Ed. note: This is a continuation of last week’s post by in-house columnist David Mowry, True Confessions (Part I).
I decided that it was somehow a good idea to live apart from my (pregnant) wife and 3-year-old son for about a year. I needed a job. I was scared and desperate, my clerkship was ending, and I had no prospects in D.C. or New York. So, I headed to Rochester.
At first, it was great to have law firm money coming in, and my salary and relative short distance from Rochester to Maryland allowed me to either drive or fly down to BWI on the weekends. But soon, the rigors and expectations of moving from junior to senior litigation associate began to make such trips difficult, and always stressful. This was when Citrix connections and Wi-Fi were in their infancy, and of course our house was just in a valley deep enough to cause problems with me connecting.
Stress soon turned potent as the pending birth of our second son was timed to occur with the due dates of several motions and depositions, etc. The Rochester partner for whom I was doing a majority of my work was not pleased that I took time to be in D.C. waiting for the baby to be born. The situation took a toll on me, my wife, and our son.
On the day of my wife’s labor, D.C. experienced the backlash of an East Coast hurricane, and a storm was brewing with my lawyer gig as well. Things were coming due, communication with the home office was difficult at best, and my work was suffering; I was suffering. I still have the emails that came to me in the delivery room and during recovery. I was torn between being present with my wife during this most important time, and trying to please the boss(es) in Rochester.
A mere two weeks after my son was born, we were caravanning to our new house upstate. Oh yes, I failed to mention that I was house hunting up until the date I traveled to D.C. to be with my wife while we awaited the due date. It was more than enough to break me….
I am certain that some of you are saying, “Why the eff didn’t you tell the firm to pound sand when they wouldn’t let you work in D.C. for a year?” The only answer that I have now is that my skills at standing up for myself were weak, at best. I can’t pass it off as nothing, though. My faulty decision caused a host of problems, in my marriage and professionally. As you know, when you piss off the wrong partner, you become dead to the firm. Even worse is when your wife has a memory of an argument in the recovery room over when exactly you’ll be able to move upstate.
Back home, I was fortunate to have a mentor who brought me under his wing, and gave me the training and experience that every young associate should have. He literally saved my job. However, the damage in the “partner perception” was done. Fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter; I was never going to “make it” in that firm, and after a couple of years, my usefulness translated into necessitated “throughput.” I was costly, and not building a book, so it was time to begin looking. I soon learned to quell the shame I felt, as there are two kinds of lawyers up here — lawyers at my old firm, and former lawyers of my old firm.
Luckily, the firm was patient. I was billing high enough, and bringing in revenue, so they let me seek a new position while maintaining my caseload. The main stressor during this period was that I truly didn’t know when the patience would run out. Nine long months of looking everywhere for a job culminated in my learning of a gig at my current employer — which just happens to be across the street from my old firm.
I have written extensively about the challenges I faced convincing the hiring people here that a litigator could negotiate with the best transactional lawyers. And I have proved my case. I have closed over a billion dollars in deals for my clients, and my annual survey results are near perfect scores. I enjoy this job, and especially the autonomy. I work with incredibly bright lawyers in as diverse an office as one could imagine. To be sure, there are office politics at play, but mostly we’re all trying to ensure that our company is around for a long time to come.
As I write this I have received an email in my Gmail account from a prospective law student. They want advice. After rereading this conclusion of my two part retrospective, I am not sure I am one to be giving anyone advice on this profession. Sorry if this has been tl;dr for some of you. But to anyone still with me, thanks for reading. And seriously, best of luck.
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.