Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Cold Feet

with 7 comments

Total Black: $235.60
Total Red: $226,342.25

As I walked home tonight from the contract attorney position, I started thinking about the opportunities I may soon be presented with.  Well . . . resumed thinking about them might be more accurate as I’ve not really been able to stop masticating over them.  But tonight a few coincidences occurred that caused me to think about things a bit differently.

First I realized on that walk home that part of my slight discomfort with this new-found popularity is due to feeling a bit reluctant to leave New York.  Then, upon arriving back home and going over to the kitchen sink to wash my hands, evidence of yesterday’s cleaning, mentioned in On the Seventh Day . . . , startled me a bit—the way the light shone on the empty counter top made it appear as if I had already started packing to move out.  For a quick moment I was overcome with that sad and nostalgic but appreciative feeling one gets when looking at a completely empty dwelling  you’re just about to leave; that last look at a space—that quick scan of the memories and mundanity of your goings-on since moving in just before you close the door.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s how we’ll look upon our bodies when it’s time to leave them behind.  But that’s a digression.  Next came a comment to the blog that also noted this same tug-of-war I’m grappling with.

Life’s synchronicity always amazes me.

I’ve passed up multiple chances to leave New York.  I mentioned in If I Can Make It There that I didn’t even have to move to New York to begin with, but everyone around me said it was the best choice career-wise.  Once that career they urged me towards ended in October 2008 when I got laid off, I could have left then.  Coincidentally, my sublease in Brooklyn was ending—the person I rented from was giving up the apartment after twenty years; the owners were turning the building into condos so I couldn’t stay.  I secured this new apartment two days before being laid-off.  But hindsight is 20/20, right?  And who would have guessed nearly two years later we’d still be struggling through the Great Recession.  Next came the expiration of my lease on the current apartment—and the landlord’s lawsuit for back rent back in September.  I chewed that chance over in Should I Stay or Should I Go.  Could have closed up shop then, but I had just started this blog journey and was starting to get back on my feet—working at the Recession Art Sale and on my first big contract attorney position.  Why leave when things were just turning around?  And now here comes another chance to leave.  Well, hopefully.  But something keeps itchin’ at me.  That feeling that you forgot something this morning when you left the house—something important too.

One thing that gets me nervous about both of these opportunities is that they exacerbate a prior condition, if you will.  I’ve ended up where I am mostly because I’ve stumbled my way through life.  Can’t you tell?  Financially-speaking it’s self-evident.  I didn’t end up in law school because I decided at an early age that I wanted to be a lawyer.  Law was an avenue to put philosophy into action and I first hit upon walking down that path while studying in Germany.  I’m not one who will bemoan my career choice and say I opted for law because I couldn’t figure out what else to do.  That’s not my line.  I love the law, so I’m lucky that I found a professional home.  Yet in the past year or so, however, I’ve come to see that my life’s journey has been pretty much been trodden by the day taking me wherever it wills.  Good if you’re a Buddhist monk; not so much if you’re an aspirational lawyer with a fame-complex.  I need a plan of action.  And I need to start seeing things through to their end.  This project is one of example.  Enough people have commented on my periodic lapses in daily posts.  But the point is that every day I get my numbers posted; that’s part of the goal of this blog.  Another goal was to put my career on hold for a year to do everything (and anything) to make as much money as possible to pay down my debt and thus free myself to take lower paying jobs.  And the only out I gave myself was for a clerkship.  And what does life send me?  And without even seeking it out!  I was blind copied on an email to the farther opportunity judge’s clerk by a law school colleague recommending me for the position.  It came about because of expressed interest months earlier, mentioned in A Day in the Life; funny if the farther clerkship opportunity comes through because it will mean I got a clerkship through Facebook.  But it’s not really a mile marker on my road map that I should be passing.  Well, unless someone else is in the driver’s seat of my life.

I guess I’m starting to like New York.  Yet since that first night when I laid my head on my pillow in my Brooklyn apartment, I’ve maintained that I would never settle down here.  That hasn’t changed.  But I feel as if I’m just not yet ready to leave.  Feels like I’m only now getting wired into this city, getting connected, meeting people, developing opportunities—even non-legal ones that could open doors down the road.  It’s almost as if I’m a car cruising along at 65 mph, and then I slam on the breaks and make a sharp right to speed off in another direction.  I suppose then what I’m anxious about is the idea of leaving behind this city that never sleeps because it represents limitless opportunities to make connections, meet people, get involved with various gigs and events, and so on.  But, truth be told, it’s that much hard to stand out.  And that much harder to get ahead.

And I suppose something else I’m anxious about is really leaving behind a plan—whatever its merits may be, but at least it’s a plan.  Something to cling to.  Of course, clerking will not prevent me from seeing this project through to its completion.  And clerking is something I’ve sought for years now, so I won’t pass it up.  But part of the focus of this blog project was it being New York-based.  And leaving the city for a salaried position is freeing but also constraining.  I won’t be making more money now when working longer hours.  And so much for plans to start commuting from Scranton and sublet my place to some summer city-dweller.  That’s when I was really going to start raking in the dough.  But really what I’m anxious about is that the feeling that if I leave New York, I won’t be returning.

