Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Job I Took (Delayed Post)

I left law firm life for an in-house role at a government agency. My role involves negotiating and documenting investments. There is a fair amount of substantive overlap with my prior work.

Here are the pros and cons I identified during the interview process with updates (in italics) as to how I perceive each issue now that I've been on the job for six months.

Pros

  • Interesting work that would make use of my current skill set, but also require building out skills in a new practice area. This has held true. I like that an assignment involving a deal type that is newer to me is often followed by a deal type I know cold. It's an ideal mix that makes me feel like I'm growing while maintaining confidence. However, learning now substantive areas of the law is much more challenging without the support a firm offers (both in terms of resources and partner expertise).
  • Investing is at the core of this agency's work. I'm convinced that the best in-house opportunities with a given organization are the roles that most closely align with that organization's lead profit center (the tip of the spear, so to speak). My current role fits this description, but there is still a need to improve the business people's perception of their counterparts in legal. (One very senior person in the organization was overheard saying that the agency doesn't need lawyers because the business team can negotiate their own documents just as well--despite that I have observed first-hand that this isn't true, it's a problem that this perception exists at senior levels in the organization.)
  • Collegiality. Many times during my orientation, employees emphasized a culture of niceness. With very few exceptions, this has held true. What a welcome change!
  • Predicable work schedule with reasonable hours. This is the chief reason I went in house, so it's important that the promise of reasonable hours has been kept. I've worked past midnight once--for a project involving the managers of multiple profit centers that needed to wrap up quickly after six months of work. I generally do not check my email on weekends and leave work at a reasonable hour. As a result of my reasonable work schedule, I've been able to sleep regularly, exercise regularly and spend more time on hobbies.
  • Fantastic location. Words cannot describe what a relief it was to stop commuting to and from Dallas. I generally drive to work, but have walked a few times.
  • Pay. Law firms increased associate pay during my first week at the new job and I experienced some pangs of jealousy. Having said that, my new salary is equal to my prior law firm salary if you take commuting and lodging expenses, significantly cheaper benefits and pension into account. 
  • Defined benefit plan. We are required to contribute 7.7% of our gross salary to the plan. This reduces cash flow, but I would be saving that money anyway. Ultimately, I'm optimistic that participating in this plan will be a wonderful thing for my future, but there are plenty of horror stories out there so I continue to max out my pre- and post-tax savings opportunities. I save at least 50% of my salary each month.

Cons

  • Unpaid maternity leave. This still frustrates me given that I didn't have a chance to participate in big law's generous parental leave programs. The solve here is to stockpile vacation and sick days (a solution that comes with its own frustrations).

Issues that I didn't emphasize during my decision making process that were/are important (in no particular order):

  • New employees aren't eligible for healthcare benefits until they've worked for the agency for 60 days. The solve is to rely on COBRA benefits from your prior job and start your job at the agency immediately after your last day at your prior job. (A helpful Twitter friend pointed out that you have up to 60 days to elect to pay for COBRA and, even if you enroll on day 60, your coverage is retroactive to day 1, which saved me a bundle of money.) 
  • New employees aren't eligible to use vacation days until they've worked at the agency for six months. I've never had an employer with a rule like this so it was a surprise to me.
  • I became eligible to work from home one day a week after six months on the job. The agency didn't flag this as a perk during the interview process, but it's something I appreciate.
  • No longer keeping time notes matters for surprising reasons. There are many reasons that I'm thankful I no longer track and record my workday in six minute increments, but I was surprised to find that I concentrate much better now that I'm not keeping time. It turns out I had been in a constant state of worry as to whether I was spending too much or too little time on any given task.
  • I have a manager with boundaries. At the firm, it always felt like we were competing to see who could be more accommodating or sacrifice more of their personal life. My new manager is so good at setting boundaries with our internal clients that it was almost uncomfortable at first. My life is much better for it.

All in all, I'm happy with my new job. My quality of life during the last six months has been better than any other time in my life since graduating from the JD/MBA program. I feel very fortunate.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Getting Fit

One of my goals for the year was to visit the gym at least 50 times. I set this goal while I was still at the firm and commuting between Austin and Dallas each week. For the first half of the year, I was struggling to get to the gym even once per weekend. I was just so tired and so burnt out.

Then I left law firm life. Without question, there was time to get fit.

For the first few weeks, I enjoyed jogging on a treadmill in the air conditioned gym. Soon, though, I found myself just walking on the treadmill so I could simultaneously read my latest book on loan from the public library's electronic bookshelf. My workouts lacked intensity--some days I didn't even break a sweat.

That's when I downloaded the Peloton app and started using a bike in my gym's empty spin studio to take spin classes. Although I like spinning, I'd never taken too many classes because at $25+ per class spinning felt like a special treat not something I could afford to turn into a habit. Unlimited access to the Peloton app, by comparison, cost $19.49/month plus tax as of the date of this writing. At this price I could (did and still do) take a spin class every day of the week.

Two weeks into working with the app and I could feel tone in my muscles for the first time in a long while. I lost a little weight, but most importantly, I was awash in beta endorphins that gave me a sense of well being around the clock. I was hooked. And relieved.

In the 15 months prior, I had subsisted on Diet Coke and french fries (literally--this is what I would pick up from the McDonald's drive through on my way from the office in Dallas to the motel where I stayed during the week), worked out sporadically with little intensity, and spent nearly all my time sitting at a desk or in my car while working or commuting. I'd had a miscarriage that resulted in the loss of so much blood that I needed a blood transfusion. I'd been hit from behind and knocked off my feet by a SUV while walking across the street. I'd been rear ended in what was a serious car accident. And, for the first time in my life, the results of basic lab work drawn at my annual physical looked bad. Long story short, I was in terrible shape.

I had started to believe that I had already experienced the best health I would experience during my lifetime. That I had let things go to far.

I'm so happy I was wrong.

I'm so grateful that my body has turned out to be more resilient than I anticipated.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

12 Books in 2018 (Part 2)

Part 1 is available here.

I loved reading as a child and young adult. It set me on a path towards a liberal arts major in college and, ultimately, law school. As an attorney, I read hundreds of pages of material every week, but it's not the sort of stuff that sparks the imagination.

So, when I was pulling together a list of goals for 2018, I decided to read 12 books this year just for fun.

To facilitate this, armed with last year's library card and a hand-me-down iPad, I downloaded the Libby app, linked it to my library card number, and unlocked a universe of ebooks. Incredible! I am in love with this tool that makes the library's collection so accessible.

Here are six books that I've read just for fun during the second half of 2018:

  • Hunger by Roxane Gay. About all the invisible things that influence and flow from the authors relationship with food and her body. 
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. A story about finding worth at the end of life when you're feeling left behind by the ones you love. This tugged at my heartstrings because I have worried a great deal while watching my grandfather struggle with the death of my grandmother.
  • Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman.  I came back for a third novel by Backman--a spinoff of My Grandmother Asked me to tell you She's Sorry. American popular culture largely ignores the elderly. Each of the three Backman novels that I read this year were led by an older, if not elderly, character. I enjoyed this shift of perspective. (Backman is a Swede.)
I finished this goal earlier than expected (no doubt as a result of moving from a law firm to in-house role at work). During what remains of 2018 I plan to focus on non-fiction. Have you read any good books lately? Some of the best recommendations I've received in the last ten or so years have come through this blog or #lawtwitter.