Thursday, June 21, 2018

12 Books in 2018 (Part 1)

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 first half of 2018:

  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. There's a lot of pride in the prose. As with most tragedies, I was full of frustration with the major characters. Not a pick me up, but this is literature where the rest of the books on this list verge on something you'd expect to see on Bravo.
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The protagonist is not as likable as Eleanor Oliphant, but the plot twist is on par. A decade ago, I would have found it all incredibly far fetched. Now I know better.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Are you SURE you're ready to leave Big Law? (Delayed Post)

After I'd received the (non-law firm) offer I intended to take, but before I'd accepted and given notice, a partner departing my current firm invited me to follow him to another traditional Big Law shop, where a number of friends currently (or recently) practice(d).  It is a wonderful thing to have options, but the invitation caused me to second guess all the big decisions I'd just made in a big way.

I was tempted by (in no particular order):
  • The salary. 
  • My friends. Wouldn't it be fun to practice among friends again?
  • The location. The partner lead by offering that I would be able to work from my hometown. No relocation required.
  • The brand. Better brand than my current firm.
  • The platform. I could return to cross-border deals, which is exciting, but also tough on an associate's sleep schedule.
  • Some continuity. A lot is lost in a lateral move, but this move would offer some continuity in that at least one of my working relationships would remain intact.
  • The maternity leave. Standard Big Law maternity leave policy, which outshines the unpaid leave policy at the new job I had intended to take.
I was turned off by:
  • Internal politics. Concerns related to continued post-merger growing pains.
  • Long-term prospects. This would be a 2-3 year job since I don't believe there was real partnership opportunity.
  • The schedule. Getting out of the Austin to Dallas commute helps a lot, but it's still a Big Law schedule. I'd already given a lot of thought to how I planned to spend my personal time once I started the new job.
The most important issue that I identified was whether extending my law firm career would meaningfully improve my job prospects post-Big Law. To sort this out, I reached out to friends who are already in house. Their advice was consistent--two more years in a firm was unlikely to meaningfully improve my job prospects and that I should stick with my plans to start new job. None of them regretted their decision to leave the law firm environment. They remembered what it was like to hesitate/worry about making the leap, but each and every one encouraged me to jump and never look back.

Still, I worry about leaving money on the table (and all the news regarding the shifting Big Law salary scale hasn't helped in this regard).

Friday, June 8, 2018

Interviewing (Delayed Post)

Over the past few years, I have explored a number of non-law firm employment opportunities. I'm writing a brief summary of the three most interesting (to me) opportunities below.

