In September of 2013, I emancipated myself from the suffocating practice of law. After four long years of tiresome toil, I finally realised that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was not worth the journey.
I wanted to experience happiness and satisfaction in the now, not in 20 or 30 years after I had acquired a nest egg doing something I detested.
So, I quit. And when I reflect back on it now, you know what I think? It was the best damn decision of my life. Not only am I pleased that I get to pursue my passions today, but I’m also thrilled that I no longer have to waste my days punching a clock inside a legal sweatshop. I recently reflected on precisely why I’m happy to be out of the law game.
Here is my top 10 list of reasons why I’m thrilled that I left Big Law:
1. I can work where I want, when I want, on what I want — firms definitely vary when it comes to face time, but my second law firm valued it deeply. Partners would take notice of when we showed up, when we left, and whether or not we came in on the weekends. I was a slave to the nonsensical strictures of an outdated corporate mentality while being forced to slug away at something that I generally did not enjoy. Not a great way to spend the majority of my life. But everything is different now. I’m the boss. I’m the decision maker. I decide when, where, what, who, how, why, and so on. I’m CEO, bitch. Oh, well, there is that little issue of a drastic pay cut, but I’m working on that. Have some patience for god’s sake!
2. I no longer feel guilty on weekends for not billing — the only folks who will understand this one are current or former Big Law attorneys. When you join a large law firm, you quickly recognise that there is a highly annoying mentality that overtly encourages associates to work ad nauseum. That means late into the night on weekdays, and all day on weekends and holidays. You are expected to be available at all times, and subtly prodded to work as much as possible. When you pull an all-nighter (or three) to slave away on a case, the partners will pat you on the back. Why? Because those hefty billable hours means more cash for the partnership. Associates soon recognise that beaucoup hours will earn the good graces of their superiors. As this mentality seeps into each associate, a curious thing happens. The sycophantic bunch begins to internalize this core belief, and before they know it, they feel genuinely guilty when they are not working.
I’m not talking about slacking off while at the office; I’m referring to feeling guilty for not staying at work until midnight. Or for taking a Saturday off to go to the zoo with the family. Or to head to Miami in the dead of winter for a much needed playcation. It’s strange, but during my time in Big Law, I was never able to fully enjoy a hard earned vacation. I was always haunted by an ominous feeling of guilt, and constantly worried about how the partners and associates would perceive my desire to get away. It poisoned my free time and destroyed my ability to relax. So long, billable guilt. I will not miss thee.
3. No more doc review — the worst of the worst tasks for Big Law associates is document review. For a bunch of knowledge thirsty academics who sincerely enjoy mental stimulation, this is a torturously boring assignment that I will never, ever miss. I spent over 1,000 hours as a first year associate plugging away at this awful task. But I’m not saying you should take it lightly. Truthfully, document review is a very important part of the litigation process, and sloppy work during this phase can lead to massive disasters down the road. For those attorneys who have been given this task, take it seriously. I’m just glad I never have to do it again.
4. I don’t have to attend nonsensical networking events — I love meeting new people. I am a prototypical extrovert, and derive a great deal of energy from social interactions. But law related mingling events are terrible because you end up interacting with a bunch of lawyers. And if you haven’t realised this yet, I’m not particularly fond of most Big Law lawyers. First off, they are usually incapable of talking about anything other than work. Why? Because they are boring as balls. Second, they are typically very awkward. But one thing I will give them credit for is that they like to drink. The American Bar Association estimates that 15-20% of all lawyers are alcoholics. That always makes for an entertaining event. Watching a bunch of overworked introverts get completely hammered is an awesome recipe for hilarious antics. But hell, I’d rather get sauced with my friends. So, peace out networking events!
5. I no longer have to socialize and work with people I don’t like — yikes, that sounded a little harsh. I definitely liked and respected a number of attorneys I worked with. But, lo and behold, there were a bunch of them that were either painfully uninteresting, hyper competitive, or egregiously passive aggressive. That’s the nature of Big Law. It naturally attracts these types of people. Grabbing a pint with my coworkers and hearing about their weekend plans was as enjoyable as sitting on a block of ice while naked.
6. I’m not checking my blackberry every 15 minutes — most law firms expect you to check your email the first thing in the morning, the last thing at night, and every 15 minutes in between. Well, I’m glad to report that I no longer have to partake in this terrible ritual. I will admit, however, that I am constantly checking my email and phone to see what customer inquiries are coming in for my new business. Even though this is a similar process, it is done in the interest of my own venture. Accordingly, I actually look forward to seeing these messages roll in. Strange, I know, but now that it pertains to something I’m passionate about, it makes it so much better.
7. I can plan vacations in advance — when you work for a firm, you are beholden to its needs. That means no matter what vacation you have planned, you must be willing to cancel it if the need arises. One of my former coworkers was asked to forego HIS OWN WEDDING to meet the needs of his trial team. Guess what? He obliged. Yep, the awesome power of firm guilt eroded his soul and persuaded him to reschedule his own wedding for the sake of the case. And he wasn’t even one of the primary attorneys on the case! As a thank you, the firm did pay for his honeymoon… but was it worth it to cancel an entire wedding? Ask his ex-wife.
For those of you who are familiar with patent litigation, these remaining three items are for you. Enjoy!
8. I don’t have to hear idiotic and lame patent law jokes about 35 USC Section 101, 102, or 103 — truism #1: most lawyers are nerds. If you go to any law school, you’ll see what I mean. Truism #2: most engineers are nerds. If you go to any engineering courses, you’ll see what I mean. Now take the Euler diagram intersection of these two sets, and you have a group of ultra introverted uber nerds. See illustration below:
Now, when I say “nerd,” I don’t mean smart … I mean socially challenged. Along with this blaring inability to kick back and have a normal conversation comes a perversely narrow and cheesy sense of humour. When you combine these characteristics with a sincere fascination of patent law, the monstrous resultant is a slew of awful, painful, idiotic, and horribly unfunny patent jokes. If you’re a patent attorney, you most certainly know what I mean. If you’re not, you’ll just have to take my word that these jokes are the goddamn worst. Peace out, butchers of comedy.
9. I don’t have to keep current on the boring updates in the Federal Circuit — patent law opinions are probably the most uninteresting pieces of literature ever written. The nuanced updates and changes provided by each patent case are mind-numbingly boring to read about. To stay abreast of the newest precedential rulings, I would read these cases regularly. Why is the Federal Circuit the place to go? Because it is essentially the highest court for almost all patent cases. Sure, the occasional patent dispute will make it to the Supreme Court, but for the most part, cases make their last stop at the Fed Circuit. I never liked reading these opinions, but I did it regularly to stay current. No more, dear friends … no more.
10. No more reading patents — ok, I know what you’re thinking … why did I become a patent attorney if I hate reading patents? Well, the job sounded cool when it was first described to me. Everyone praised the profession as a wonderful union of technology and law. Attorneys in the field tantalized me by stating that I would be representing tech giant clients on headline grabbing matters. Admittedly, the job does seem kind of cool at a high level. You are protecting innovation, fostering technological growth, and working with brilliant pioneers at the forefronts of their fields. But it’s the nitty-gritty that blows chunks. The day-to-day grind of discovery responses, document review, court filings, and so on that detracted me. The one piece that I hated the most was reading and analysing patents. Personally, I think patents suck. They are ambiguous and dense, and intentionally designed to be as broad and vague as possible (without getting rejected by the USPTO). The brand of legalese employed in these documents is deplorable above and beyond any obnoxious legal vernacular you will find elsewhere. Awful sauce.
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