I’m generally not an all-or-nothing person. As a lawyer, I like to manage and hedge risk. The thought of giving notice seems so…final. I view it as the exchange of a stable and financially rewarding career for a dream of freedom, exploration, and fulfillment. Need more money later? Well tough luck. With the financial markets suffering a bit of turmoil lately, I haven’t been feeling as confident about making the leap.
Compounding the issue was a series of interactions I had while traveling last week. I don’t come across people who are down on their luck very often. As I freely acknowledge, I live in a bubble of big firm lawyers and in-house counsel. I had a series of Uber rides with very talkative Uber drivers, many of whom were driving because they experienced layoffs or were unsuccessful in their primary ventures (e.g., one driver was a struggling movie director). The thing that these drivers had in common, was that despite their circumstances, they couldn’t help but talk about how talented they were, or how well they did in the past (all of this being completely unsolicited).
I don’t know anything about these drivers beyond what they told me, but I couldn’t help but feel they were deluding themselves (e.g., the driver who was trying to convince me he was on the verge of a huge movie deal), or maybe embarrassed (e.g., the driver who kept trying to explain why he was driving an Uber despite being so great at X, Y, Z). Now, I’m not trying to judge these guys, as I could easily see myself falling into that trap in a worst case situation. I even imagined myself as an Uber driver in the future:
Me: Where am I taking you today?
Me: Great. I’ll get you there in 15 minutes…Hey, did you know I used to be a lawyer?
Passenger: Um, no…
Me: I practiced for over ten years at some of the biggest firms. But I drive an Uber now.
Passenger: Oh, interesting…[looks down at phone to see how long the ride will take]
Me: Yeah, you know it was totally my choice to leave and all. Just didn’t like it that much. It’s not that I couldn’t hack it, you know? [Stares at passenger in rear view mirror to make sure they know this.] It’s just being a lawyer at these big prestigious firms requires such a sacrifice. I could totally have kept doing it though. The money is really good, but not worth it in the end…
[Fifteen minutes later]
Me: …and at my second firm, the partners would hog the clients and wouldn’t share credit…Oh looks like we’re at the airport and this is your terminal.
On my last Uber ride, it dawned on me that I was going through Scrooge’s experience with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The thought of me being like that was hard to bear. But I could see my future me devolving into someone with a starved ego who needed to justify a disappointing situation. My ego’s been pretty well fed for the last few years. I’ve been weaning my ego for the last 5+ years to separate my career from my identity, but I know part of my ego will still yearn for success and prestige. Not knowing what’s to come is a bit scary. At the same time, I could see myself as a worn down 65 year old lawyer, interviewing some law student:
Me: You know, I’ve been practicing law for 40 years.
Eager law student: Yes, I hope to do that too — I love the law and want to practice at X, Y, Z firm!
Me: It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. I’ve suffered through alcoholism and addiction and sacrificed time with my family. My kids hardly speak to me. I can’t believe they’re so ungrateful even though I paid for private school and bought them each a new BMW for graduation! But the law has always been there for me. I’m so glad I gave up everything for it. I feel so fulfilled spending so much time in this office. Did you know this desk is mahogany? [Knocks on desk] I took over this corner office from Chris after he suffered his third (and final) heart attack. Poor bastard!
Uncomfortable law student: Um…OK.
Anyways, this is a long-winded way of me saying that I’m trying to think of more creative solutions than just quitting and hoping for the best. I know of some attorneys who stayed on the payroll and get paid by the billable hour, instead of receiving a fixed salary with an expectation of hitting some billable hour target. This seems like a good solution for someone who doesn’t need the fixed salary. This approach would also minimize any risk of burning bridges. The firm would be incentivized to agree as there are a few significant matters coming up in the next few months where the firm perceives that my involvement would increase the likelihood that we would get the work. I could help get it and then not do much while we’re traveling, and when we get back, I could do as much or as little as I wanted. Anyways, these are just some ideas I am considering given the markets and my own state of mind.