Self-Unemployed Notebook

Some thoughts on the working world from someone who has decided enough is enough, quit a large law firm and, for now, is happily self-unemployed. Permission is also reserved to observe (and perhaps rant) on general life.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Moving on from the convent

Alright, so it's been a while but I've been doing a lot of work on what to do next. That question seems to have more urgency every day because I thought I would have moved on by now.

In an attempt for some guidance, I underwent "personality testing" at a local center. It's what you would expect - Myers Briggs and the Strong Interest Inventory test. Well, I'm pleased to report that my leading career choice is no longer to be a nun (seriously, this was my #1 career option when I took Myers Briggs in high school). Still, I don't know that I'm ready for another desk job. Meetings, conference calls, voicemail. Nope. Not yet.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Part-Time Lawyer Part II

That lawyers think that it is somehow offensive to be considered "part-time" is understandable given the constant demands on their time that make their schedules hardly "part-time." However, the Washington Lawyer article (cited in previous post) does not seem to make this connection very clear:

"The stigma against working part-time is so strong that many don't even like to call it that."

Two points: (1) the people who work "part-time" would prefer to call it "reduced schedule" or "alternative schedule" because it is impossible to get away from firm and client demands as a lawyer and, more importantly, (2) there is clearly a stigma against working anything except the highest billable hours possible.

The constant competition and demands for higher billable hours is the downfall of the legal profession. It is like a disease eating away attorneys from the inside. What will the legal profession consist of in 10-15 years? Probably the same thing that the political landscape has become as people with common sense and who value their privacy prefer to put their efforts into the private sector rather than a public sector that sorely needs their talents. That is, attorneys who prefer to have a life while also make a decent living will choose another field rather than submit to the unrealistic pressures and unforgiving scrutiny of large law firms.

Large law firms have become and will continue to be to a greater degree in the future a training ground not for the independent-minded lawyers of yesteryear but, rather, for human billing machines.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Is it possible to be a part-time lawyer?

Confirming my decision to leave law firm life is the current issue of Washington Lawyer. The magazine contains an article, "Part-Time Partners," that simultaneously laments the low number of part-time partners while profiling five attorneys for whom the part-time partnership track has worked. However, it is clear that "part-time" is not real world part-time. Rather, it is simply a way to lower your billable hour requirements which, in Washington, D.C., are outrageous to being with.

A few excerpts highlight the true nature of being a part-time lawyer (partner or otherwise):

"[Making a part-time arrangement work] means working long hours or during vacation when needed, and never making clients feel they can't reach [you] at certain times."

"Of course, no 'time-off' is really off. Even though [Partner] works part-time, she employs a full-time nanny....[Partner] also keeps a finger on the pulse of her cell phone and BlackBerry."

"[Partner], who works a 50 percent schedule at [large D.C. law firm], works hard at keeping his arrangement invisible to clients."

I will include additional excerpts in a separate post that illustrate the stigma of part-time arrangements in a competitive legal environment where the typical partnership track is 8-10 years.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Brain drain

My brother is leaving his job at the end of the year at a prestigious firm. This marks the fourth person I know to leave their "real" job this year with no real plans for their next step. His complaints are the same as everyone else.

1) No time for yourself or family
2) Unrealistic expectations in an increasingly bureaucratic and isolating corporate culture
3) No feeling of contributing to society through work

It is interesting to see that everyone I know who has quit their jobs graduated towards the top of their respective class in college and in graduate school. The doors of "prestigious" firms and career tracks open to the brightest people in a class. Unfortunately, the downside to these opportunities is that they are often found in firms and businesses that do not nurture the intellects that come through the door. I propose that the result is that the smart people think over their situations and get out, leaving people behind who are insensitive to the real problems of the business culture because, after all, those who are left behind have succeeded. Why would they tear down the ladder that they managed to climb (even if it was due to the more talented people leaving)?

Where does this leave the dedicated students at the tops of their classes? I believe they must take their decision of where to accept their first job offer more seriously than simply choosing the highest paying or most prestigious position immediately following graduation. The cost of doing otherwise may be early burnout and a change of career path when, in actuality, it may not be the career that is a problem but the culture in which that person was forced to first train for his or her career.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Starting for a takeover

How many start-ups are begun with the hope of being taken over when the business becomes successful? A friend is embarking on just such an endeavor. What a different business landscape it has become.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Making the alma mater proud

I'm back from a 3 week hiatus from my home-bound self-unemployment. For the first time, I saw the California coast and how amazing it is (especially the Big Sur drive)!

After such a trip, I had a funny feeling when I returned home. I was hemorrhaging. Hemorrhaging money, that is. Naturally, I look to my cups and buckets of loose change lying around that seemed negligible when I was working. My regard for those coins change ended yesterday when I joined with a friend who has also recently quit his law firm job to take our change to a free coin changing machine. My "take" was fairly paltry compared to his total which set a new record at the bank branch we visited.

As we toted my box of change and his two backpacks of coins to the bank, we said,

"We both went to one of the most prestigious law schools in the country. Now, we have both quit our jobs and are spending our time seeking out a free coin changing machine and dragging bags and boxes of loose change in the middle of the afternoon. This is definitely going in the alum magazine."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

George Allen

As most people who follow politics are aware, the current junior Senator from Virginia is running for re-election. To be more accurate, he is running for re-election very badly. This guy just can't seem to get it together.

