Thursday, November 21, 2013

Compare and contrast

I didn't sleep well last night. This morning I slept right up to the alarm, and had to drag myself out of bed to get ready for work. It hit me that this used to be every day. Or at least a few times a week, after going part time. This was my normal, working until 2 a.m. and getting up at 6 with the kids.

With a few months' perspective on my biglaw experience, it seems perfectly understandable that it didn't work out for me. I had so much angst over leaving because part of me really did believe that it was possible to have a humane existence at a big law firm somehow, they kept telling me so, and it must be that I just couldn't figure it out. But looking back, and looking at the careers of senior associates and partners, it's obvious. If your practice area demands that you be available around the clock and at a moment's notice, if your clients and colleagues think of their normal working hours as ending around 8 p.m. or later when there is no important deal or emergency, being less available is just not going to work. Biglaw demands sacrifice, and that's okay. At this point in my life, it's tough for me to make that sacrifice, and that's okay too.

There are systemic problems that make the level of sacrifice Biglaw demands less okay. It always strikes me how female law firm partners consistently give the advice that having a supportive partner makes all the difference, while I rarely hear male partners say the same. Not that they don't believe it, it's just not at the top of the list of advice they would give up-and-comers. It's still fairly safe for men to assume that, if they want to throw themselves into their career, their partner will care for the home and children. Not so for women, which is why women partners will always include "choose the right life partner" in their how-to-succeed list.

Other things that are different about my new work setting: The Commonwealth tries hard to be a "model employer," especially with respect to people who have disabilities. Which means that every day, I interact with people who have walkers and canes, people who slur their speech, people who are deaf or blind. What's more, there are people who wear colors, and sneakers, and I wouldn't be surprised if they expose their toes in hot weather! I never realized how much conformity there was in biglaw until I stepped away into a world of people who are just normal, and who aren't always immaculately groomed and gym-toned and carrying an expensive bag. It's nice that it doesn't matter so much anymore.

The new job has a daycare on the bottom floor of the building. The old job did too, but it seemed sort of pointless. Have a good day, sweetie! I'll pick you up at 5, or 6:30, or maybe 9 or 11, I have no way of knowing! It wouldn't really work. When I leave the new job at the end of the day, I glance back at the daycare door and imagine hearing X laugh out loud when I walk through the door, but then I'm sandwiched between two people on the bus with giant backpacks and I feel relieved that I commute alone.

The only real drawback of the new job is that it came at a time when we had already committed to a kitchen renovation, closely followed by the news that we need a new roof immediately. The roofers are coming tomorrow. It scares me to look at our bank account, just a few months after leaving the firm. We just have to hope for no disasters in the next two years until X is out of daycare and we can start saving again.


  1. Anonymous11:42 PM

    I'm a soon-to-be MBA who is going into professional services (consulting) at a big firm. There are few women partners.. probably 20% or less firm-wide. I think consulting as an industry is fairly progressive on making the lifestyle sustainable, especially for women, but client servicing businesses will always have their constraints... I hope I can make it work out for at least 4 years, then reevaluate.

    1. For what it's worth, I loved my job. And if you don't have kids or anyone you're caring for (I don't know if you do), it's MUCH easier because your personal life is more flexible.

  2. Your experiences coupled with my short time in BigLaw have made me realize that I don't think I would have ever been able to cut it. You did it for so long, I'm so glad things are working out for you and you're enjoying the new job.

  3. My company has in-house daycare and it is AWESOME. But, yes, you need flexibility. Baby J spent many a night in my office after they shut for an hour or so. I kept snacks and my iPad with his animals matching game to entertain him. The only time it was a pain was when I had to travel because my work is about 45 minutes from home. I truly miss having him there now that I have changed to a remote office with my new position. :( That said, my car ride home is more peaceful.

  4. "This was my normal, working until 2 a.m. and getting up at 6 with the kids." Isn't it amazing to think of what used to be your normal? It all seems so unreasonable with a bit of distance (and it'll seem more so with every month you are removed). Like you, I really liked the work I did at the firm and I don't harbor bad feelings for it or any of the people I worked with, but as I see the changes in me and my family, I am more and more thankful I had the opportunity to step away from it. I'm so glad your new job is working out for you too!