Decision-making time

All of the information is in.  At least the hard facts.  I obviously can’t see the future or the subjective outcome of other life path.  But there are some things that I can see.

Job A:

Work: Representing men in divorce and the various legal issues surrounding that (custody, parenting time, adoption, criminal law, etc.)

Environment: To begin with, working at an office consisting of about 5 attorneys about an hour away from where I live, then transitioning to handling an office and entire geographical area basically by myself. I would be alone in the office, but could reach out to others as needed.

Pay: This job has offered me $45,000 as a base salary with a very specific bonus structure.  The goal is to collect 100 hours of work per month (not just bill, but actually receive payment for).  If I meet that goal, then I will be bringing in $20,500 for the firm each month at a billing rate of $205/hr.  As a bonus for meeting that goal, I will receive 33% of everything over $15,000 that I bring in.  This means that for each month that I meet my goal, I would receive a bonus check of $1,833.33.  This works out to an extra $22,000 each year.

Job B:

Work: General civil practice with exposure to all areas of the law. There is also an emphasis on community involvement.

Environment: Probably the best group of guys I’ve ever met. I was so happy from the moment I walked out of my interviews with them. I felt like a real connection had been made, and that it would be a real honor to work with/for them.

Pay: This job initially offered me $32,500 as a base salary with the potential for bonuses based on “effort, productivity as measured by dollars collected, firm leadership, community activity, and general professional development.”  After a phone call, the base salary offer was increased to $36,400 with a guarantee of at least $1,000 for each bonus. Speaking with another associate at the firm, bonuses may range anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, and the base salary will go up over time as well.

Benefits: In each job, there are also certain perks and benefits, like a covered parking space attached to the building, medical coverage, malpractice insurance, payment of bar dues. One additional benefit being offered by Job B is the encouragement of professional development courses. I love attending ICLE seminars, and I love that I would be able to continue to attend. I would also have dedicated secretarial staff just outside my door, as opposed to staff located in another building an hour away with the other job.

My concern with Job A is being treated as a cog in a machine instead of a person.  I worry about not having the time to enjoy the money I might be bringing in because I’m so focused on collecting dollars in order to keep my job, or at least keep my boss off my back.

My concern with Job B is being too concerned about money. I don’t have the benefit of having a husband who earns a steady paycheck that I can fall back on if business is slow at the firm.  However, there is a bright future at Job B, when the age of the partners and their impending retirement is taken into consideration.  Job A hinted at personnel changes in the future, but who knows how that could turn out?  The history behind Job B indicates that the ship will not go down with the captains, while A is built around a single individual.

The strange thing is that there is nothing that draws me emotionally to Job A. But for some reason I still struggle to make this decision. I could do the work there, and probably be good at it, and make a good living for myself. But would I be happy? Will I be happy in the chaos of working in a firm that practices every single type of law instead of just one? It would at least give me exposure to various things and let me decide if I like one thing better than the others, or if I excel at one type of thing versus others.

There is a comfort in Job A though; knowing that every day will likely look very similar to the others. I will wake up, I will go to work, and I will deal with very unhappy people trying to divorce each other or fight over children, and it will be my responsibility to stand in a courtroom and explain to the judge why this person should get more than that person. When I received the job offer, the partner and I had a conversation about the comfort of knowing one type of law. Of being able to look an individual in the eye and tell them with complete confidence that you can handle this situation for them.

But I also think about a conversation that I had with the first judge I worked for.  A local pillar of the community had passed away, and we talked about how she had been so involved in various boards and agencies.  I remember thinking right then that that was what I wanted out of my life. That I wanted to have the feeling that I was really making a difference for people by improving the world that they live in.  My original purpose in attending law school was to save the world, after all.  Where will I make a greater impact? Saving the world one child at a time, when I may end up advocating for clients that I may not personally respect simply because I have to bring the dollars in? Or by doing good legal work that I really believe in, and serving my community with my time and effort, creating unknown and possibly unseen ripples through the fabric of time for many individuals?

Today is the last day that I have to think. I can feel the tick of the clock as 5pm draws nearer.  And I am nervous. But I think I know what I have to do.


