One cold Friday afternoon several weeks ago I walked out of my office for the last time. I spent most of the morning tossing memos, binders and assorted law firm crap into a giant trashcan. In the afternoon, I met with Human Resources to talk about my final paycheck. At some point, I returned some library books and walked my firm-issued laptop over to the IT department. In between, I said my goodbyes to those partners, associates and staff members that have earned my respect over the past several years.
In the end, it was as simple as putting some picture frames and assorted personal effects into a backpack and handing my Kastle key to the security guard at the front desk. And that was it. I was free.
REALITY CHECK: I FEEL LUCKY
Those of you who have followed this blog since its inception know well that I had originally planned to work through the end of this year. The advantages were obvious: the longer I worked, the more I could save and the more options I would have following my departure. And then, a chance meeting made me realize that living my life NOW is more important than any Plan. So I decided to leave early.
And yet, I can’t help but wonder whether working through the end of the year was ever going to be realistic. Those of you still in the trenches know full well how uncertain the legal market is at the moment, particularly on the corporate/M&A side. I am almost certain that if I was still following the original Plan I would be increasingly preoccupied with my billable hours, checking the internet for layoff rumors and otherwise making the kind of contingency plans that led me to leave my law firm early in the first place.
And maybe this is why I feel lucky to have left law firm life when I did. In the end, I was able to leave on my own terms and at my own pace.
AT ISSUE: IS IT ALL WORTH IT
I am still surprised by the number of emails I get from other lawyers who are contemplating life beyond law firms. When I first started the blog, the vast majority of emails came from lawyers who, like me, were struggling to deal with the long hours and the intense pressure this particular branch of the legal profession demands. I am now receiving more and more emails from lawyers who have been laid off and from law school students who are frantically trying to find a job.
Regardless of the author, the common theme in all these emails is always the same: how does a person find happiness in a profession that is seemingly antithetical to one’s core beliefs and innermost goals and demands so much of your personal time in exchange for what our culture has conceptualized as the upper-middle class American dream? More importantly, is it all worth it?
If there is one thing I know, my dear reader, is that I don’t have all the answers. I’m still feeling my way through this wonderful journey and have no real sense of how it will all turn out.
But I do feel that I have gained some valuable insight. And I am willing to share it with you, if you let me.
My journey began in a place where meeting and exceeding billable requirements was paramount. Where drafting perfect work-product was expected every day. Where success was measured by your paycheck and your law school pedigree. And you know what? I am now at a point in my life where I can say the following unequivocally:
*Fuck billable hours.
*Screw the bonus.
*Fancy cars, houses, furniture, vacations, credit cards, etc…have the potential to imprison your mind, your ego, and, worst of all, your spirit.
*The so-called upper-middle class lifestyle absolutely sucks and can go fuck itself.
If you want to find freedom as well, here’s my advice:
- Figure out your own personal definition of freedom.
- Come up with a rational, flexible way to attain it.
- Start changing your life from day one.
- Don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.
Don’t look back. Don’t wait. Don’t second guess. Take the plunge and do it now. Before it’s too late.