I Quit My Job!!
Some of you may have noticed that 99% of the posts on this blog are written by Grizzly Dad — which may lead you to wonder, “Where is Grizzly Mom?” Well, for the last three months, while Grizzly Dad was writing this blog, working his day job, and taking care of Baby Bear, I was sailing around the world on the Capitalist Princess, our 40-foot yacht.
Just kidding! Obviously, we don’t have a yacht (though if we ever bought an inflatable raft, I might name it Capitalist Princess). And the Grizzlies haven’t spent much time or money on vacations; I have taken a grand total of two vacations since I started practicing law in 2010. The much less exciting reason why I haven’t contributed to this blog in months is that I have been holed up in my office, drowning in work from my corporate law job, with barely any time to help Grizzly Dad with Baby Bear, let alone blog.
But my prolonged absence from this blog is about to change because I officially quit my job (!) Last week, after seven years as a corporate litigator for a global law firm, I quit — with no new job on the horizon. I had expected to feel nothing but pure euphoria as I packed up the books and knick-knacks in my office, but I have instead been grappling with an unexpected sense of anxiety about my future. Like many people who are seeking financial independence, I had focused almost exclusively on saving up enough money so that I could leave my job — and did not think very much about how I would feel after quitting. But a pervasive sense of uncertainty has clouded my first week of freedom — a sentiment that I have described to Grizzly Dad as “the void.” I’ve identified a couple of reasons why I am flailing around in “the void” and how I plan to snap out of it — which I hope will help some of you who are intrigued by financial independence but feel similar anxiety about falling into “the void” after quitting your jobs.
Why did I quit my job?
Warning: This section is basically a rant about the workaholic culture of large law firms (known as “BigLaw”) and how BigLaw attorneys are expected to devote all of their time to their jobs. If you are not an attorney and (understandably) believe that attorneys are overpaid and should not whine about their jobs, please feel free to skip this part and jump to the next section! Or, if you are a BigLaw attorney and think that BigLaw is WONDERFUL, feel free to skip this part too. (And if you love being a BigLaw attorney, I wonder why you are reading this blog at all, since this blog is about saving up enough money to quit demanding jobs. But I digress).
That warning aside, I want to provide some context as to why I decided to step off the BigLaw treadmill. After all, shouldn’t I be grateful that: (1) I went to law school, and (2) graduated with a high-paying job at an elite law firm? My answer to (1) and (2) is yes. Thank you, law school and BigLaw for providing me with a well-paying career. And my seven years in BigLaw were not completely bleak — my work was often interesting, I had the privilege of working with very talented and bright people, and I made some great friends at my firm.
But a career in BigLaw wasn’t sustainable for me. Here are a few reasons why I walked away from my BigLaw paycheck:
The billable hour model is awful
My measure of worth as a Biglaw attorney was based in significant part on how many hours I billed. I was required to keep track of my time in six-minute increments. The more hours you bill to clients, the more money the law firm makes, and the more “valuable” you are to the law firm. If you don’t bill “enough” hours, you get fired. (Officially, my firm asked that associates bill at least 2,000 hours a year, but I had a number of bosses who said that billing 2,000 hours was not “enough”). Keeping track of your time in six-minute increments is tedious, but the real problem with the billable hour model is that you feel bad taking any time off. Any time that you spend chatting with another associate or lingering at lunch is time that you are not billing to a client. Which is bad, because if your hours are low, you will either be given more work to do (because the Firm thinks that you aren’t busy enough), or you will be fired.
The hours are horrendous
You might think that because my law firm required attorneys to bill 2,000 hours a year, we only had to work 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year. Nope. Billing 2,000 hours a year is different from working 2,000 hours a year. You don’t bill clients for every minute that you are in the office. If you are efficient, you can maybe bill clients for 80% of the hours that you spend in the office. So, in order to bill the minimum of 40 hours a week, I had to work at least 50 hours a week. That doesn’t sound bad either, right? But the reality is, if you are any good, you will be asked to work far more than 50 hours a week. Working 10 hours a day is generally considered to be a “light” day in BigLaw. A heavy day — like when I was in trial or coming up against a major deadline — was 16-18 hours a day. On those heavy days, you do not go home. You barely sleep. You nap in the office for a few hours, splash some cold water on your face, drink another cup of coffee, and keep on working.
The expectations are unreasonable
To be fair, not all BigLaw partners are unreasonable and I worked for some wonderful partners who respected the limited amount of time I spent with my family. But I also worked for some seriously unhinged people who worked all the time and demanded that their associates do the same. While working for these partners, I did the following: (a) worked on Christmas, New Year’s, and every other holiday, (b) canceled pre-paid vacations and/or spent those vacations working, (c) worked 16-18 hour days while pregnant and suffering from severe morning sickness, (d) slept only 3-4 hours a night for months on end; (e) worked while I had high fevers, bad cases of the flu, and other assorted ailments, when I really should have been resting at home, and (f) missed funerals, weddings, and other momentous life events. At other jobs, any of these reasons might allow you to skip a day of work. Not in Biglaw.
