Passover is a time for family. Judaism has holidays galore, but Passover stands unique in its family-centric nature. The highlight of the holiday, the seder (literally “order,” due to the specific program of the evening), is by its very nature a family meal writ large. And on Passover, the definition of family is an expansive one for Jews, with the unfortunate or downtrodden as welcome and entitled to sit at the seder table as one’s immediate relatives. The seder itself commemorates the biblical paschal offering, which was by design intended to be consumed in a communal setting, amongst family.
Just last week, I was speaking to a client about Passover, and despite our differences in both age and observance level, we easily agreed that some of our strongest personal memories are anchored in our childhood seder experiences. In my case, the fact that my childhood seders were fortunate enough to have included my grandparents was a special blessing. Especially since they themselves (together with my parents, who were young children at the time) were forced to flee Egypt as refugees, leaving family and possessions behind. Thankfully, they all ended up (my Dad by way of France, hence my name) in this wonderful free country, where opportunity is open to all who are willing to invest in creating it for themselves. For me, the most fulfilling part of making partner in 2009 was being able to share that recognition with my grandfather, who was in the final stages of a heroic decade-long battle with cancer at the time. His courage in leaving the place of his birth, locked in the bathroom of a passenger ship to Italy to avoid detection, paved the way for our family’s rebirth on these shores. Many have similar stories, and those stories make holidays more meaningful, no matter what holiday is being celebrated.
While I was in Biglaw, holidays presented some of the few opportunities I had for uninterrupted family time. I was always grateful to have worked with people who respected my religious observances, and tried my best to minimize the disruption caused by my unavailability….
One of those accommodations was that with the exceptions of Friday nights and holidays, I was rarely home for dinner with my children during the school week. In fact, just a few weeks into my new career as a boutique law firm owner (rather than a Biglaw partner-employee), I realized I was actually getting to eat dinner during the week with my family now — and that I had, in a matter of weeks, surpassed the number of school-night dinners I had enjoyed with my kids in the previous decade I had spent in Biglaw.
Have I been working less? No, actually more, but with the near-complete ability to control my schedule. So when my kids get off their school bus at 5 p.m. after a long day at school, I can sit with them and eat at an hour more suited to a South Florida retiree. They are usually so ravenous that the meal is a quick one, leaving me plenty of time to handle early evening work. I usually have to force myself to shut down at 8 p.m. or so, coincidentally the usual hour of my arrival home from a typical Biglaw day. Obviously travel and busy periods in my cases had required and continue to require more hours and a departure from the routine, but it is nice to be able to interact with my kids in a more substantial way during the week. Just last year, that interaction would typically be limited to a quick word before bed, though I have always been able to spend time with my younger ones in the mornings. The Biglaw machine doesn’t crank up in NYC until 10 a.m. or so, especially for anyone at the senior-associate level and up. I benefited from that peculiarity most days.
But family time is not limited to meals. And while during my decade in Biglaw I missed many meals with my children, I was also able to attend many of their school events, when my contemporaries in other lines of work were not. Everything is a trade off, and that extends to family time as well. But moving to my own firm has opened up a range of possibilities to spend quality time with my kids that I honestly never thought possible — such as playing roller hockey in the nearby park for an hour or so on those rare days that the weather has accommodated lately. Even though hockey has always been my favorite sport to play, it had been so long that I needed to order in new skates, gloves and a stick, once I saw that my oldest was in his first roller hockey league and needed some instruction. If I was still in Biglaw, I highly doubt that I would ever have even thought that playing hockey in the park with my son at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday was possible. In fact, my Biglaw conditioning is such that I actually felt guilty the first few times, as if I was some sort of slacker — even on recent nights when I had late-night Skype calls with clients in China, or was working on some project long after the kids went to bed. A little scary, but true.
So this Passover has a little more meaning for me. Biglaw is not slavery, but it does involve forgoing a lot of independence, especially in the early years. But so does any professional career, especially for someone who aspires to practice at a high level and who really does take their client’s matters personally. What my recent experience has taught me is that true independence is not freedom from responsibility, but the freedom to meet one’s personal responsibilities head on. We are all endlessly juggling our responsibilities to work, family, and ourselves. The time to focus directly on one of those elements is the great gift of any holiday season. Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover, or nothing at all, I hope everyone enjoys their family time, whenever it comes.
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Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique. The firm’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.