A quick note regarding my focus during my job search:*

One of the most important lessons I learned from spending time in-house via secondment was that when you're accustomed to a role as a revenue generator it's difficult to adjust to being perceived or pigeonholed as a cost center. This perception may translate into scarcity of resources or support (e.g., no administrative or IT support). It may also translate into less satisfactory compensation arrangements or more limited opportunities for advancement. With this in mind, I focused on in-house opportunities with organizations that placed M&A at the core of their respective business strategies, where I hoped my prior experience and future contributions would be valued. Time will tell whether my instincts were right.
  • Publicly traded, household name, in-house M&A counsel for Bay Area company. Process included a phone screen with HR; video interview with more than five members of the in-house team, including the GC, the one other attorney in the M&A vertical, and a handful of attorneys in other specialties; and an in person interview. The types of questions asked were no different than those I have experienced in a law firm callback interview.  I was invited to an in person interview, but they wanted me to travel for the interview the same week that I was scheduled to have time-sensitive surgery that could not be rescheduled. They were not understanding when I asked if we could push the travel back a week. What I liked: the company has a reputation for treating employees well; AGC was an attorney I had worked with at my original firm, where he had been a partner and had a reputation for being brilliant, fair and fun to work with; and large, well established department offered opportunity to learn about process and management, which would be a useful stepping stone towards taking a first lawyer position with a startup in the long run. What I didn't like: according to the existing M&A attorney in the department, he was working just as many hours as I was working in my firm for far less compensation; the company might be acquisitive now, but that strategy could change at any time and there were so many other specialists in the department it was unclear whether there would be job security; and salary was a six figure pay-cut and Bay Area living expenses would be a shock to the system.
  • Publicly traded, household name, in-house M&A counsel for Swiss company.  Process included a tremendous number of phone interviews; a video interview at the nearest office of one of the company's subsidiaries (in my case, this was a 7 hour, round trip drive); and an in person interview. I was invited to travel to Switzerland for the interview (this position was based in Switzerland), but they then asked me to complete another phone screen with an executive outside the M&A vertical before setting up the travel for the in person interview. At that point, the interview process felt disorganized and the HR point of contact didn't seem to understand the path forward. I declined to schedule the final phone interview for two reasons. First, I wasn't too excited to sign up for an expat gig with a company whose HR function seemed disorganized. I know from my experience as an expat in Tokyo that a competent HR function is critical to a positive experience working abroad.  Second, a family member was critically ill at the time with what we thought was a terminal illness (later found out the illness was a drug toxicity issue) and the time did not seem ripe to leave the US.  What I liked: serial acquirer with M&A at the core of the company's business strategy; more than three in-house M&A attorneys; and location--I was smitten with the idea of living in Switzerland.  What I didn't like: disorganized HR function; Swiss tax laws, and cost of living in Switzerland. Guys, I have serious regrets about not pursuing this position further (there's some wanderlust left in me yet).
  • Investment counsel for government agency.  Process included a phone screen with senior in-house attorneys and more than four hours of callback interviews. I've interviewed with this agency twice. The first go around, the governor of the State of Texas announced a hiring freeze the day after my callback.  Nearly a year later, they were ready to hire. I applied again (as this job had been constantly on my mind in the interim), completed the interview process a second time, and received an offer. What I liked: interesting work that would make use of my current skill set, but also require building out skills in a new practice area; investment is at the core of this agency's work; collegiality; predictable work schedule with reasonable hours; fantastic location (I could walk to work); no pay cut vis-a-vis my firm salary (after taking my significant commuting costs into account); and defined benefit plan.  What I didn't like: maternity leave is completely unpaid.
*  Throughout the process, I found myself clinging to the idea of staying in a resource-rich law firm environment. However, (1) the last year took an undeniable toll on my health (still in denial over the lab results I received after my annual exam), (2) I seem to have reached the end of my shelf life as a law firm associate after seven and a half years (i.e., I find myself bored of having the same argument with opposing counsel deal after deal, I'm out of patience for cancelling vacations and working through the night on a regular basis, and I'm at a point where I can't hide these feelings anymore), and (3) I can't tolerate my current commute any longer (in April, I billed 225+ hrs and spent 45+ hours commuting, and was a shell of a human by month-end).  

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

New Entree Recipes (Part 2)

I'm still chipping away at my 2018 goal to try 12 new entree recipes. (I set this goal because without it the only new recipes I try are desserts!) See Part 1 (new recipes 1-4) here. Recipes 5-8 are as follows:

5. Shepard's Pie

In a continued effort to keep the boyfriend involved in what's going on in the kitchen, we made shepard's pie (his favorite) in a cast iron skillet.

The recipe can be found in Cook's Country's Cook it in Cast Iron. Cook's Country is affiliated with America's Test Kitchen, which is why I snagged this cookbook when I found it at Costco a few months ago.

The recipe calls for piping the mashed potatoes on top of the filling. Nonsense! (I doubt I'm the only one who groans and turns the page whenever a recipe calls for the use of a piping bag.) I skipped this step in favor of carefully spooning the mashed potatoes on top of the filling, patting it down with the back of a serving spoon, and then dragging the tines of a fork through the top of the surface to make a fun design that would "pop" under the broiler.

At some point in the future, I'd love to try a variation with mashed sweet potatoes.

6. Eggs in Purgatory 

Eggs in a homemade spicy tomato sauce finished with some crumbled bacon if you're feeling indulgent. While I now understand that this is a common and beloved recipe (known to some as "shakshouka"), it was a revelation to me and completely different from anything my family ate growing up. Loved it. Great excuse to crack open my very first can of Rotel--how is it possible that I have lived in Texas for more than eight years and am just now discovering Rotel?

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

7. Spice-Rubbed Flank Steak with Spicy Corn and Black Bean Salad

Not particularly photogenic, but quick and simple. I made a double portion of this salad to use for lunches during the work week. Relatively light due to the absence of any sort of dressing in the salad.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

8. Sichuan Orange Chicken and Broccoli

Now that I've gone to the trouble of accumulating some of the required pantry staples (hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, toasted sesame oil, etc.), I'm having a lot of fun with the wok at home. This recipe calls for the juice of one orange and some orange zest. The fresh flavor shines through--a welcome change from the cloying orange sauce I've encountered at many takeout chains.

(Use a red bell pepper instead of green for a better presentation.)

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.