Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The storm before the calm

Let's be frank.  The whole reason I took the foreign service exam was because my law firm was crumbling around me.  The writing was on the wall after a partnership dispute and various other misfortunes left revenues unable to keep up with expenses.  We did quality work and were involved in some high profile patent infringement cases, so I optimistically told myself it was all temporary.  The partners did a pretty good job of hiding the seriousness of the firm's plight, too, borrowing to pay Christmas bonuses.  This is probably why I was shocked when I was given three months' notice that the firm wasn't going to be able to afford my salary. 

As part of my job search, I discovered the foreign service.  I fell in love with the job on the spot.  I wanted to live all over the world and to learn languages for the betterment of my country.  All that was and is still true.  But what I also wanted were tangibles the law doesn't provide.  Foremost, I wanted stable employment.  Lawyers, and especially litigators, are only riding as high as their last win, their current client list, and whether they can bill enough to keep themselves going.  It's lucrative, but also extremely unstable.  If you're new, stability is something for which you are entirely dependant upon the partnership.  Can they generate enough business to justify my presence?  This question is constantly on everybody's mind.  Not a fun way to go through the work week.  Couple that with the long hours, the time away from family, the pressure, the travel, and sometimes, the abuse, and it gets a lot not funner.  Next on that list of tangibles, and somewhat related to stability is down time.  In the almost four years I have been in practice, I have not taken one extended vacation.  Weekends, holidays, and even traditional federal and bank holidays, are all meaningless to litigation attorneys.  The deadlines, the discovery requests, and client demands never take time off, so rarely do litigators.  Time with family, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, state-of-the-union date nights, all take a back seat to whatever brief is due, finding a smoking gun document for trial, or traveling to that deposition in northern Michigan.  As we age and have children, the most irreplaceable commodity we have is time, and successful lawyers rob themselves of what is most important in life, in my opinion.

Fast forward two years.  That obscure written exam, which was one of a hundred nets I cast in the winter and spring of 2010, led me to receive an offer.  But in the meantime, I have put in amazing runs at two different firms.  The first was a real estate and banking firm.  The second, my current firm, is involved in one of the largest pieces of litigation in history.  When I got the call, we were (and are) gearing up for trial.  This trial is going to be epic.  I am finally doing the kind of work I went to law school to do.  In order to facilitate my departure in a manner that isn't going to burn bridges, I am working right up until A-100.  The firm is short-handed as it is, but part of me also selfishly doesn't want to miss anything.  The case could settle tomorrow or go on for the next four years.  Nobody knows.  What we do know is that we go to trial in two weeks, and we haven't got enough bodies to handle it.

So in addition to wrapping up my family's entire life here, I am working longer days than ever.  I'm sure the registrar is going to want to kill me for completing my paperwork at the last minute (it's due in next week), but I simply don't have enough hours in the day.  So one of my primary reasons for becoming an FSO -- time with my family -- is something I am completely abandoning for the next three weeks.  I have no doubt that A-100 will be exciting.  I've already read some of my classmates' amazing bios.  But I'm looking forward to the hours.  I'm sure I'll find them almost relaxing compared to this.

1 comment:

  1. Just discovered your blog! I am in the FSOT process right now, waiting on my QEP results. I am also a lawyer. I see this is your last post, but I'd love to read an update! Are you placed somewhere now? Where are you and how do you like it?