Like many other law firms, mine is buzzing in regards to the tragic death last week of Los Angeles Skadden associate Lisa Johnstone. I thought this post from Above the Law to be a very well balanced discussion, and I don’t want to discuss Miss Johnstone directly as I did not know her, and I believe her family deserves better respect during this time of grief. That being said, I cannot believe that when Joe Flom joined Skadden Arps as their first associate THIS is what they envisioned for their firm’s future. 100-billable hour weeks. No vacations. Associates dropping dead of heart attacks from the stress. By the time I had made the decision to become a lawyer, Skadden was the gold-standard that young law students aspired to join. Law firms around the country emulated Skadden and would come to envy their PPEP. In 1988, as I studied for my LSATs at a local LA-based law firm of the Skadden model, I made several observations that changed my life. Turns out I didn’t want to work some place where:

  • they catered in Thanksgiving Dinner;
  • pregnant women hid their pregnancies lest they not make partner;
  • fax machines were delivered to laboring women at the hospital;
  • little boys went running “Daddy! Daddy!” to the wrong man.

It wasn’t a hard decision for me. As the envelopes from the law schools started arriving, I just threw them in the trash. I put together a decent resume, and got a job with what is now The Brady Campaign and eventually became a lobbyist. I have had an incredible career that lead me back to the legal industry 13 years ago. My only regret, looking back, is that I didn’t know I had other options for a legal career. I didn’t know that there were other types of law firms, and other lines of legal work outside Big Law, corporate law, criminal law or the DA’s office. Sure there were divorce attorneys and family law, but does anyone go to law school to become one of those? My plan was corporate law. I wasn’t a Chinese studies minor, taking three years of Mandarin, for nothing. When it comes to our careers, it is bad enough when we sacrifice the majority of the hours in our day to our job, but it’s entirely another to sacrifice all the days of our lives. I’ve written on how there are other choices for legal marketers (“Can I get a side order of work-life balance with that job, please?“). I would argue that there are other choices for lawyers (without abandoning the law altogether). But first, you have to get over the idea that you are a victim of your circumstances, or student loans. One of the comments to the ATL post summed my thoughts up well:

Stop blaming the partners for long hours. We associates should blame ourselves for doing this to ourselves. We are the ones choosing to stay late throguh the eveings (sic), come in on the weekends, not say “no” to work and travel, etc. If we grow some balls and push back, the partners will be forced to staff our cases with additional associates; and if there are not enough associates, they will have to hire more. It’s the associates fault for setting the new standard of billing 2500 to 3000 hours per year. If we treat ourselves like shit, why should we expect others (i.e., partners) to treat us any better?

At 32-years old you should be celebrating life. Finding that life partner. Welcoming children. Buying your first house. You should not be dying from stress. Last week I had a moment when I questioned (for just a brief, brief moment) my exodus from Big Law. I have a healthy ego and pride. I admit that I liked the cache that came with saying “I work at (fill in the name of Big Law here).” And while my firm’s name has cache within our industry of practice, I do get inquisitive looks when I say I work at Barger & Wolen from some of my peers. But I don’t care. I LOVE my job. I really enjoy where I work and the people with whom I work side-by-side. I am so excited that we’re going to be conducting our first webinar. And, it’s going to be hosted by that partner who hated the new logo! This is HUGE for us! And we’re hiring associates. Three in total. I am even more excited that I didn’t have to work over the holiday weekend at all. Why??? Because the partners were all enjoying the holiday weekend as well. If anyone was working, they were most likely doing it poolside, or when it didn’t interrupt family and personal time. Partners in my firm go on vacation and they don’t take calls or work. And, when I am on vacation, they leave me be. I’m not saying people don’t work hard at my firm, oh, they do. But when the work is done life is allowed to take place. You don’t have to hide your family/personal life. What it comes down to is that we are all the architects of our own happiness. Mine comes from doing a job well, and celebrating the time outside of work with my family and friends. I talked a lot on my Facebook page that my friend KC Crain died a few weeks ago. He was a friend, father figure, and mentor in life to me. I had the privilege of being in the house the day he died. Sitting vigil, picking family and friends up from the airport. It wasn’t a sad and tragic day, but a celebration of a life well lived, and a beautiful and peaceful send-off. If you asked me what KC did professionally, I would have no idea what to say. He did a little of this, and a little of that. Yet, in the photo montage there was picture after picture of pure joy and happiness. A loving wife. Dear friends. Photos taken from around the worlds, and lots of golf! To me, he lived a life I aspire to live. It wasn’t about the used car he drove, or the rented townhouse in Westchester (Los Angeles) where you can feel the planes landing at LAX. It was about the room filled with more than 500 people who flew in from around the country to say goodbye at his memorial last week. The inspirational goodbyes from around the world captured on Facebook. My husband described the experience in his status update that day:

Attending a memorial service for, what appears to be, a much loved and well respected man, KC Crain. Hundreds of people are here to celebrate his life. I never met KC, but he obviously touched many people and was an inspiration to all who knew him. Here’s to you, KC!

And, isn’t that what we should strive for? To leave a void that cannot be filled when we depart this world? We are all expendable at work, but NONE of us should be expendable in our lives. It’s just not worth it.