Sure I say I’ll keep my apartment.  And if I get the closer opportunity, maybe I will.  At least until the lease ends in October again.  After that, well my crystal ball isn’t too clear.  But maybe I won’t keep it.  Maybe the salary for the federal clerkship won’t really let me keep it.  If I get the farther opportunity, I’ll probably sublet my apartment, if only to avoid the hassle of having to move all my belongings, and the fish tank, and the furniture, etc., to my mother’s basement.  I know I can find a sublet.  But what about a year from now when the clerkship is up and it’s time to resume my career?  A clerkship brings great experience, but it’s no different than hitting pause on your life.  Once it ends, you’re back on the street looking for a job, trying to figure out what’s next, and where to move to.

After years of wandering the globe—four years in Washington, D.C., two years in Poland, a year in Germany, five months in the Netherlands, four months on the Mississippi Queen cruising the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers., six weeks in South Africa, a month on Malta, and countless countries visited—well, I’m tired of living all over the world.  I want to settle down, make friends where I live, and get started making a life for myself.  And I guess I want that to be in a cool, vibrant place.  And that’s neither of the two locations where I’d clerk.

Guess the winds of change are making my feet a bit chilly.

7 Responses

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  1. Here’s a plan. Take the clerkship that allows you to live free with your mother or wherever it is that apparently imposes no living costs. Get rid of the apartment and throw that 2000 each month at your debt. When the clerkship ends, try to get another federal clerkship with a district or appellate court judge (remember that these typically are chosen way in advance barring a sudden vacancy, so start looking even as you start this clerkship, and keep your ears open for random vacancies by making friends with other clerks). By the end of those 2 years, the economy should have improved, and you can come back to New York and aim to land a steady well-paying job. Short-term sacrifice, long-term gain. Enough with the inability to delay gratification.


    March 23, 2010 at 09:01

  2. Hi,

    I have been reading your blog for sometime, and I you get annoyed when people tell you the same things over and over again in regards to budgeting, getting rid of your apartment, etc. But the fact that people keep doling out the same advice should tell you something. As frustrating as it is for you to try to chip away slowly at your debt, it is also really aggravating for your readers to watch you seem to spin your tires without going anywhere.

    Since the inception of this blog, your debt hasn’t gone down more than $1,000. All of this work you have been doing since August (?) and you are still in the same position. And because you post about your spending habits, lifestyle, etc. it is like watching a horror movie and screaming at the main character to run and he/she can’t hear you.

    I understand you are an adult who probably feels that after all his life experiences, education, skills that you are ENTITLED to a certain lifestyle. And that might be great in theory, but realistically, you aren’t. Nobody who has $200k in debt is entitled to spend $23.00 on brunch and $2,000 for a single bedroom apartment, I don’t care who you are. You do not deserve these things because you have a BA, MA, JD, etc. You ow the equivalent of a 3-bedroom house and you have the audacity to justify living in an expensive apartment by yourself and spending money you don’t have on bagels and lox becauseyou live in New York.

    As someone who used to live in Boston, also not a cheap town, with roommates and paid $600 in rent, and would commute frquently into NY and spend $3.00 for a bagel and coffee in diners, I can’t understand how you justify making these lifestyle choices. Because that is what other people in NYC do? Other people in NYC don’t have unsteady incomesm $200k in debt, and live paycheck to paycheck, and if they do and are living this way, then God help them.

    You cannot spend the rest of your life living like this. You will burn out and be homeless. I am 29, and am just now looking to move out of my parents’ house into an apartment with a roommate. Yes, I just graduated from law school and found a steady job after a year, and yes I feel slightly behind in life compared to my non-lawyer counterparts. But this is the life I choose, and it required sacrifice.

    Get out of NY. You have no real incentive to be there. Take the clerkship job and live at home. Stop spending money on frivolous things. Yes, a grande latte from Starbucks is friviolous. You don’t need it. You think you are entitled to it. You aren’t.

    I am sorry if this came off harsh, but you have no idea how frustrating your posts are. If you can’t make a chart to budget, try taking out $20 a week spending money and don’t allow yourself to spend more than the cash you have on hand. You will be shocked at how much you save when you can’t whip out your credit/debit card for every whim.

    You might be a licensed attorney, but you have more debt and less equity than a metalworker with a GED earning $45k in Indiana with a family who owns his own home.


    March 23, 2010 at 10:39

  3. I hope you don’t have children. And if you do, I hope they’re not old enough to need advice because you completely missed any point I made above. I was expressing my apprehension at taking yet another opportunity—just like all others along the way—where it doesn’t fit it into a long-term vision. I set a goal of putting career on hold for one year—not an astronomical amount of time—to try to pay down my debt. What message do I send myself if I don’t follow through on my own commitments to myself? Your answer was a “plan” of sorts, though not much of one: clerk and then get another clerkship. If past is prologue, I’ll have three years in between since it’s taken three years to get this clerkship opportunity.