There’s more to life than work
Basically, I left Biglaw because I wanted to spend some time doing things other than working. Most importantly, I wanted to help raise Baby Bear, spend time with Grizzly Dad, and see family and friends. I wanted to be able to plan vacations that I know I could take (with Biglaw, you never know when you might have to cancel your vacation), or more simply, plan social events on the weekends. Even more basically, I wanted some time to take care of my health — to sleep, eat right, work out, go to the doctor, and hell, maybe even put on some makeup or brush my hair every now and then.
As I once told Grizzly Dad during a hectic month at work, with tears streaming down my face, “I have no time for anything! I don’t even have time to shave both of my legs in the shower! I only have time for one leg!” That’s right, folks: at a very basic level, I quit my job so I could have time to shower and shave both of my legs.
So why didn’t I celebrate quitting my job?
You would think that I would be celebrating now that BigLaw is in my rear view mirror. I am celebrating — some. I am enjoying the fact that I have time to sleep, shower, and shave both legs. I relish the time I can now spend with Grizzly Dad and Baby Bear. And I am very grateful that Grizzly Dad and I have slashed our spending and ramped up our savings so that we could get to the point where I could walk away from my job. To mitigate the loss of my BigLaw paycheck, Grizzly Dad is continuing to work his day job for another year (we agreed that I should quit my job first because my job was driving me and our family insane), and we are leaving the very expensive Bay Area to move to Kansas City. I am celebrating all of these developments.
But what I am not celebrating is my loss of sense of identity. Despite the horrendous hours and draconian bosses, I was proud to say that I worked at that law firm. After seven years of introducing myself as a lawyer of that firm, I felt an unexpected sense of sadness when I dumped my business cards into the trash can and deleted my biography from the firm’s website.
My sense of sadness intensified when attorneys at my firm asked me what I was doing next. Usually, when attorneys leave my law firm, they move on to prestigious jobs in government, or at large companies or other law firms. But my plan is to start my own little legal practice after we move to Kansas. I plan to offer a mix of family law, bankruptcy, and general litigation services. I hope to continue practicing law – because I enjoy it – but also have time to help raise Baby Bear and do other things with my life. When I tried to explain this somewhat vague plan to other attorneys at my firm, I was met with inquisitive stares and sometimes disapproving looks. Several well-meaning attorneys at my firm to offer to help me find another job. “I can put in a good word for you at [large regional law firm] in Kansas City,” one partner offered. Another partner offered to send my resume to the headquarters of a few corporations in Kansas City. Other attorneys straight-up told me not to open my own legal shop. “You aren’t going to make any money on your own,” one colleague said. Still, other lawyers assumed that my real plan was to be a stay-at-home mom. “It’s OK, plenty of women stay home with their kids,” this particular attorney told me, ignoring my statement about opening up my own legal shop.
These reactions have filled me with doubt. I invested a lot of time and money in building my legal career, and I do not want to throw it all away – especially since there are aspects of practicing law that I enjoy. But I’m bothered by the idea that I have walked away from a successful legal career by quitting my BigLaw job and not moving on to another “prestigious” law job. “Once you step off the treadmill, it’s very hard to get back on,” one partner warned me.
Learning to Love the Void
For the past week, instead of celebrating my escape from BigLaw, I keep worrying about that damn treadmill. Did I step off too soon? Should I have run a little farther, made a little more money, built up my career more? And if I want or need to get back on the treadmill, will I be able to get back on? Or will I be sidelined forever?
What I am slowly realizing is – don’t take advice from the people who are still running on the treadmill. People who are still running on the treadmill will tell you that you need to keep running too. When you have worked a job for many years, it’s hard to envision an alternative path to success. And in American society, we tend to define ourselves according to our job titles and the amount of money we make. So, if you want to “succeed” according to conventional American standards, you should stay on the corporate treadmill, where you can earn a high salary and have a fancy job title.
But these are bullshit reasons to continue running on the treadmill. Success does not have to be defined according to the size of your paycheck or your job title. You can define success according to the satisfaction you have with your job – and more generally, your life. “Success” can mean balancing your job with the rest of your life. Success can mean devoting your life to people and issues you really care about.
To get out of the “void,” I need to re-define success. I need to realize that I can be “successful” even though I don’t have a big paycheck or glittering law firm name behind me. A successful day can be one where I help a client or two with their legal problems in the morning and then help my daughter with her homework in the afternoon.
I also need to stop defining myself according to my job title or my career. It sounds trite, but this is something I found worth repeating – our jobs are what we do, not who we are. I am not worthless as a person now that I am unemployed than I was last week when I was a litigator at a global firm.
Finally, in order to love the “void,” I need to learn to be comfortable with unstructured time. After years of working at a frenetic pace, it is a relief to finally have some free time, but it is also somewhat unsettling. I have had a grand total of six days off, and I have told Grizzly Dad that I already feel like a “waste of space.” But I really haven’t been a “waste of space” – I have spent those days taking care of Baby Bear, running errands, and preparing for our move to Kansas City. And even if I simply caught up on sleep, I wouldn’t be a “waste of space.” (Sadly, working in Biglaw has convinced me that sleep is a waste of time). But I need to figure out how to structure my days so I feel productive “enough” to be satisfied with myself. This will take some time.
