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My money, my life

2006-09-08 13:37

    As students at Harvard Law School, we knew that we would have many options when we graduated. That was the reason that most of us went to school there. But when the big-name firms recruited on campus during our second year, we were dazzled — or rather blinded — by the prestige factor.

    That factor — the aura of money, polish and quality — transported us from our dull existence as law students to the Promised Land of the successful urban lawyer. After years of studying cases from backbreaking legal textbooks and living a campus social life that most of us had outgrown as undergraduates, the lure of the marquee names was too great. We didn't just want out of school; we wanted out in style.

    So with little deliberation about the quality-of-life or work trade-offs that we might have been making in snubbing smaller, less-known firms, many of us embraced our big-firm offers as if they were winning lottery tickets. What did it matter if we were about to work long hours? Hadn't we also worked hard in law school? Who cared if we wouldn't be given much responsibility right away? Didn't we have a lot to learn, and wouldn't the sexy work come in time?

    Those were the assumptions I made in 1997, when I threw myself wholeheartedly into the litigation department of a New York Top Five law firm. It was there, however, that I began a hard process of self-examination. After almost a year and a half, the glamorous work still wasn't coming. Rather than being "out there," taking depositions, going to court, doing what I had imagined that real lawyers do, I spent much time alone in an office, conducting legal research, writing and rewriting internal memos and fact chronologies. It was not the life I had bargained for.

    So my priorities changed. The prestige factor counted for far less; what mattered more was how I felt about my job, and my life, day to day. After making all the perfect, risk- averse choices — Ivy League schools, a big firm — I felt that I had little to show for them in professional experience, personal growth or, in fact, prestige. I knew that it was time to hit the road.

    And so I did. Interviewing at a range of smaller, boutique firms, I found that they could offer me the changes and challenges I was seeking: leanly staffed cases, higher- quality work and better control over my hours and the types of cases to which I would be assigned. With a marquee-name firm on my résumé, I had no problem receiving other offers. I accepted one quickly and looked forward to earning my stripes as a litigator.

    The move was good. Within months, I was taking depositions, attending court hearings and drafting motions with minimal supervision. I learned quickly what it meant to be a litigator. I saw myself adding value to a team and moving forward toward an exciting trial. I felt empowered.

    Yet from this position of strength, I discovered that, while I was no longer unhappy, it wasn't in my heart to continue being a lawyer. Even before I had started working as an associate at the big firm, I had another life: I led biking and walking trips through France for a Canadian travel company, Butterfield & Robinson. Guiding diverse groups of professionals (including lawyers), speaking foreign languages, being active outside — these were all the things I loved to do and was unwilling to give up. Every year, I spent my paid vacations guiding these trips.

    As I became more senior at the firm, I knew that my job would soon crowd out that other life — and just as the travel company was offering me the chance to lead exciting new trips, to places as close as Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket or as far as Peru and Bolivia. That expedited my next round of self-reflection, pressing me to make tough choices about my future. As much as I liked the firm, I decided that law wasn't for me in the long run. The life-style sacrifices, coupled with the arduous and indefinite path to partnership, didn't leave room for me to do everything I wanted. I knew that I had to find a career that would.

    So now I'm on the road again. I recently became a legal recruiter, helping lawyers to navigate the prestige factor and discover what it is they really want to do. And, yes, I still have time to lead tours.

    Prestige, money and — above all — inertia are powerful forces. I've battled them all, and now, as a professional guide, it's my challenge to help others do the same.

    NOTES:

    prestige: n.声望, 威望, 威信 aura: n.气氛, 气味, (圣象头部的)光环

    marquee: n.大帐篷, 华盖 deliberation: n.熟思, 从容, 商议, 考虑

    glamorous: adj.富有魅力的, 迷人的 memo: n.备忘录

    chronology: n.年代学, 年表 averse: adj.不愿意的, 反对的

    boutique: n.专卖流行衣服的小商店 supervision: n.监督, 管理

    sacrifice: n.牺牲, 献身, 祭品, 供奉 recruiter: n 招聘人员

    inertia: n.惯性, 惯量

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