    Nothing mentioned above had anything to do with gratification. Wanting to be settled, wanting friends—who live near you (you can’t exactly take your buddy to the movies via Skype)—wanting a steady job: those are all reasonable requests and reasonable considerations in thinking through any job prospect, especially one that will sever any friendships I’m cultivating by pulling me up by the roots and tossing me on yet another dirt pile, only to be uprooted again in a year. So, why should my consideration of these factors suddenly become an inability to delay gratification? In fact, one can say that I’ve been delaying it too long by hopping around the globe and constantly putting myself in situations where I didn’t have to commit to anyone or anyplace because I’d be shufflin’ off again soon.

    A plant is the best analogy: just as I start to take root in a location, I jump at some new chance and uproot myself and transplant myself elsewhere. Have you ever transplanted a plant? Seen it wilt? No matter how much dirt you scoop up around it, no matter the amount of fertilizer or water—it still senses the earth shifting around its roots. And it takes days to revive. And if it’s transplanted on a day when there’s too much sun or too much rain, it can die.

    The overarching point here was to mull over larger questions about enough being enough as far as chasing unreachable stars and to bitch about life in the 21st Century that we’re damn near obligated to run around the globe to achieve some modicum of success.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    March 23, 2010 at 10:44

  4. What’s frustrating to me is that he refuses to confront his actual debt – the $4,000 loan from Mom – not mentioned other than he’s going to give her $500 towards it. What about the other $3,500? I agree with you, M, there is a bizarre sense of entitlement here, but I do wish him all the luck in the world in conquering his debt.


    March 23, 2010 at 12:50

  5. Do you even read what you write? In the body of your post you say:

    * I’ve ended up where I am mostly because I’ve stumbled my way through life.  Can’t you tell?


    * Another goal was to put my career on hold for a year to do everything (and anything) to make as much money as possible to pay down my debt and thus free myself to take lower paying jobs.  And the only out I gave myself was for a clerkship.

    But in your comment you say:

    *I was expressing my apprehension at taking yet another opportunity—just like all others along the way—where it doesn’t fit it into a long-term vision. I set a goal of putting career on hold for one year—not an astronomical amount of time—to try to pay down my debt. What message do I send myself if I don’t follow through on my own commitments to myself?

    Do you see how you directly contradict yourself? You have no long-term plan. You’re working on a short-term (failing) plan, and you gave yourself an out at the beginning to clerk, which you’ve wanted to do for a long time. And you already told yourself you wouldn’t settle in NY. But you just love your apartment and want to keep it as a weekend place… So wake up. You cannot afford your current life. Counting the 4000 you borrowed from your mom (I think you paid back 500), you’re in worse shape than when you started. You still won’t budget or track your expenses. You grandly proclaim you’re doing everything you can this year to pay down your debt without making any truly hard choices. You are all about short-term gratification. You need an actual long-term plan that cuts your expenses and helps you lay the groundwork to a steady well-paying job in your chosen profession. A clerkship will help get you there. Two clerkships will make up (hopefully) for the fact that you got fired from your law firm. And yes, it’s 10 times easier to get a clerkship when you already have one. Judges trust other judges. I’m an attorney – I know this much.

    I want to see you pull your head out of your ass and succeed. It pisses me off to see you flailing, and I don’t even know you personally. I’ve been reading your blog for months and had high hopes for you. But you continue to bang your head against the wall (and drag your mother into your black hole, which really bothers me).

    I guess the only question you need to ask yourself is this – do you like living this way? You sure seem to. But if not, then start making actual changes.


    March 23, 2010 at 12:55

  6. I think it is the Biglaw mentality. Laid Off Lawyer (haha, I was going to abbreviate that until I realized it was LOL) is a very smart guy – he hit the law school jackpot with a biglaw gig straight out of law school. Only around 1 in 5 of his classmates hit that mark. Unfortunately I think once you hit that elite level it is hard to go back.

    But I think this is all part of the perverse appeal of the blog. When you struggle to pay the absurd rent on a non-biglaw salary. . .it just seems like so much wasted effort.

    I don’t mean to be harsh. I think Laid-Off works tremendously hard. But his focus is misplaced. The 2k apartment, the NYC lifestyle, and yes the entitlement. What’s that speech in Fight Club about how you are not your possessions? Yea, that seems to fit here.


    March 23, 2010 at 14:41

  7. Honestly, assuming your blog to be genuine, that you have $200 to your name is fairly ridiculous. I had heard the myth of the spendthrift BIGLAW Associate, but, franjly, never saw it in my experience. Perhpas that’s because i and those with whom I associated tended to be penurious. I also think ou should have realistic goals. Shedding $200K in a year, barring a lottery win, is setting yourself up for disappointment.

    The Dude Abides

    March 23, 2010 at 18:31

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