And now for something completely different

In addition to lawyering, I also enjoy writing. Obviously, since I’m writing a blog. A random post came across my blog encouraging me to write on a one-word topic. Today’s topic is the word “buff.”  So naturally, I had to go find the definition, because the only association I could really come up with for the word was the adjective that I associate with “athletic-looking.”

buff (noun)

  1. a garment (such as a uniform) made of buff leather

  2. the state of being nude sunbathing in the buff

  3. a. a moderate orange yellow b.  a light to moderate yellow

  4. a device having a soft absorbent surface (as of cloth) by which polishing material is applied

  5. [earlier buff an enthusiast about going to fires; perhaps from the buff overcoats worn by volunteer firefighters in New York City about 1820]

buff (adjective)

  1. of the color buff

  2. buffed:  having a physique enhanced by bodybuilding exercises

buff (verb)

  1. polish, shinewaxed and buffed the floor

  2. to give a velvety surface to (leather)

And I’m so glad I looked this up, because I had kind of forgotten the buff association with expert or enthusiast, which I think is what is referenced in the fifth, almost neglected noun definition. You know, like “crime buff,” or “history buff.”  So in the spirit of introspection regarding my legal career, I wanted to analyze what I’m a buff of.

The most natural, first inclination for me is that I am some kind of writing buff.  I am an excellent speller. I am good with grammar rules and punctuation.  As soon as I learned IRAC and worked with it a few times, I became an expert in formatting my arguments.

I think that this has also made me an argument buff.  The IRAC format has made it much easier for me to reach into a morass of information and pull out a writhing, pumping issue, and plop it on the top of my page.  I proclaim, “Here is the thing that we are ultimately trying to figure out.”  Identifying the issue, I can then move on to determining what the applicable rules are and determine what the outcome of the argument should be, assuming I have all of the facts I need and have an accurate understanding of the law.

I think this also makes me something of a logic buff.  Perhaps I could be proven wrong here, but I think I am good at determining what is true, what is possible, and what is neither.  I thrive on facts and the accuracy of those facts.  This is one of the shortcomings of law school.  You are presented with a fact pattern and you must assume those facts are true.  You can’t turn to the professor and cross-examine in order to determine whether it happened the way the witness said it did.  And in court, do you have time to think through every way in which what the witness is saying may not be true? I am sure that these are skills that can continue to be buffed to perfection with time.

I wish that I were a buff in many more subjects.  I wish that I were a people buff which is why it is so exhausting for me to interact with people for too long.  I spend incredible amounts of energy observing and analyzing others and modifying my own behavior in accordance with those around me.  Or I spend my stores simply trying to keep my mouth shut so as not to create unnecessary conflict.

I wish I were a buff of any type of law.  I know a little about many subjects, but not a lot about any one.  Again, something that I hope to change over the years.

Am I a cooking buff? Probably not. I can prepare any kind of meal given a well-written recipe, but I do not have the innate ability my husband possesses.  He can pull ingredients together on a whim and make something delicious out of them.

The nice thing about the buff concept is the verb form.  Anything can be polished to a shine. Any of the skills or abilities that I’ve mentioned above or forgotten about or don’t possess but want to possess can be buffed into existence or perfection.  All it takes is a little elbow grease.

via Daily Prompt: Buff

Thoughts on becoming

As I look ahead to two weeks from today, I picture myself walking into a new environment.  Yes, I have seen the inside of a law firm before. But does it count when there are two partners and one associate and the firm has existed for maybe ten years?  Especially when compared to a firm that has existed for 74 years and has current shareholders with hundreds of years of experience between them? What must it feel like to pick up a cloak that has been worn that long and dare to wrap yourself in it and hope that no one notices that you are hardly worthy of it? I may yet learn.

I suppose it will take time before they acknowledge me as one of them. In the beginning, I imagine myself sitting in my office researching and writing and having conversations with attorneys to show that I have some vague idea of what I’m talking about until they really decide I’m worthy of representing them and clients who have trusted them with some of the most delicate situations they’ve faced.

If I really start to think about it, am I really going to feel like a real lawyer even after I am one? When will the sensation of imposter syndrome wear off? What will it take for me to acknowledge that I am accepted and respected and capable? I will do my best to remember what Suzanne told me she says to herself even now as she drives to work each day: “I am completely capable. I am perfectly prepared.”

Looking forward to receiving that job offer tomorrow…

Things I think I need to figure out

I have now made it to Sunday, only two or more days to go until I have my second offer in hand to be able to figure out where I’m headed. I keep thinking in the meantime about the things I think I need to get figured out.

I have my bullet journal set up and I’m looking at time management. I feel like I am going to need to start planning out every minute of my days now. I’m going to need to start doing the things I have been wanting to do as an adult. I need to start walking my dogs every day. I need to figure out what time I have available to listen to podcasts so that I don’t subscribe to too many and get behind. Gone are the days of being able to listen to scraps of shows between work assignments.

But it’s really hard to figure out what I need to do when I haven’t done it before. I think I need a desk at home. But do I really? How long until I find myself at home working on trial prep, or catching up on something after I’ve come home and made dinner and let the dogs out?

I feel like I need five real suits and fancy shoes. I need to start wearing makeup and doing my hair.

