My sisters in the law (see Magic Cookie) have been struggling with the work-life balance issue, due to their demanding jobs. I get a lot of questions about this, from anonymous ladies of the interwebz, from my law clerks, and from law/diplomacy students. I don't have any golden words of wisdom here (uh, have you read this blog before?); if you're looking for guidance, you're probably in the wrong place. I'm not smart enough, or hard-working enough, that I could ever hack it in some big important corporate job, even if I wanted to, so trying to balance a high-demanding job and, well, anything else, isn't a likelihood for me. (I have an image of myself sitting in some swanky office in a New York City skyscraper, in an outfit that costs more than I currently make in a year, having to Google "what is secured transactions" or "basics of corporate law" to try to figure out how to do my job. Ha! It's totally true, it would be such a disaster, ugh.)
So, yeah, obviously I knew I wasn't going to hack it in Big Law (or be invited to join the party, since I had mediocre grades at a mediocre law school), or be CEO of a Fortune 500 company or anything. I did, on a lark, once submit a resume to Skadden, and so very rudely, they never called me for an interview. Heh. Regardless, I sort of assumed my career would be spent in a mid-sized firm, as it was pre-law school, a bullet I have fortunately dodged. I spent years working in mid-sized firms and, particularly since the recession and crash of the legal job market, it's not much better than the big firms, just the pay is shittier. My mid-size law firm friends work crazy hours just to barely meet their minimum billing requirements (it's really crappy to only get credit for what hours the clients pay, not what hours you actually bill, when insurance clients cut down the hours, and other types of clients fail to pay at all but you still can't withdraw). I guess there are firms out there that are exceptions though. This one firm I interviewed with when I first came back home had a 1600 hour per year billing requirement, and it was casual dress. (Insurance defense, I mean, you never actually see your clients, why the hell should you rack up a huge dry cleaning bill?) I was very sad to not get that job; I was pretty certain I was getting the job, except that they ended up hiring nobody at all. Sadness.
Anyway, oddly enough, I never really thought public interest law was an option for me. I have a shitload of student loans. But I just sort of fell into it. I mean, I was immediately interested in the program when I heard about it, because it hit home for me -- doing legal work for families with sick kids. But I still didn't imagine that would be my career. I wanted a legal career. Practicing law. Trial lawyer. Now practicing law is only a small part of what I do. Advocacy, coalition building, outreach, education/training, research, and a great deal of advice-giving and simply listening. I still struggle with the lack of practice, and I don't think I will ever completely exit the profession. There was a recently a job posting for what would have been a great position (and bump in pay) as director of a healthcare non-profit. I probably should have applied for it because I would have been at least considered for it, and one of my co-workers even asked me if I had applied, saying I should have, but it's not a legal job at all, it's all advocacy and coalition-building. I don't think I can stomach that much schmoozing. I get a headache if I smile that much. And there's that grumpy part of me that likes to sue people/threaten to sue people/send forceful demand letters. (Oh, and I'm currently writing a doozy of a demand letter, it's going to be epic.) That and it would have been a lot of travel, and the office is 30 minutes away. That was a big part of it, just dealing with a commute and a more demanding job, and considering my personal responsibilities. It would have left very little time for both family stuff and just me.
Anyway. Rambling here. But at this point in my life, I just don't want a job that's going to consume all of my energy, not to mention time. I have a lot of flexibility in my current job, even though we're busy, and currently understaffed. For instance, I go into work an hour later on Thursdays because Cora and I have our violin lessons and then we go to the bakery across the street from her daycare and get a donut. I never asked permission for that, it just is. I don't normally wear suits unless I have to go to court or have some important meeting. Most of the time I'm wearing business casual, coupled with a pair of Chucks. I figure if the rest of the staff are wearing drawstring pants, I don't need to wear out my designer heels running around the hospital (although I love wearing them when I have to dress up). Because my office is a screamfest (seriously, I listen to children screaming all day, I'm in a pediatrics clinic), when I need to do research or write something substantive, I go over to the library (benefits of being on campus, I'm a block away from the law library and across the street from the medical library) or down to the clinic Starbucks (which is not good for my budget or waistline). On the flip side, I normally work through lunch, unless I have a "date." I usually try to pick something up on my way into the office from the cafeteria in the morning (we have a fridge), and eat it at my desk.
The cool thing about my job, though, is that I feel like the stuff I do actually matters. I didn't feel like that when I was doing a summer-long document review of construction records of moldy houses. Or fighting someone's personal injury whiplash claim. Definitely not during the three hour long settlement conference I once had where we bickered over crappy living room furniture in a divorce case. But, for instance, this week I got an emergency custody order for a dad (who already had physical custody) so the kids could get their vaccines. I consulted with a mom who is drowning in problems, from sick kid to lack of resources to help them, and we're getting them started on the SSI appeal. I'm fighting with our local public school system to allow an epileptic kid to use her doctor-prescribed rescue medication, even though it's off-label use of the med. And I'm still trying to get a school to give a kid her insulin injections in school even though there's no nurse to give them, and I've had to go up against the nursing board in the process.