Congrats on pulling the trigger! I’m not an attorney, but I’ve worked closely with corporate lawyers for many years. My ~13-year career has been spent in leveraged finance, primarily for private equity buyouts. I’ve always said that as much as my job can be intolerable, it’s nothing compared to the attorneys. Absurd deadlines very frequently set by absurd people for no reason other than it’s not them doing the work. I’ve pushed back hard on fabricated deadlines as my career progressed, often making a point to tell my counsel not to spend a weekend reviewing hundreds of pages of documents that the other side decides to drop on us on a Friday night. Yet despite that heresy, we someone get deals done and stay in business. I’ve noticed much of the time that it’s my clients counsel on the other side of the table fabricating the absurdities to begin with (though not always).
Regarding identify with profession, that’s a tough one and something I’ve explored myself. I’m still a few years away from FI, but make it a point to separate what I do for money from who I am as a person. Easier said than done, I know. I started that process many years ago long before I started pursuing FIRE in full earnest. I think after seeing too many folks in their 50s and 60s who would leave the work world and then be lost. They had sewn up so much of who they view themselves as into their day jobs. Even if you love your job, that can be unhealthy. We invest a lot in our careers, but I think it’s important to view it for what it is: a means to an end. That doesn’t mean you have to toss everything you’ve accomplished in the mental trash when you’re finished with it, but like going to school it’s a phase of life that you’ve transitioned from. If you choose to engage in another day job that uses those skills, that’s great. If not, that’s great too.
I think you might be going through a type of withdrawal right now. I imagine after running at full speed all the time for years, you’re having a mental backlash to disrupting your “normal”. Even if that was an unhealthy state of being. The feeling of “waste” is just part of it. Here is a challenging truth I’ve found many coworkers and friends struggle with: in the grand scheme your job isn’t that important and everyone is replaceable. There may be a few folks on this planet who fall outside that line, but it’s a short list. I’m certainly not on it. Nor do I know anyone who is.
As for the fear of pulling the trigger too early, that’s also part of the backlash. If you’re at this point, money isn’t your problem. Nor do I think you will lack opportunities to generate more if you want to. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that if you needed to pad your income, you could do it with something way less time consuming and stressful than BigLaw. Even if it pays a fraction.
As for the partner and their treadmill: let them have their hamster wheel. There is more to life than burning through time endlessly hurrying from one hour/day/year to the next without being able to differentiate in hindsight.
Best of luck and congratulations on moving to a new, exciting phase of life.
Thank you for the thoughtful comment! I think the way you characterized my feeling — as a “withdrawal”– is apt. It is like withdrawal; working crazy hours is an unhealthy habit, and when you break that habit, you feel a little unsettled and unhinged. I appreciate your perspective, as someone who has worked in leveraged finance with attorneys and is familiar with the workaholic culture. Many of our deadlines are fabricated, which only adds to the frustration (I mind real crises less than manufactured ones! If I am going to have to work all night, it should be for a good reason). Thanks!
I wish I could give you a hug right now. Your colleagues are brain washed. While it wont be easy, it will be worth it. 🙂 Congrats!!
After going from working 10-12 hour days to moving overseas and taking up a position where my days don’t start until late afternoon and I only work 6-7 hour days, I can relate to the unease of ‘the void’. I still marvel at how I wanted this free time for so long, yet I’m still struggling to structure it optimally. Or to stick with the optimal structuring. But these days I sure am grateful to have it, even if it is only baby steps towards optimisation.
Looking forward to seeing more of your posts, Grizzly Mom.
This is the most compelling post I’ve read on your blog. Congratulations. Give yourself all the time you need to figure out your new normal.
Congratulations! I think we are in a relatively similar spot – I’m six years out of HLS, we have a toddler, and am pregnant with #2 (and I think our husbands may have gone to the same undergrad in lovely southern NJ?). I struggle so much with all these issues. I work for a mid-size regional firm, which while much much better in terms of hours (at 80% time my billable requirement is 120/month) still is challenging to manage in terms of time, especially right before a trial or a major brief etc. etc. etc. And plus, there’s all the non-billable stuff, which somehow seems to end up turning the whole thing into a more than full-time job.
Somewhere around 8 months after our first was born, and my dad was dying of cancer, I went on an extended leave to spend more time with my dad/the baby. Then, after my dad died, I went back to work, but was conflicted about it, and still am. I love being a lawyer, but I always feel like I’m not spending enough time with my kid. I’ve also toyed with the idea of opening up my own firm one day, but that’s kind of scary. We don’t make anywhere near the salaries you guys do, and so while my husband loves his job, and I could quit and live off his salary, we don’t have a big nest egg sitting there. (Although on the flip side, we live in a much lower cost of living area). Plus I when I say I love being a lawyer, I mean I like love love it. I love writing briefs, I love researching legal issues, and I don’t want to do anything else – I just want to have more time with my kids (and, like you, to occasionally shave both my legs and go for a long walk).