I need art for my office. Do I have an assistant? Do I need an assistant? I know nothing about having an assistant.

If I take the job I’m sure I’ll take, I’m going to have to talk to them about the file thing. I’m already dreading having piles of files on my desk like they have. A personal scanner may have to be included in the negotiations.

I’ve been waiting to be a real lawyer since I started law school. Maybe before that. I feel like this is when my life will truly begin.

This waiting is excruciating

Juggling two offers

Today I had to operate based on a google search.  Remember how I said I received my first offer to work at a firm yesterday? Well, I have been in talks with another law firm recently, so I called to let them know that I had received an offer. That phone call led me to believe that I would be receiving an offer from them next week as well.

After frantically, but not too frantically, trying to get in touch with the President of the firm, I learned that I am receiving an offer from them, but that I have to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week to get it (this is the first time I have ever rued a holiday weekend).

So I had to figure out what to do about firm A.  Luckily, I found an article that supported my original thought.  I called and, unfortunately, had to leave a message for the partner letting him know the situation.  I sincerely hope that he isn’t too upset about it, and I admit to hoping that he might be willing to negotiate a little, just to see what I could get out of this embarrassment of riches.

Now to figure out how to get through this three-day weekend without losing my mind…

The first day of the rest of your life

You never know when you’ve reached the real beginning of your life. People debate over conception versus birth, but in reality, it’s somewhere much farther down the road.  Coming alive is related to decisions. We make many decisions in our lives that have the capacity to affect the entire course of the future. You could even say that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Assuming you escape childhood without having caused or endured some incredible tragedy, you reach adulthood.  As a teenager, I always thought that I was already an adult as soon as I started making decisions that were taking charge of my own fate. I had a job at 14 and when I started decided how to spend my own money, or my own time, I thought I knew what being an adult was about. But then I graduated from high school and decided to go to college. And then I thought I was an adult. But I didn’t really like college, because I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I decided I would rather work for awhile. That’s what adults do, right? Then I decided it wouldn’t be right for me to waste my brain, so I returned to college, moved across the country, got engaged, decided I didn’t want to marry that person, moved back across the country, kept working, started dating someone else, bought a house with him, broke up with that person and moved into yet another apartment and started dating again.

Frenetic energy you might say. Perhaps lots of drive with no destination. Perhaps a destination but no roadmap. Perhaps just making my way in my own time.  Even as I write this, believing that I have finally made it, the voice in the back of my head remains, asking whether this is truly the destination, or if I’m just deluding myself yet again.

And where am I now, you might ask.  Over 5 years ago, on a random date with a random connection from OKCupid (yeah, I know), this guy says to me, “You’re really smart. Have you ever thought of going to law school?” At the time I thought that I had not ever thought of it, but the “On this day” feature of Facebook proves me wrong. I had thought of it, apparently around when I finished undergrad. But I do not remember the motivation for those thoughts, or what I did with them. I don’t know why I didn’t pursue the idea then. Perhaps because I didn’t know how. But this guy just graduated from law school and is getting ready to enter the Air Force’s JAG program, and I think about how amazing that would be.  We spend a lot of time talking over the next few days about what I need to do to get prepared.

I buy an LSAT workbook and suddenly realize why I spent so many years doing logic puzzles for fun, at first with my grandmother and later on my own. I am good at this. I can figure this out. I sign up to take the LSAT and when I get my score, it’s good enough that it saves my unimpressive undergraduate GPA.  I receive an 80% scholarship to attend a local law school, and I begin in January.  Did I mention that that date took place maybe in August? I can’t remember, but I know it didn’t take long to set things in motion.

Law school is an incredible experience. I grow mentally and emotionally. I learn that I am not always going to be the smartest person in the room, which is a change from my previous educational experiences. Maybe someday I’ll discuss the traumatic experience of moving from a city school to a country school, but not today. Forward momentum.  I push through my first year, make some connections with some of my colleagues, engage in some friendly competition, and generally learn the ropes. I watch as people slowly disappear around me and always wonder what happened to them. In my second year I begin to engage in volunteer opportunities and internships. I qualify to join the Law Journal and I climb into the executive board quickly. In my third year I do more internships and explore career options.

But all of my classes have been so fascinating, how can I decide what I want to do when I graduate? What do I want to be when I grow up? I never considered this before I started. People were always asking what made me come to law school. I don’t know. In that initial conversation, I said that I have always wanted to save the world. And Mr. JAG told me that the people with the greatest ability to affect the world are lawyers. I have worked in so many different industries since I was 14: food service, pharmacy, factories, social work, and education. I take an interest in anything presented to me. I learn as much as I can experience, and then something else comes along.