But the best thing about my job is that, most days, I don't come home in a bad mood (and practicing on my own, I was pretty much always in a bad mood). I'm not totally exhausted, or overly-stressed, or pissed off. There are no asshole bosses. In fact, I sort of never see my boss, and I'm not really even sure who's actually in charge of me. I mean, I guess our medical director is sort of my boss. I see her twice a month, sometimes more if we've got stuff to do. Her office is now two buildings over. It's an odd arrangement. There are, of course, always assholes, crazies, and just difficult people. I have one client in particular whose very presence raises my blood pressure. And I really want to strangle someone at random in the IT department with a printer cable just to serve as example to others. But the rest of the time, things are cool.
I go to work usually between 8:30 and 9. I pick up the kids from daycare somewhere between 5 and 6. I go home, usually cooking dinner (continuing the quest for the double-oven, by cooking 5 days a week). We practice violin after dinner, and then there's maybe watching of something on TV and/or maybe dessert, then baths, then playing with toys, then doing chores, then stories and songs and bed. I watch (a lot of) TV, read books, try to keep some semblance of order of the housework. We have dinner with friends once a week. I have orchestra rehearsal Tuesday nights, and "law ladies" dinner with a group of local lady lawyers/judges once a month. I have a book club that I run (sort of) once a month. This Saturday, I'm headed to eastern KY for a diabetes walk, in honor of my little client. Next Saturday, we're having our annual Halloween party.
I can't say it hasn't taken me awhile to get to this place though. I had this vision of what my career would be, and the reality is that, after 2008, it just wasn't going to happen. I was lucky to have the experience I had out in eastern Kentucky, with a boss who was a great mentor, and who didn't expect me to work 70 hours a week (I never worked much more than 40), and taught me to actually practice law. Now that the legal market is rebounding (at least in my city), it's entirely likely I could get a lateral move back into the private sector. Work for a mid-size insurance defense firm, slave away for the billable hour. Trade being a cog in one machine, for a cog in a smaller machine. And while part of me wants to be back in court regularly, arguing before the judge, the rest of me doesn't want the rest of the stuff that comes with it. The late nights, the long dockets, the demanding bosses, the asshole clients, the office politics, the sexism, and the dreaded billable hour. Yeah, it'd be more money, but actually not much more initially (now, by the time I'm 5-7 years out, there will be a much bigger gap in average the income), and I would just have to pay more on my student loans from Income Based Repayment, and I wouldn't get the 10-year forgiveness. Non-profit certainly has its benefits.
Most importantly, though, I'm starting to really love what I do, instead of just feeling good about it or even being simply resigned to it because hell, I'm lucky I have a job at all. I think it makes a difference now that it's full time. In being part-time, I never felt 100% invested in it. I felt pulled in multiple directions, working for my own clients, and the MLP clients, and (as an attorney with which I once interviewed told me) "scrapping for work." Trying to balance all of it sucked. Doing work at midnight sucks. And especially not getting paid sucks. I just think back a year ago, to when I'd just had Vee, and not really getting a maternity leave, because clients never really go away when you're a solo. There's no partner or associate to hand it off to. Solo practice sucks like that. Having awesome fellow solos helps a lot, but there's only so much you can pass off on someone doing you a favor. It was just not for me. There are people who excel at it. Not me.
So, I don't have any great advice, other than you have to find what works for you. I remember a woman from our graduate program talking about not getting trapped by the "sexy job," the job that sounds much cooler than it is. (i.e. Being an FBI agent isn't going to be chasing down aliens and government conspiracies, it's more chasing down the large purchases of fertilizer.) Maybe that was law in general. It sounds more sexy than it is. (It is decidedly not sexy.) Even so, your dream job/the job you might actually love to do, may not be something you can sustain if you also want to have other things, whether that's kids, or a spouse, or travel, or athletics, or music, or whatever. You can't do everything, there's not enough time. So you have to prioritize. There will always be sacrifices. Maybe I'll look back on my career and regret never climbing the corporate ladder or making partner in a law firm. Or maybe I'll end up running the hospital someday. (Doubtful.) Who knows. I'm not really worried about it. First world problems. I have enough money to pay my bills, I bought a new car, I do work that I can feel proud of, and I have my health and my family. (And, yes, if anyone's wondering, I'm better off today than I was 4 years ago.)