If “Partner” is your only or most important title, quite frankly you are missing out. For me, it’s “Dad,” as my little man likes to say, or simply “Daddy,” to my little princess. Before you freak out about how not everyone wants children and the world is overpopulated — relax. Father’s Day just went by, and it just simply is not the time for anything other than celebrating fatherhood.
None of us would be here without a father, and I submit that each of us has been shaped by our father, whether he was a model dad, an absent one, or simply some squiggly molecules in a petri dish. For those blessed to have had an engaged father, the goal is to emulate and if possible surpass his example, while those who went without should work that much harder to make sure that their own children have something other than the pain of absence to carry with them. Biglaw partners are acutely aware of the value of time, and most that I have met wish they had more of it to give to their children.
Of course, being a dad in Biglaw means sacrifice — the financial and professional rewards come at a cost….
In my case, my workload as a young associate was so overwhelming that I have absolutely no recollection of the first year of my oldest son’s life. It is nothing to be proud of, and there is a sting when looking at pictures of him from that time and not having the memories to go along with the images. Without that context, the normally enjoyable act of seeing goofy smiley infant pictures becomes a bittersweet reminder of sacrifices made, and moments impossible to recapture. And I will never forget the moments of sheer helplessness — after one of my first big solo hearings — when I was stuck on the tarmac wondering if I would make it back in time to see my hospitalized wife through an early labor scare.
But enough melancholia. My Biglaw career has also meant advantages for my children that most cannot dream of. And I am doing my best to ensure that they are appreciative of that. My wife helps, by always reminding the kids that “Daddy works very hard,” reinforcing the message that to them that we have been fortunate, and that nothing has, is, or will come without sacrifice or hard work. Her efforts are what makes it possible for me to imagine that I can have a full career and a family life too.
What is particularly refreshing about children, considering the constant focus in Biglaw on “compensation issues,” is how little they care about how much money their parents make. Don’t get me wrong: you’ll hear it if you are not carrying enough cash to get the ice cream or candy they need to have RIGHT NOW. But other than that, I’ve yet to see any evidence that they care or even think too much about money. An argument can be made that they have the healthier view, in that money is simply something you use to get the stuff you need, rather than a way to measure yourself against others. I like to tell my kids that I make ten dollars a day, and for some inexplicable reason they get a big kick out of that. I hope they never measure their own value by how much money they are able to accumulate.
But doesn’t having kids detract from your ability to be a business generation and billing machine? Maybe in the absolute sense, but in the process of parenting, Biglaw dads have at least two doors opened to them on the professional front. The first is an introduction to the wide-ranging club of fellow parents, and a constant flow of conversation topics with the non-Biglaw lawyers and people we encounter — be they in-house counsel, employees of clients, or the rest of the world.
The second is the ability to practice leadership, to take responsibility for the success of others, and in so doing counteract Biglaw’s tendency to subordinate, via “managing partners” or “practice group leaders” or “executive committees.” By and large we let ourselves be led, but leading is better for our souls. To be a leader is to me the true responsibility of being a father — to be willing to confront and address your own failings, while utilizing your advantages to provide a positive example and direction to your children. Hopefully none of us lucky enough to be Biglaw dads let the legitimate challenges of our lifestyles serve as a false basis to abdicate that responsibility.
Just as children serve as a vehicle for us to practice self-improvement through leadership and example, so do our parents serve as similar vehicles for us to practice gratitude and kindness. For some, the only gratitude owed to their dads is for the gift of life and the example of what kind of man not to be, while for others the gratitude is for the unknowable sacrifices that all good fathers make on behalf of their children. When I was born, my father was a young man, so I owe him in some measure for the sacrifice of his youth, in addition to everything else that he contributed to making me the person that I am. Since I think he cares more about his grandchildren than the fact that his son is partner at a law firm (he is firmly among the vast majority of well-adjusted and accomplished human beings for whom the name Paul Weiss calls to mind a balding accountant rather than a major law firm), I am thankful that I have been able to start the process of repayment to him. We start our lives as dependent takers, and hopefully end them having been independent givers — especially to those who have helped us earn that status.
Dad, thank you for showing me the way. Kids, Daddy is doing his best to do the same for you. Happy Belated Father’s Day, everyone.
N.B. Thanks for the comments on my inaugural column, everyone — they are all helpful in some measure. Now that my admittedly frenetic introductory piece is behind us, I look forward to occasionally using this column as a conduit to present to you voices other than mine, most likely through interviews, that can add value to our collective understanding of the Biglaw component of our chosen profession. I am a big fan of the Ulsterman Report’s Wall Street and White House “Insider” series (warning to Obama acolytes — they will be a tough read for you), and would love to see if we could pull off a Managing Partner and/or In-House “Insider” through this column. To that end, if there are very “senior” (thinking power, not necessarily age) lawyers, be they in-house or in Biglaw, that would be willing to be interviewed by me (whether on the record or with your identity concealed to the readership), please let me know by email.
By the way, please be advised that I generally treat emails sent to me as fair game for quotation, but on an anonymous basis. If you would like to deviate from this default rule — perhaps by having your message treated as completely off the record, or perhaps by having your message attributed to you by name — please let me know at the time that you write. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Earlier: Buying In: A Partner’s Perspective
Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.