Anyway, sorry to write you a tome. But I think there’s no chance you’ll regret leaving Biglaw (I know myself well enough to not even have zipped a toe in). Time with the littles at this age is just so precious. On the flip side, I totally get feeling so much of your identity wrapped up with being a lawyer that it’s hard to really conceive of who you are outside of that. If you find any answers let me know. Or perhaps we can start a confused-overachieving-lawyer-mom-who-believes-in-saving-money-for-freedom-over-spending-on-silly-things support group. At least we know we have a membership of two.
Thanks so much for your comment, DebtFreeJD. Being an attorney and a parent is very difficult, as you well know. I think I will delve into this topic more in a future post. Pre-baby, I could handle BigLaw’s crazy hours OK, but post-baby, I found my job near-impossible. It is not sustainable to work our hours when you have a baby at home (and are up at night with the baby). When I returned from maternity leave, my firm expected me to hit the ground running and return to my “normal” work schedule — even though I was extremely sleep-deprived and exhausted from trying to nurse my baby all night and work all day. The (male) partners I worked for did not seem to understand (or care) — they were all fathers who worked crazy hours, but they also had stay-at-home spouses who took care of the baby. One partner described having kids as a “distraction” from our jobs (!) It is a very different experience trying to raise a baby when both parents work full-time (and long hours), and people with stay-at-home spouses often don’t understand how hard it is.
I’m definitely in favor of a confused -overachieving-lawyer-mom-who-believes-in-saving-money-for-freedom-over-spending-on-silly-things support group. Congratulations on baby #2! We hope to add to our family soon. Until then, I’m going to try to open my own little shop and blog about what happens. I’m hoping that this is a way for women like us — who love being attorneys but also want to spend some time with our kids — to “have it all” (though I hate that phrase!) Good luck, and thanks for your thoughtful comment!
Congrats! Takes a ton of guts to do what you did and you did the right thing that sounds like it’s aligned with your family’s values. Thanks so much for sharing your story on this blog.
I’m about to quit very soon, and am going through the same struggles with the void. I recent read Senecas letter #22, which was very inspiring. The part that made me confident I was making the right decision is as follows :
“From business, however, my dear Lucilius, it is easy to escape, if only you will despise the rewards of business. We are held back and kept from escaping by thoughts like these: “What then? Shall I leave behind me these great prospects? Shall I depart at the very time of harvest? Shall I have no slaves at my side? no retinue for my litter? no crowd in my reception room?”
Hence men leave such advantages as these with reluctance; they love the reward of their hardships, but curse the hardships themselves. 10. Men complain about their ambitions as they complain about their mistresses; in other words, if you penetrate their real feelings, you will find, not hatred, but bickering. Search the minds of those who cry down what they have desired, who talk about escaping from things which they are unable to do without; you will comprehend that they are lingering of their own free will in a situation which they declare they find it hard and wretched to endure. 11. It is so, my dear Lucilius; there are a few men whom slavery holds fast, but there are many more who hold fast to slavery.”
Thanks, Mindmischief! This is a great passage; many of us who complain about being “trapped” in our corporate jobs are “lingering of their own free will in a situation which they declare they find it hard and wretched to endure.” Thanks for sharing!
Great post and for those moving in the direction of retiring soon, especially if early, a good warning. Begin making those mind transitions now. As HBFI pointed out, don’t make your job who you are. You now have so many great opportunities to be a mom, a wife, a friend, a volunteer and soon an entrepreneur. Embrace it, love it, and realize all of those things are much more valuable than being a BigLaw attorney. Let the Momma Bear roar.
Keep on moving.
Congratulations, and thanks for such an honest post.
If you are going to be in the Bay area for a year, you might consider doing some pro bono work with one of the many legal services programs in SF. They always have a desperate need for help with the types of cases you want to do in your private practice (family, bankruptcy) so it might be a way to stay connected with the law and get some training as well, as working with individuals can be quite different from corporate litigation. Also, it sounds as if you do want to practice law in some way on an ongoing basis once you go to KC. If so, it might be worth talking with some of those in house counsel/ regional firms – not because of any “prestige” factor, but to explore whether those kinds of places would give you the work/life balance you are looking for. I think that the hours and expectations might be very different than SF, and part time might be a possibility as well. Putting out your own shingle is also a great option of course — but there is a whole other set of stresses that comes along with running your own firm. You have more control over your hours, but I don’t think you ever “leave” work if it is your own shop. I’m a lawyer as well, made the switch from big law to a non profit many years ago. Some of the happiest lawyers I know are those who ended up as in house counsel.
Enjoy your “sabbatical” — it will fly by!
Thanks so much, hbr. That is good advice; I’ve heard some good things about regional firms in Kansas City (and the Midwest more generally) and how attorneys at those firms generally have a better work/life balance than their peers slaving away at BigLaw firms in big cities on the coasts. And getting involved in pro bono is a great idea — it’s a good way to build up more experience and get plugged into referral networks. Thanks for your comment — it’s great to hear from other attorneys who are trying to achieve that elusive work / life balance.
