Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Big Fish, Small Pond

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Total Black: $1,375.96
Total Red: $270,000.16

I referenced back in Time to Shine the opportunities that may present themselves here.  I’m starting to see things materialize.  I recently was “drafted” to serve on the executive board of a local organization.  It’s a new organization and may provide a significant amount of exposure. 

I’m a serial joiner.  Perhaps a permanent side-effect of my time in the United States Peace Corps.  No, even before then I was signing up for various events, activities, and offices.  This time, I resisted as long as possible.  Officemate kept pestering me to take the only remaining position, but I said no.  That position, and the one I ultimately took on—secretary—was, to my mind, a thankless one.  The least prestige and the most amount of work.  So I was not jumping for joy at being asked to step up to that plate.  But then the President of the group emailed me directly and asked me to take on the position.  So I relented.  And I’m elated that I did.  We had our kick-off event earlier this week and one thing I realized about my new position is that it will allow me to repeatedly get my name out there via emails to the members, communication about upcoming events, and so on.  “Laid-off Lawyer invites you to our next event.”  “Laid-off Lawyer thanks you for coming out.”  And so on.  Of course, swapping my real name for my blog name.

I think I may be able to eek as much from this role as a president might.

Earlier today I attended a get-together at another law clerk’s apartment.  She and her fiance will be returning to New York soon, once her clerkship finishes up.  A number of former and current law clerks were there, as well as one guy I met at the kick-off event for our the new group I just referenced.  Also there was a lawyer from the states who—I believe—used to live in my apartment.  I’m unsure but the name sounded right.  Lord & Lady told me a few stories about the former tenant.  It wasn’t until later this evening, after returning home, that I started to appreciate how small this community really is, especially where professional folk are concerned.

As with any get-together, people get acquainted.  So after telling my story, Prior Tenant talked about hers.  She noted the frustrations of moving one day from the U.S. Virgin Islands back to New York.  Aside: I wonder whence this legal connection between New York and St. Croix.  Many of the clerks and lawyer transplants are here from New York.  Prior Tenant shared that she was slated to start at Heller Erhman LLP—until the law firm went under in the Great Recession, that is.  Somehow St. Croix took its place.  She had reached out to a headhunter who all but told her to forget it.  I wasn’t as convinced, however, so we talked about how one might catapult this experience stateside.

One way would be the plaintiff’s litigation route.  One could build a decent reputation for oneself down here and then lateral to a state-side plaintiff’s law firm.  Similarly, working the corporate side may be strategic as well.  Plenty of corporations in the U.S. Virgin Islands; one could specialize in Caribbean legal issues as far as banking and finances go, for example.  Then leverage that experience back in the States.  There’s also the criminal route.  One could get in at the local prosecutor’s office, then lateral to the U.S. Attorney’s Office here or elsewhere in the States—or even a district attorney’s office back in the States—and then into a law firm.  This all assumes one has large or mid-sized law firm as her or his goal.  Other paths exist for a different type of experience.  Unfortunately Prior Tenant seemed to view her stint here as a bit of an exile rather than a launching pad.

Is it me?  I wonder whether I’m just cursed to always look on the bright side of life.

I’ve not always been this way.  Or at least, not in recent years.  It’s only since starting this blog, and its corresponding hustle, that this interest in looking for opportunities anywhere and everywhere returned.  Back in high school and then college I joined all sorts of groups.  In the Peace Corps I signed up to be a Peer Listener and even flew to Ukraine to train volunteers there.  In law school too I was involved in too many clubs and organizations.  Then I started at the law firm and pretty much dissipated.

Is it law firm life that does this to you?  Or adulthood?  Once “professionalism” descends do we erect blinders to anything else but work and home—and family if we have one—and investing the least bit of contact permissible to keep our friendships on life-support?  I’ve noted in prior comments that I’ve pretty much fallen out of touch with many of my friends.  In fact, yesterday was the first time in quite a while that I telephoned my best friend to chat.  Just for the hell of it.  I’ve still been operating on big city mode.  It’s nearly a year ago now that, in Never Been Further Apart, I touched on the irony of modern life: it’s never been easier to keep in touch, what with telephone calls and Skype, instant messaging and text-messaging, email and regular mail, Facebook and Twitter.  And yet with all of it, so many of us have never felt further apart from each other.  We do not keep in touch.  My inability to see my stint abroad as an opportunity to further my career was, I suspect, a symptom of this larger ill.

A friend from my former law firm days telephoned me the other night and while talking I recalled what a blow to my psyche—and to my spunk—my time at the firm was.  The colleague informed me that she’s about to be sent overseas for work.  That brought back to mind my stint abroad, when the firm shipped me over to Europe for about five months, and how I did nothing productive with that time.  I reported daily to the law firm for duty and went home afterward, with home being a hotel, then an apartment, and finally another hotel.  If I wasn’t watching television I was playing Diablo II on my laptop.  In those five months abroad, I didn’t travel to any other country.  And I only saw another city when my mother and sister came to visit, excluding the time I got on the local train going the wrong direction and was stuck in another town awaiting the train back.   I did socialize with partners and other associates.  We often had enjoyed dinners out.  Wine and food abounded.  But I didn’t really reach out to locals to make friends.  And on weekends I didn’t check out the clubs or even the historical spots.  My sister, while visiting, had to point out some famous building I passed every day; I was that oblivious to its existence.

I’m not sure what remedied it.  Maybe the pills I popped for the medical experiment.  Maybe the realization that if I didn’t start making ends meet I would be forced to move back in with my mother.  And to cut myself some slack, if you will, my stint abroad was open-ended.  I didn’t know how long I would ultimately be there when I first arrive.  It’s difficult to plan when you’re unsure how long you can commit for.  Plus I was in a relationship; one that ultimately ended, unfortunately.  So I viewed socializing as a bit risky.  What if I had been presented with temptation?  Best to avoid the near occasion of sin I thought, as my Catholic upbringing taught me.  But that’s a piss-poor excuse for not going out, visiting museums, taking walks around the city, or touring nearby towns on weekends.  Maybe I truly was in a deep depression of sorts.  I certainly struggled with money, despite that six-figure salary.  Quite a few times I went without, partly because of the way the firm reimbursed expenses.  We’d have to incur the expenses first—in my case many thousand-dollar hotel bills—then submit the receipts back to New York for processing and reimbursement.  Inevitably it involved a lag.  Tack on that I was still paying rent and utilities back home, plus sending money back to my beau to keep him afloat and to pay my cats , and well . . . it was a tough time.  I had only six-days advance notice that I would be shipped over.  Not like I had time to build up a cushion of savings.

So it’s understandable, I suppose, that I didn’t use that time wisely.  Perhaps it’s a mindset; how one approaches a situation.  Glass half-full and all that jazz.  Do we view ourselves as victims or agents of our own lives?  Do we take the bull by the horns or do we get gored as it passes?  I don’t fault myself for spending three out of my four years in New York (including five months of that spent abroad) basically doing nothing other than working.  Law firms have a way of communicating to you that your time is not really yours.  When, at any moment, you could be called back in to the office, it’s hard to allow yourself the “luxury” of taking a vacation or a day-off, never mind joining an organization or taking on some part-time job or activity.  And if you do, you run the risk of not being there in the evenings when those mysterious gnomes float the floors, clocking your face time.  So yes . . . I understand how it is that nearly everything about me died when I started at the firm.  But that doesn’t mean I have to let it happen again here.

Being a big fish in a small pond is easier than you think.  It’s not the size of the pond, it’s the drive of the fish.

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