Saturday, September 14, 2013

When a Partner Steps into your Office and Closes the Door

Last week, on a particularly slow day, a partner walked into my office and shut the door.  Uh oh.  That always makes me nervous.  It makes me afraid that I'm about to get fired, but my past experience has taught me that what it really means is that the firm is about to throw me a curveball.

This time, the firm wants to know if I'll stay in Japan for an additional year to work in a client's office.  There are obvious personal challenges related to extending my stay in Japan for another year, but there's a lot to be gained by spending a year in-house.  In dramatic contrast to the very American environment in my firm's office in Tokyo, this secondment would immerse me in Japanese business culture in what is considered to be a very conservative company.  Plus, it's a year of in-house experience.

There are some practical perks.  My compensation wouldn't change, but my work hours would be very humane (as in 9-5:30p most days), and I wouldn't carry a blackberry (an arrangement that is the answer to many a biglaw associate's prayers).  The secondment would also get me through my entire fourth year at the firm.

I've been thinking about how this secondment could fit into my long-term professional plans.  In the long term, I would like to "be the client" as a GC at a large company with cross-border business.  In "retirement" I'd like to be a business law professor in a MBA program and sit on a board or two.  I don't see myself staying at the firm because of (i) the extremely unpredictable schedule, (ii) the absence of female M&A partners, and (iii) my interest in being closer to business strategy and the implementation of the legal advice.  I think the secondment would help me collect skills and experience that would make me a more compelling (or, if nothing else, a more unique) candidate for the types of positions I'll need to reach my long-term goals.

I am weary of the fact that firms sometimes use secondments as a way of showing associates the door.  However, the last three associates to complete this secondment seem to be considered "star associates" among their respective classes.  Of course, their great reputations were forged before the secondment and not as a result of it.  Having said that, the secondment doesn't seem to be an outplacement mechanism.

Financially, this would mean another year of free rent and COLA.  My entire student loan balance would be paid off before the end of the secondment.

Almost seems like a slam dunk.

Personally, I miss my country, my culture, my family and friends.  It's not easy to try to maintain those relationships from the other side of the world and certain of those relationships will probably be lost if I were to choose to stay.  I also want to say something about how this might cost me the opportunity to get married or have kids, but you guys have heard all that before and know that it's something I'm always worried about.

It's been a lot to think about.  There were a lot of sleepless nights this week.

I can practically hear Sheryl Sandburg screaming at me to Lean In.


Meredith said...

What effect would it have on your standing in the firm if you declined? Or is there any way to predict that?

CM said...

That is quite a curveball! At least you know they think well of you.

Metal said...

That sounds like a wonderful opportunity! Congratulations!

Paragon2Pieces said...

@Meredith, that's a good question and something to consider, but the answer is not entirely clear. To my knowledge, no one has declined this opportunity (the secondment) in the past. On the other hand, there is precedent for US-based associates declining extension of their Tokyo assignments. Sometimes there seems to be no impact, but, if their group at home is too slow, the decision has resulted in a layoff.