Congratulations Grizzly Mom! Time to enjoy life to the fullest! With your valuable experience as a lawyer, you will be able to help many people in Kansas City, and be rewarded while working on your own terms. Don’t be afraid, an amazing path is ahead. Enjoy the time with yourself and your family. Please keep us posted!
This was really fascinating. I’m not a lawyer, but I know a few. I have at least one acquaintance who was in BigLaw, and left when she had her first kid (now has 3). I’ve read a ton about it, and how it works. And frankly, sounds like hell on earth.
I am an engineer, and at least in my industry (or maybe it’s my company COO), it’s a similar culture. Though maybe not to the same degree. 50 hours is pretty much expected in many areas – 60 if you want to get promoted. I did manage, eventually, to find myself a spot and a boss where that is not required. But to be honest? My career upward trajectory is over (I hit the glass ceiling first, around age 41, and then said “well, eff working the long hours if all you are going to do is fire/ lay off/ drive away/ pass over any senior female”.)
To be honest I’m pretty happy with my flexible schedule.
Another thing – my FIL was a lawyer. He graduated from law school in the late 60’s and went to work for a big firm. He stuck it out for a few years – just long enough to get the experience he needed, then he opened up his own shop in his home town. He did divorces, wills, house closings. Eventually got a PT job as the town attorney (which came with a pension). Nice middle class lifestyle – enough that he was able to stop doing divorces.
Having his own shop meant that his commute was through the kitchen to the office (attached to the house, separate entrance). He was home a lot for the kids (my MIL was his legal secretary, unpaid).
I agree though, if you say you are leaving the treadmill, people give you the “deer in the headlights” look.
Thanks so much for your comment, Maria. I have a few friends here in the Bay Area who are female engineers, and I know you guys work long hours as well (and I have heard similar comments about the glass ceiling in that industry and the woeful absence of senior female engineers, which is depressing). But I’m happy to hear about your flexible schedule. I like the idea of incorporating work into my life — instead of surrendering my entire life to my work. Hopefully, I’ll be able to strike that balance when I open up own little practice. (And I hope to have a “commute” like your FIL, which involves walking from the kitchen to the office!) Thanks for reading and commenting!
Congratulations! I moved from big international law firm to very small firm and the change has been so great. I bill about 1600 hours a year (though my contract only requires 1500), but I do very little nonbillable work (because I have other priorities and I’m comfortable with where my priorities lie, and have already achieved FI so I’m not scared of losing my job). I work from home 1-2 days a week, and I have one child in all day pre-k. I’m really happy with the set up right now. Part of the reason is because I know I can leave at any time, so I stand up for myself in terms of what I’m willing to do at work. Plus, there is a benefit to working at a small firm rather than going solo. In my case, one of the attorneys is very senior and a strong rainmaker. Also, when we go on vacation, we cover for each other. I think I’ll probably work even less if we are lucky enough to have another child in the future, but having a continued legal career, even though it’s no longer tied to a prestigious firm, is mostly a positive right now.
Awesome to hear that you quit biglaw. I left biglaw in June of last year and went over to a state government gig. It’s a totally different world to not have to worry about billing and getting yelled at by some partner for not billing enough!
Thanks, Financial Panther! I might miss a few things about my former life in Biglaw, but I don’t think I will miss being yelled at about my hours. Enjoy practicing law without the BigLaw shackles!
As a CPA in a public accounting firm, I can very much relate to your experience. Before I was married, I’d often stay up all night long on Friday in order to get files completely done by the time partners were ready to review them on Saturday. I can tell you what I’ve done in similar minute increments for any day over the last 12 years…it’s all saved in my handy Excel sheet (ultimately input into the firm’s billing system, of course). We have to bill at least 60 hours a week from mid January until mid April – but the reality is that there’s always another deadline and another client to wrap up, so it truly never ends.
I haven’t walked away yet, but I do think often about how much of my identity and self-worth is wrapped up in my job. It’s weird, but I can’t even imagine working a 40-hour job; here, going to 40 hours is officially considered going part-time, and there’s a definite level of associated stigma and halted career progression attached – sad! Because of the high-pressure situations, there are a lot of small victories that keep the adrenaline rush going, apparently…but as you note, it’s not a good way to burn through one’s years! I think the comment above about how this really feels like withdrawal is very accurate, because in a very real sense the stress levels you’ve been operating under have now created a withdrawal situation.
I don’t know how I’ll deal with this either when the time comes, but I wish you all the best and applaud your courageous action. And I look forward to hearing about the great ways you find to truly LIVE life over the next year and beyond!
Congratulations on pulling the trigger and leaving Big Law. I was at a billable hour law firm for almost 7 years and left for an in-house job. When I left, the partners asked why I would not want to stay since I would be eligible for partner soon. I just did not want to deal with the constant stress of billing and giving up my after-hours for networking to build a book of business. Work was non-stop. I never could take a real vacation and my relationships were suffering. After I left, I was a much happier person – got married and had our first child. I have been thinking about how much longer I would want to work for someone else in the corporate world. This post is an inspiration. Good luck with the next chapter in your life!
I think I might have just the perfect idea for you, which is one I plan to try pursue, but I’m still around four years away from FI.