I received the highest grade in my Taxation class, which I know is something to be proud of. I meet with the professor afterward and discuss with her how to pursue a career in the field.  I apply to join the joint degree program and begin focusing on Taxation with a dash of corporation transactions.  But when I start looking for externships, I realize that there won’t be anything close to home in the field.

So I settle for a civil litigation firm. And I am happy with that. I love the work. I get so excited about drafting my first complaint that I happily walk it over to the courthouse to file it myself. My boss asks me to draft as many discovery requests as I can to send to the opposing party because they’ve done something to piss him off. I’m on the case. A few days later I hand him hundreds of questions. His eyes were as large as the stack of papers I placed on his desk.  I was so proud of myself, I didn’t even realize that we probably wouldn’t get away with sending more than 25.

And then I graduate. The bar is looming. I am terrified. I do not mess around with the newer, cheaper, supposedly as effective bar study options. I sign up for the top dog program, for which I have received a tiny scholarship as part of my bar preparation class.  I receive a huge box of books in the mail, and when I look at the website with lists of assignments to complete, I see that I am not going outside for several months. Every morning I wake up and drag myself into my office, curl up in my chair, and pour over material. I make huge presentation-sized Post-It charts that I stick up all over the walls to try to organize information.

Days before the examination, my great-grandmother passes away and I am not sure what to do. She had lived about 4 hours away, so going to her funeral is not as simple as taking a break for a few hours and then coming home. It will be a multiple day affair. So I pack up my laptop and my homemade flashcards and get in the backseat of my parents’ car and we drive. I regale them with tales of property disputes and point out what may be happening at a traffic stop we pass.  When my parents go out for some purpose I can’t recall anymore shortly after we arrive, I stay at home and write essays.  But the next day I go to the funeral, and I hug my cousins and we cry. I go to my great-grandmother’s house, where I had spent a few hours each summer in my youth. It is strange to see it filled with so many people. We each pick an item to take home with us, and I find a fairy to add to my collection of fairies at home.

I take the bar exam, and then I wait. I start substitute teaching to pass the time until something else comes along. And somewhere along the way I have applied for a job as a law clerk in a county where I had worked as a volunteer in their legal assistance center. One day I return home from teaching and receive a call from the judge asking me if I would like to come work for her. I stand in the driveway and jump up and down in excitement. I’ve made it!

I worked for that judge for a year and a half, and I spent at least half of that time applying for other jobs. I apply everywhere: in large firms, small firms, prosecutor’s offices, county administration, corporations, and to take over solo practice when the owner retires. I apply for open positions and I send out unsolicited resumes. I receive some responses which go nowhere, and I receive lots of dead air. I am completely unsure about what’s going on.

A friend from law school who graduated after me lands a job at a fairly large and prestigious firm almost right after graduation.  They make her the offer before she has even passed the bar exam. I spend too much time wondering and asking her questions about how she got there.  One of the useful pieces of information I received from her is that firms will consider multiple clerkships instead of experience. So I realize that this may be my best option, to apply for yet another clerkship, since no one seems to want to hire someone with no experience.

And luckily, I apply for a clerkship in a nearby county, where one of the criminal defense attorneys that I see on a regular basis in my current job often practices.  He is good friends with the hiring judge in fact, and the judge asks him what he knows about me.  Thankfully, I have worked hard on maintaining a good reputation; I work hard and speak kindly to everyone. And this has paid off, because the attorney gives me a good recommendation. Additionally, there is a judge’s retreat around this time, and the new judge asks my judge her opinion. My judge is so excited about the opportunity that she sends me a text message from the retreat to tell me that he has asked about me and that she gave me a good recommendation, so I should expect a call from him. And he calls, and then I get an in-person interview, and then I get a job.  I take a paycut to change jobs, and I am devastated to leave what feels like a family in the rural county where I’ve been for a year and a half.

This city courthouse runs much differently. Instead of being a jack of all trades, I become specialized in criminal law, and I handle most of the letters from prisoners and bailiff jury trials.  In the beginning there are a few civil and family matters to attend to, but then it is all criminal. As the split between civil and criminal grows, the civil law clerk moves to a different office, leaving me and the one other criminal law clerk in the office together.  A few weeks later, the other criminal law clerk is gone too.

This is the intrinsic problem of the clerkship that isn’t governed by contract. We are some of the best qualified but least experienced attorneys out there, and we are paid based on our experience. We cannot help but want the greater prestige and pay of a practicing attorney. So we spend our free time dreaming and casting wishes into the universe in the form of applications. And sometimes our wishes are granted.

And that’s why I say that today is the rest of my life. Today I will put in my two weeks’ notice at my current clerkship because yesterday, I received my first offer to go work at a law firm.  In two weeks, I will become a real lawyer.