One of the funniest posts I have read lately was written by an ex-lawyer. Here it is: “Nobody, Not Even Your Mother, Has Such Small Hands” on NPR’s Monkey See blog:
Curious as to who this Linda Holmes person is, and how she knows my mind, I looked her up (yes! crack research skills! thanks, Harvard!) and found that she is a former attorney who then went on to have a series of very cool jobs. According to NPR’s profile of her,
“Holmes began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living-room space to DVD sets of The Wire and never looked back.
Holmes was a writer and editor at Television Without Pity, where she recapped several hundred hours of programming — including both High School Musical movies, for which she did not receive hazard pay. Since 2003, she has been a contributor to MSNBC.com, where she has written about books, movies, television and pop-culture miscellany.”
How did she do this? Will she talk with us? Has anyone else taken this path?
The drop is dramatic: at least half of all new associates at large law firms are women, yet women make up less than 15% of equity partners at those same law firms. Nothing, to my knowledge, suggests that women are rejected in partnership evaluations more often than men, which suggests that women leave on their own steam more often than men. I’ve seen this myself, both inside the firms I worked for and among the women I have mentored since leaving big firm practice. The traditional explanations run along these lines:
- Women find it harder than men to integrate work and family in workplaces that discourage efficiency, such as those that measure service primarily by hours billed
- Women are less willing than men to want to continue putting in the kind of time required of senior big firm lawyers because they define themselves more holistically;
- Women find it culturally easier to leave firms, especially once they have their second child, then men do. Motherhood provides them with social “cover” that fatherhood does not, at least not yet.
- Big firms are still, in general, relatively sexist institutions whose basic structures renders the HR departments less effective in addressing sexism than they might be in different organizations.
What do you think of these explanations? Total BS? Valid in your view? Somewhere in between? What are we leaving out?
Life After Law is a blog about alternative careers for lawyers, and a launchpad for Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the J.D. You Have, to be published in September 2013 by Bibliomotion. We discuss what you can do with a law degree aside from traditional big-firm practice. Are you sitting in your fancy office, trying to figure out what else is out there? Are you still in or considering law school, and not sure whether you’ll enjoy what you do when you graduate? Have you already made the leap from your old practice to something more interesting? What do you think are the joys and challenges of finding nontraditional work after law school? I want to hear all of your stories.
My story is this: After Harvard College and Harvard Law School, I spent twelve years working my way up in large law firms, ultimately making partnership in a well-known international firm. I was a litigator, focusing on intellectual property and working on all kinds of commercial law cases. I slept with my Blackberry, but not exclusively. I earned a ridiculous salary and felt outwardly successful, but I struggled constantly with the question of whether I was on the right path. Part of the struggle was whether it was foolish to even consider happiness as a personal goal, when it seemed to me that so few people were genuinely happy at work. I was lucky, I felt, to have a high-paying, high-status job that I finally believed I could do well and to have clients that I liked. Eventually, the change I was experiencing inside manifested itself outside. After I gave birth to my daughter in 2008, I left my partnership – with no real plan other than to spend time with my adorable child. In retrospect, this might not have been the best planned exit: leaving a lucrative job in a recession, a month before my husband was to be RIFfed at his – but it was the best risk I ever took.
Fast forward to now: I am the Executive Director in Boston of Golden Seeds, the third most active angel investor network in the country. I teach advanced business law at Bentley University to undergraduates and MBA students. Because both are part-time jobs, I spend at least one weekday with my daughter. I take every opportunity I get to mentor people who are considering a change in their legal career. My dream is to share the principles and practices that led me here, and to help everyone who thinks there might be more to life that a law practice that saps their soul. Because there absolutely is.