At least in Brazil (which is where I live), all big law firms do some pro bono work (mostly for image / reputational purposes, let’s admit it), but obviously everybody hates to be involved in it as the hours are not billable. I assume it is the same in the US, right?
So my idea is: since the financial reward is no longer your primary reason to keep working, why don’t you offer yourself to be the pro bono partner / coordinator of any law firm of your choice? The firm could pay you the compensation of a junior associate (for example) and you could do all the pro bono work, but in your own terms. And by “your own terms” I mean that you would only work, for example, 3 times a week, or whatever seems reasonable for you.
I’m sure any firm would love to have a kick ass lawyer taking care of the pro bono in exchange of a relatively small compensation. On your end, you will be able to use the structure of the firm, to keep interacting with bright people, to keep doing what you enjoy and still have a quite prestigious business card, all while having a decent work life balance.
Why assume that part time jobs simply do not exist in big law? Let create those part time jobs!
Hi Grizzly Mom! I totally hear you on “the void.” I quit my high-stress tech gig about 8 months ago. I didn’t want to miss out on any more time with our son, and I was tired of the scheduling nightmare of daycare, home maintenance, dinners, activities. And, yes, I wanted time to shave both legs too!
The void was challenging. The upside was that I channeled my anxiety about it into volunteering, working out, and ganging with family in friends. I eventually got a groove, and you will too! Welcome to the other side! ????
Congratulations on quitting!
Since you are planning another baby soon — keep in mind, what’s necessary for growing another human being and caring about it afterwards is a very very much cultural thing. If you ever feel guilty about taking too much time for it, look up maternity and parental leave in Northern Europe. And being a SAHP does not mean it has to be forever!
I’m a couple months away from leaving my Tech job behind, but I’ve also been a couple months away from leaving for over a year now. Every time I get to my financial goal, I decide it’s probably not enough and stick around longer. I’m really excited to not know what lies ahead, but it seems that almost everyone in my family is apprehensive about it. I constant get questions like: “Won’t your life be meaningless if you quit your job?” This idea that a job gives your life meaning is very puzzling to me. Now, I realize that it gives some people meaning, but why the insistence that everyone fit into the same cookie-cutter mold?
So enjoy the “void,” I, for one, think that any action that leads you out of a bad place is a step towards a better future, even if you don’t know exactly what that future will look like.
I think the key is to find meaning outside of 9-5 job. Keep in mind that even if you quit your ‘job’ it doesn’t mean you don’t do other things.
Get involved in local politics. Start your own small business. Start your own large business. Join the board of a non-profit. Just spend time with your family. Many, many things you can do to get meaning outside of a ‘normal’ job.
Change is hard! I am a current SAHM, have been for 5 years. Before that, I was a 1st grade teacher, and had 5 other jobs (bartender, tutor, summer camp instructor, etc.), as most teachers do. I thought for sure that I’d substitute teach, get a part-time job, or watch other kids with mine, to keep income up, feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, etc. However, I’ve done none of it! I’ve taken my 3 and 5 year old to museums, hikes, nature centers, mommy and me classes, the library for hours, and the like. And I’ve enjoyed it, really. Exhausted most days, and they are going to part-time preschool now. But, with this small amount of time I have with my boys, before they start school full time, and I go back to work, I have found self-worth in making my boys have experiences, often, that working parents can’t.
While other moms have suggested I start a dog-walking business, sell make-up, leggings, nail care, I haven’t. I have spent almost every moment, time and energy, focused on them. And we have a small house with not as many toys, but we get our fill of life being together. I think you will find in a few weeks, that time together with your family is SO much more rewarding (and importantly, fleeting) than a J-O-B.
Good luck, give it time!
Congratulations! I can relate to the fear of being “worthless”.
I always wonder about the women who don’t quit. Are they magical? Did they feel this way when they had kids too? Is a full time working parent all about endurance? If not for money why do they do it?
If all women feel this way and we all start going down the path of quitting or part time work then we are part of the reason why there are no women in boardrooms or women in senior management etc. it’s obviously a personal choice but I can help feeling I have to hold a torch to future women to have good role models etc.
Congratulations on your big move! I can relate to so much of this. I was there myself just last year. I quit not because I had children, but because I didn’t find the work meaningful anymore, especially considering that I had a new husband who I never saw and all of the planned vacations that we had to cancel to meet the demands of my clients (and partners). I was also getting burnt out and knew (or needed to know) that there was more to life than billable hours and making partnership. It wasn’t easy – and it still isn’t – finding my identity outside of my work. However, since quitting, my anxiety has gone away, and I’ve managed to travel with my husband to Hawaii, Japan, Tokyo and Spain, creating beautiful memories together along the way.
Perhaps we can create a support group for lawyers who leave BigLaw to pursue non-traditional paths. It would help to know that we are not alone.
That group sounds like a great idea. I bet the membership is huge.
