Checking in

31 Jan

January 31, 2013: I said “Goodbye” to Manatt and proclaimed myself “retired” from the practice of law.

January 31, 2014: I received W-2s from Manatt AND from Bet Tzedek and realized that maybe I can’t retire from the Laws of the Universe. Apparently I have a “Hotel California”-type of relationship with the law … I can check out any time I’d like, but I can never leave!

I also learned that the Universe may have a wicked sense of humor, as it included a notice with my Bet Tzedek W-2 that informed me that “based on [my] annual earnings, [I] may be eligible for the earned income tax credit … a tax credit for low-income individuals.”



Now there’s a fine bit of irony: Based on my Bet Tzedek salary, I could qualify to be my own pro bono client!

Alas(? — clearly not the “right” word, but I can’t come up with the proper transition), that ends up NOT being the case wrt my 2013 income. Although the “you now qualify to be your own pro bono client” outcome would’ve offered a neurotic bit of life nuance, the truth is even crazier: In 2013, I worked precisely 1 month at Manatt and 2.5 months at Bet Tzedek. My take-home pay for my 1 month at Manatt was ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE larger than what I earned during my 2.5 months at BTz.

There will be no 2013 EITC for me. Boo.

Or, I mean: Yay!

Or … jeez, I dunno. This is all just kinda f-ed up…

Everyone knows that Big Law attorneys make more money than Legal Aid attorneys but honest-to-goodness I had NO IDEA how MASSIVELY HUGE the income gap is. It’s actually pretty despicable. Although my Partner-level job at Manatt absolutely was much more stressful, WAY more time-intenstive, and arguably required a higher level of intellectual processing given the greater range of legal topics I was expected to master than what my current part-time, topic-specific staff attorney position at BTz requires, I assure you that the stress/work-load disparity ratios do not come anywhere close to balancing against the salary disparity ratios.

So, for all my Big Law friends who are bitching and whining about how they got “totally screwed” this year I say: Please, go take another pro bono case and this time really get to know your client and what his/her life is like, then let me know if you still feel like being a whiney little b*tch so that I can punch you in the throat.

And for all the well-meaning folks who continue to worry about my decision to freely forego the Mad Money offered by Big Law in favor of the chump change that is sparingly parsed out by the do-gooder world, feel free to take me out to lunch and judge for yourself whether or not I am presently succeeding in life.

And lest anyone believes I’m arguing that Big Law lawyers “should” make less $ or that Legal Aid attorneys “should” make more $, allow me to assure you that the only thing I think anyone SHOULD do, is whatever makes them happiest.

The day before I left Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the 2nd named partner, Tom Phelps, took me to lunch and told me that he wasn’t sure if I was brave or crazy, but he could tell that I was serenely content with the decision I had made. With a great deal of incredulity in his voice, he asked me to explain why I was leaving Manatt to pursue my new passion for neuroscience. Here’s what I told him:

Tom, there are something like 7.5 billion people on this planet and as near as I can tell there are approximately 7.5 billion ways to be happy, but ONLY ONE way to be unhappy and that is to live your life according to somebody else’s expectations. I respect and admire you and the Firm you built and I know you respect and admire what I’ve done here, partially because it reminds you of yourself — Like you, I’m a very good lawyer, I’ve made good money, and I enable our associates and partners to make a positive difference in the world. That’s what you did when when you were young and it’s what you continue to do now and I can see that this life still makes you totally happy.

I can tell by the concern in your voice that you want me to have that same happiness — but here’s the thing … That happiness is YOUR happiness, not mine. My happiness is elsewhere — at least for now. You never know what the future holds, but for now I know that I need to live my own life and it’s not here.

After a thoughtful pause, Tom replied: I know that you will succeed at whatever you do and you also know that you will always have a place here.

Here we are 1 year later and it turns out Tom was totally right: I am absolutely succeeding in my current life and I actually still DO have a place at Manatt:

  • Q and I fulfilled our promise to have lunch together at least once a month — no mean feat given how much he travels!
  • I attend a regular book club with a couple Manatt partners
  • I continue to work with other Manatters on pro bono matters albeit in a totally different capacity
  • I go on coffee runs and grab lunch with my “ex-work husband” so often that I don’t think that the “ex” label is appropriately applied to our relationship title, but what else can you call it when you no longer actually work together?? and
  • Lisa the Plant to continues to thrive in my house even as she reminds me of “home”
Celebrating 1 Year of Living Away from Manatt

Celebrating 1 Year of Living Away from Manatt

Manatt = The Front Desk Clerk at the “Hotel California” that hosts my legal career.

3 Responses to “Checking in”

  1. Cheryl February 1, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    As an access to justice and nonprofit lifer, I love this post and it made me laugh out loud (while at a public interest job fair no less). Kudos for following the path to your happiness.

  2. Laska, Joseph February 2, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    I dare you to punch me in the throat.

    • justadventures February 2, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

      I can’t do that – it would be spousal abuse.

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