoes, and (2) because talking about legal issues is my job, not my hobby, and this blog falls squarely in the "fun/hobby" part of my life (also (3) there are ethical issues with giving legal advice, revealing client confidences, etc. that I steer clear of, but I don't think steering clear requires you to never mention that you work at all). So I talk about how work affects my life, what my schedule is like, what effects I think it has on my children and my mothering. I reveal my industry because it's fundamental to where I work and what I do. I occasionally mention my assignments in general terms - i.e., I'm working on a brief (or motion to compel, document review, etc) because sometimes that comes up, usually in an offhand way (I think of drafting a blog post as a conversation with myself; they're riveting).

So if I was Kelli, I'd absolutely talk about setting up a home office, the logistics of working from home, what I was doing for childcare, how the transition was working, how I arranged my hours to best suit my family life, and anything else along those lines. I guess it's more of the ripple effects from working that I talk about; the actual work, the center of the circle, is more talked around than talked about. I think you could go further than I do, but part of it is that explaining my particular legal research memo is only going to be interesting to a very small subset of people (occasionally excluding even me) and, in my view, it's not worth risking revealing too much when the gain is so small. In a field where confidentiality is less of an issue, I probably wouldn't be so careful -- though still, I'd always wonder, do I need to add these extra details? what's being gained? what's being risked? Stating that "I'm working a lot on a memo" and then moving on to why I bothered to bring that up (ex: because it means I haven't been able to post about the fact that Claire now likes to whisper "dat dat" noises while smiling at you like you're sharing a secret and it is AWESOME) is usually all I need to say about the work part. (This post notwithstanding, I usually try not to ramble too much or add too many unnecessary details, detours, etc.)

My hour is now up, so I need to get back to work (though I'm disappointed Amalah's Top Chef All Stars recap isn't up; if Top Chef is the best part of my post-8 p.m. Wednesday night, and it is, then her recap is the best part of my Thursday morning), and I'm not going to edit this as I should, so maybe pretend the conversation that I just had in my head was one I had with you out loud and can't now be scrutinized for misspellings, grammatical errors, and the million ways it could be edited down.

So now it's your turn, any advice for Kelli?


  1. This is an awesome post! I have lots I want to say about work and/or my firm, but being that it is a smaller firm in a small town I am pretty much confined to "I am an attorney and I work at a law firm. I am supposed to be an estate planning attorney, but in a smaller general practice firm I am a Jill of all trades". I have some of the very best stories, but too often they reveal too much.

    Work has also not been a happy place for me the last few months. Since I tend to operate by the ol' "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" (especially if you are badmouthing an employer) rule, I tend to find myself at a loss for words regarding my job. Plus, I'd really rather just babble about my latest kitchen disaster or my dogs' latest antics.

  2. Thank you! This was exactly what I was looking for and I can't wait to read the comments. I was a little nervous about the topic - when I first began blogging, I was working for the Federal Reserve, but I was also completely and utterly anonymous. So, I had freedom to be snarky about it. Now? Very different.

    Also, I appreciate the comments on working from home - that is going to be the hardest piece of this. The guilt and time management.

    Andway, I think have an idea of how I want to approach this now

    As a side note, one of the things that fascinates me about blogging is how we rarely know what a person does in their professional life. Working is such a huge part of most people's lives and unless you are a SAHM or social media/blogger person, most folks leave a huge chunk of themselves out of their blogs. That's always struck me as poignant, somehow.

  3. thank you for writing about work to the extent that you do--just last night, i went back and read your posts from your first year on the job.