Great story Grizzly Mom! So glad to have found your blog. I am always on the look out for lawyers writing about their experiences and somehow missed yours over the past few months. I don’t know if you draw comfort in this but I think your story is pretty common among the ex-Biglaw group. Figuring out your identity can be tough when you’ve spent the last 7 years pushing it down thanks to the all-consuming nature of work. I hope you’ll continue to update the blog with posts about how you’re finding the transition, both the good stuff and the bad. We all know there is no perfect solution to doing the hard work necessary.
My previous job was also not a healthy environment (I worked they day I was developing a fever (the flu), and put my chills down to the high AC in the building). It can be a shock mentally to not experience that environment anymore, and it took me a long while to realize how bad of an environment it had been for me. I’ve had people ask me if I’d work there again (when my current company went through layoff is the fall). No, I wouldn’t work at that site. It’s a large international company, so I wouldn’t rule out a different location, but where I was the systemic ‘putting out fires’ as the way to function stayed through management changes, so it was more than just my boss. In thinking back, it was in many ways like an abusive relationship. They kept you so busy you didn’t have the energy to look for a job. Not that you thought you were up to what was posted (big lack of self worth) after the feedback they gave you. The company also inflated the pay just enough few other places locally could be competitive. I was in crisis questioning if I’d made a horrible career decision in college, and now had 10 years of experience in it, was this going to be the rest of my life?!?
My current company actually stands by its values, and while no place is perfect strives for a better work life balance. My managers recognize my strengths and support me! People ask, but I’m not looking at this time. If they were to leave, I’d consider it. They wanted someone with experience and value it, but I’m in a different role in the same industry and I didn’t make a horrible mistake. 😀
Congratulations for recognizing there is more to life than biglaw
It’s unfortunate that in that arena, part time work is not an option—a shared position?? Branching out on your own is a brilliant solution
I’m in medicine and have been able to carve out a lifestyle where I can work more or LESS. I’m currently in the more mode now (son in college and another one in high school so my daytime hours I fill with work) and we are trying to finish off the mortgage
I speculate if and when I do stop practicing medicine I would still volunteer at our local community clinic, start painting, more yoga and beach walks and more time w family
Great post. I’m a relatively young physician working at an academic centre, and I’m finding it very difficult to go against the prevailing belief that your worth is determined by how much you work and how much you earn. I am referred to as “the one who takes vacation all the time” because I take 4-6 weeks of vacation per year, which feels essential to my happiness and mental well-being, and is entirely unpaid, so it has no negative impact on the institution or anyone else (I still do just as much call as any other physician). People also look at me as if I’m insane when I suggest that I may retire as early as 50. But I remind myself on a regular basis that life is about far more than work and that I’d rather be happy and not earning as much as my colleagues than rolling in money but never taking time for myself.
Congratulations and good luck with the transition. I’m also a class of 2010 big law associate (M&A) and feeling like I’m about to lose it and quit on the spot at any moment for the reasons you describe in your post. Enjoy your freedom!
Congrats! You will not regret this decision. I had similar withdrawal/phantom-billable-hour-syndrome. I realized as time passed that what I was missing was the amount of billable work I was doing just to support the overhead necessary to have a firm where I could work that hard. In the year+ I have been out on my own, I have made more working less because I didn’t have to support the overhead.
Years ago, the technology was not yet advanced enough to easily open a solo shop and expect to handle multi-party, complex litigation. But things have changed drastically in a very short period, and I suspect younger attorneys are going to start to figure this out faster, leaving BigLaw in larger numbers after learning how to actually practice law (or at least a version of it). Meanwhile, BigLaw clients are getting wiser to the racket.
FWIW, I found lawyerist lab blog and ernie the attorney to be great resources for setting up my own shop and doing it profitably from about week four on.
Ultimately, you would have not had this job to leave had you not had the smarts and grit to handle 14,000+ billable hours in BigLaw hell. You may have left an office, parking space, and various perks behind, but you still have those things that matter, and can now focus your tremendous gifts on the people that matter. Godspeed.
I have been working at a billable job for years; this last one I’ve been at for 20 years. I started in 1999. I’m 58 now. I’m finally going to resign from this company. I work for an environmental consulting company. Every thing I do has to be billed to a project. If I have no work for even a half hour, it has to go on “admin time” which is not good. I’m not an administrative assistant. My title is Publications Specialist and I have been working in the “Publications Department” for years. I format/edit large documents and every minute I work gets billed to the client. If you are consistently too unbillable for an extended period, like a few days, you will hear from them. You’ll be pressured to find work, even if you have no control over the workload, or workflow, they expect you to be busy at least 7 hours every day. If you aren’t, you will be layed off after awhile. I stuck it out being a billable employee for over 20 years because I reasoned that, if I was unbillable, that means I would not have any work, and I wouldn’t want to be at a job if I had no work because I’d be bored. Who wants to go to a job in the morning and have nothing to do. But now that I look back, I think the billable goal is fine, but they need to lower the billable goal. It’s very stressful, and it’s too much pressure to expect a person to be cranking out deadlines every hour of the day nonstop. It’s finally wore me out. I don’t know what I want to do. I’m certainly not young, but I could work another 8-10 years doing something! I won’t ever get another billable job again, I won’t ever want another job where I’m working on a computer or documents all day, every day. I should have left 10 years ago, but somehow time flys and now that I’m turning 58 in December, I’m going to jump off the tread mill. I’m sick of working for a Corporation with all the bullshit rules employees have to do that actually distract from the actual job duty. I could be slammed 3 days in a row on a horrible, stressful deadline, but if I have no work at the following 2 days, they aren’t happy. Your article makes sense to me now, and I wonder why I stuck it out so long at a job that had me soooo stressed out too many days. I got used to being in stress mode, that was my life working for a big Corporation that used the “Billable” model. If you are miserable with your job, leave. FInd something else before the stress starts to affect other things in your life; your mood, your health, your relationships. Get off the treadmill and start being happier.