In addition to the well-publicized gaffes and votes on pertinent issues, George Allen seems to be trying to constantly compensate for not being a native Virginian. Unfortunately, he is so lacking in perception that he can't even determine what will appeal to natives. No native Virginian wears cowboy boots. Fortunately for the Old Dominion, the culture of the Commonwealth is not anything like the west of Allen's California or Bush's Texas. And, most importantly, if a native Virginian was to chew tobacco and use a spitoon, that native would most certainly aim correctly when using the spitoon. Sadly for the carpet in the Governor's office during Allen's reign, the former Governor was not so skilled.

If Allen's perception of the cultural proclivities of people of the Commonwealth is inaccurate, I doubt that the votes he casts on behalf of the people will be any more representative.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Take your performance goals and...

My sister was complaining to me about her job last night and mentioned that she will soon have to complete a "performance goals and self-evaluation" form as part of the standard year-end business of where she works.

We all have had to do these at some point in our jobs. Why?!? What does one say on these forms that have been thrust on employees everywhere by some backroom corporate psychologist, counselor or a similar administrative employee who needed to get some bonus points for creativity one year and has now stuck everyone with this project?

"Dear Employer who doesn't care what my goals are except for one day of the year and who REALLY doesn't care what my goals are on the weekends when I have to come in because you don't have the balls to tell someone to wait for their low-ranking project until Monday morning (or perhaps you really just hate your wife so much that you need to come into the office on the weekends):

My performance this year has been excellent. I have been the first one in the office every morning and the last to leave at night. During my time in the office, I regularly revise my online bio on the firm's website, make lunch and dinner reservations to do some serious client development with my college friends and work on my case management skills by always checking my caller ID before avoiding calls from clients.

My goals for the year include but are not limited to (1) buying 2-3 new suits and a BMW this year from the bonus I expect to make from the billable hours that I attained from flying long distances to mindlessly babysit products liability depositions in which I never say a word and my notes consist of the accessories I want in my new car, (2) recruit a younger associate to take over some of the more menial tasks so I can lend my skills to larger matters, (3) update my photo on my online bio to show one of my new suits and (4) obtain speaking engagements and find someone to write the article and outline from which I will speak."

Workers of the world unite - do not fill out these useless self-evaluations/ performance goals! What are they going to do? Some backoffice admin staff person will get all riled up that he can't check the box on THEIR form that you completed their oh-so-important requirement. As for your supervisor? He will just make up goals for you anyway. And evaluate you any damn way he wants. What would make you think otherwise?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Procreation for tax purposes

Since my self-unemployment, my naturally late night internal clock has declared victory and has not allowed me to wake up very early without violent protest. However, for reasons I will go into another time, I was listening to early morning radio yesterday morning. It went something like this:

Caller: I pay $1350/mo. for child support for 3 kids. One of them I've never met!
DJ: What do you mean you've never met one?
Caller: One night stand, she got pregnant and I get to pay. I'm not even sure it's mine.
DJ: Why not do a paternity test?
Caller: I did. But the other possible father is my brother. I was told it was 98.5% certain it was mine. If my brother took the test and got the same result, then both of us could be stuck with paying support.
DJ: I guess you have to suck it up then.
Caller: Yeah, although I heard that if you have 10 kids then you don't have to pay taxes.

I can see it now - a rampant string of one night stands this weekend from child support-paying parents who are looking to hit that magic "10 child mark." Nine months later? Surprise, surprise, surprise! First, they find out that there is no such rule. Second, meet your 10 kids!*

* I actually knew of a guy who had so many kids from so many women that a lot of his kids didn't know each other. Well, he got a little nervous that the kids might start dating as they grew up. He probably heard the screaming of inbred babies in the back of his mind because he got EVERY ONE of his kids together for a Christmas gathering. "Look around at your brothers and sisters. Remember them. You can't get together with any one of them." Class dismissed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The end of TPS reports!!!

Here's my deal - I was a lawyer at large law firms for several years and finally decided to seize my life (and peace of mind) back from the soul-sucking working world that stole it while I was naively trying to do my best work and was not looking. While there were a few people I worked with throughout my time as a lawyer who I truly enjoyed working with and learning from (not to mention the same people with whom I took too many coffee breaks and spent too many happy hours), it's the people who truly suck that I remember when I think back to when I quit. And all of those bullshit memos and meetings. How many memos and conference calls can one person take?!? I haven't gotten into that "good feeling" period yet where I see only the bright side of my experience. I'm still bitter...with a very good memory.

As I have had time to reflect on my experience, my frustration and wrath is spreading to general corporate culture (probably not justified but, right now, everything is a target). Honestly, how many people can say that they enjoy seeing that voicemail light on their phone blinking first thing on a Monday morning? Faking smiles? Making up endless tales for why you didn't return someone's phone call (when everyone knows that the caller either (a) will keep you on the phone forever and, in the case of billable time, complain about the bill later or (b) will yell at you for something that is not your fault)? The result of all of these office shenanigans? Golden handcuffs, my friends. Plain and simple.

So, what the hell am I doing? Well, I thought I'd get some things off my chest. Small and large things. Entertaining things and, sometimes, probably not so much. And hopefully with a sense of humor that I am reclaiming from the dark void my mind has lived in for a while now.

And one final thing: In talking with various people who have also seized their lives back from the working train they got on way too early in life, I've come to realize that something is happening out there to other younger people like me. We're not just not doing what we're "supposed to do" anymore. "Good" jobs...out the window. Large longer enough of a carrot. Essentially, more and more people are saying that there needs to be an end to the Office Space TPS reports. And I am one. How crazy am I? That remains to be determined.