I’ve read this departure email three times this morning, all while a sleeping six-week-old snores up at me. It’s a departure memo where a Biglaw associate kind of admits that she can no longer juggle the demands of parenthood and the demands of being a Biglaw lawyer. In a way, it’s heartbreaking. I don’t know this woman, and I don’t know what her hopes and dreams are or might have been, but it shouldn’t be so damn hard — in the richest country on Earth — to have a big-time job and be a loving parent. The struggles highlighted by this woman make me sad as a new parent myself.
In another way, this memo is uplifting. You can’t have it all. When you finally come to accept that, it’s liberating. You don’t have to feel like a bad employee or a bad parent for not being able to do it all. As Al Pacino says in the Devil’s Advocate: “Guilt is like a bag of bricks, all you gotta do is set it down.”
So, take a look as one woman bows out of the rat race….
The associate in question works at Clifford Chance, but she could be an associate at any number of firms in New York, D.C., or other cities around the country. She puts together a timeline of her usual day:
A day in the life of Ms. X (and many others here, I presume):
4:00am: Hear baby screaming, hope I am dreaming, realize I’m not, sleep walk to nursery, give her a pacifier and put her back to sleep
4:45am: Finally get back to bed
5:30am: Alarm goes off, hit snooze
6:00am: See the shadow of a small person standing at my bedroom door, realize it is my son who has wet the bed (time to change the sheets)
6:15am: Hear baby screaming, make a bottle, turn on another excruciating episode of Backyardigans, feed baby
7:00am: Find some clean clothes for the kids, get them dressed
7:30am: Realize that I am still in my pajamas and haven’t showered, so pull hair back in a ponytail and throw on a suit
8:00am: Pile into the car, drive the kids to daycare
9:00am: finally arrive at daycare, baby spits up on suit, get kids to their classrooms, realize I have a conference call in 15 minutes
9:20am: Run into my office, dial-in to conference call 5 minutes late and realize that no one would have known whether or not I was on the call, but take notes anyway
9:30am: Get an email that my time is late, Again! Enter my time
10:00am: Team meeting; leave with a 50-item to-do list
11:00am: Attempt to prioritize to-do list and start tasks; start an email delegating a portion of the tasks (then, remember there is no one under me)
2:00pm: Realize I forgot to eat lunch, so go to the 9th floor kitchen to score some leftovers
2:30pm: Get a frantic email from a client needing an answer to a question by COB today
2:45pm: postpone work on task number 2 of 50 from to-do list and attempt to draft a response to client’s question
4:30pm: send draft response to Senior Associate and Partner for review
5:00pm: receive conflicting comments from Senior Associate and Partner (one in new version and one in track changes); attempt to reconcile; send redline
5:30pm: wait for approval to send response to client; realize that I am going to be late picking up the kids from daycare ($5 for each minute late)
5:50pm: get approval; quickly send response to client
6:00pm: race to daycare to get the kids (they are the last two there)
6:30pm: TRAFFIC with a side of screaming kids who are starving
7:15pm: Finally arrive home, throw chicken nuggets in the microwave, feed the family
7:45pm: Negotiate with husband over who will do bathtime and bedtime routine; lose
8:00pm: Bath, pajamas, books, bed
9:00pm: Kids are finally asleep, check blackberry and have 25 unread messages
9:15pm: Make a cup of coffee and open laptop; login to Citrix
9:45pm: Citrix finally loads; start task number 2
11:30pm: Wake up and realize I fell asleep at my desk; make more coffee; get through task number 3
1:00am: Jump in the shower (lord knows I won’t have time in the morning)
1:30am: Finally go to bed
As I’m just learning, it’s the “REPEAT” that is the thing that gets you in the end. My grandmother used to say, “Anybody can do anything for three months.” And it’s probably true for everybody that they can handle any amount of difficulty for a certain amount of time.
But keeping to that schedule, day after day, seems ultimately untenable. You’ve got to keep going back and forth, not just in terms of where you are, but also in terms of your focus. You’re working, you’re parenting, the partner is screaming like a child, the child is being more demanding than a partner — it’s just a lot for one person to do.
And you just know that there are people with whom she works who somehow manage to “resent” the fact that “she gets to leave the office by six.” There are partners who are annoyed that she didn’t check her BlackBerry for 90 whole minutes while she put her kids to bed. There are people who act like every minute a parent is not “working,” they’re taking a freaking holiday.
I’m assuming that Clifford Chance… I’ll even say that most Biglaw firms are doing what they can to make it possible for their talent to balance their professional responsibilities with their domestic duties. But there are iron triangles here. These are all-consuming jobs that grind up people who have nothing to do other than work and have awesome meaningless sex. A lot of people have trouble keeping friendships while working Biglaw.
And a kid is way more demanding than a friend. Or even a boss. A kid is more like a warden who is holding you hostage, forcing you to do manual labor, and occasionally spitting all over you.
It’s not surprising that this one associate is bowing out, it’s surprising that all Biglaw parents don’t have a total nervous breakdown and end up quitting. People have left Biglaw (cough cough) under far less challenging circumstances.
Check out the full email on the next page….