I have been working at a billable job for years; this last one I’ve been at for 20 years. I started in 1999. I’m 58 now. I’m finally going to resign from this company. I work for an environmental consulting company. Everything I do has to be billed to a project. If I have no work for even a half hour, it has to go on “admin time” which is not good. I’m not an administrative assistant. My title is Publications Specialist and I have been working in the “Publications Department” for years. I format/edit large documents and every minute I work gets billed to the client. If you are consistently too unbillable for an extended period, like a few days, you will hear from them. You’ll be pressured to find work, even if you have no control over the workload, or workflow, they expect you to be busy at least 7 hours every day. If you aren’t, you will be laid off after awhile. I stuck it out for years being a billable employee because I reasoned that if I was unbillable, that means I would not have any work, and I wouldn’t want to be at a job if I had no work because I’d be bored. Who wants to go to a job in the morning and have nothing to do. But now that I look back, I think the billable goal is fine, but they need to lower the billable goal. It’s very stressful, and it’s too much pressure to expect a person to be cranking out deadlines every hour of the day nonstop, every day. It’s finally wore me out. I don’t know what I want to do. I’m not young, but I could work another 8-10 years doing something! Or I could just retired early. I won’t have a house payment by next year and I’ve saved enough in my 401K the last 20 years. I don’t even care how much I have. Money isn’t everything and I can find other work. I don’t consider myself a professional. I’m an employee who was too loyal for too long. But I won’t ever get another billable job again, I won’t ever want another job where I’m working on a computer or deadline day after day either. I find computer work very unhealthy for the mind and body. Nothing more aggravating than starting at blue light all day 2 feet away from you. I should have left 10 years ago, but somehow time flys and now that I’m turning 58 in December, I’m going to jump off the treadmill. I’m sick of working for a Corporation with all the bullshit rules employees have to do that actually distract from the actual job duty. I could be slammed 3 days in a row on a horrible, stressful deadline, but if I have no work the following 2 days, they aren’t happy. Reading your article is more confirmation that I’m making the right decision this time in my life. You can get used to being in stress mode all the time and that becomes “your life”, but it’s very unhealthy to live that way for so long. It does affect your life negatively outside the job. If you are miserable with your job, leave. FInd something else before the stress starts to affect other things in your life; your mood, your health, your relationships. Get off the miserable treadmill and start being happier. There’s other jobs out there. If you love what you do, than work for yourself or smaller company that isn’t so money hungry. I will feel so free and happy and relaxed when I no longer feel like I have invisible chains to this computer! My job allowed me to buy my home 20 years ago, so I’m not ungrateful, but I realize now there were other jobs I could have done, or other companies that probably weren’t as stressful.
This nonbillable lifestyle adds another element of stress to a job that takes its toll after awhile. I’ve had enough, and I’m moving on. I’m not even sure what I want to do. I’m just going to take some time off to detox my addicted mind from working in a deadline oriented shop for the last 20 + years. I’ve worked for billable oriented companies since I was 28. Enough is enough!
Love your article. I love how you prioritized the “correct” way. Why so many of us prioritize a job over happiness and family. After looking back, I don’t know why!? Is it what we think society and people expect of us, of how we should live our lives. I think so. I also work for a “Billable Model” corporation, but they aren’t Lawyers, they are environmental consultants. Every document we produce is a fire alarm deadline. Employees are expected to work OT, work weekends if needed because the deadline is the most important thing in your life that day or week. Forget family gatherings or holidays, or birthdays if you have a deadline. If there is time after you get that deadline out, maybe it won’t be too late to show up late for Xmas eve, and maybe you’ll have some time between 9 and 12pm to try and have some fun late at night baking Thanksgiving pies! If not, oh well, the deadlines are the priority, they come first over everything. Well, that’s been my life working for an environmental consulting company for the last 20 years. I’ve finally decided to retire early. This lifestyle is NOT worth it and I’m done being unhappy with my job, and being stressed out Mon-Friday. I got hired at 38 and I’m finally quitting at 58. I can’t do this job another year, certainly can’t do it til I’m 62 or 65! I’ll prob have a stroke at my keyboard if I tried! I’m selling my home of 20 years and downsizing so I don’t have to be a slave to Corporate Billable Model life anymore. I’m resigning end of this month and moving on to a much more relaxed and enjoyable life before another 2 years go by, and I’m still regretting not quitting 2 years ago!