It’s been a while since our last passage, so if you are new to the blog (WELCOME!) or if you have forgotten, a little note to say that when we are on passage, I try to write and post some back story posts. Last year, the series of backstory posts were all about how we learned to sail. This year, the back story is how we scraped up the money. If you need to catch up, go to the menu bar and choose “Site Map.” Scroll down, and you will find a series of categories that narrow the blog posts to just those categories you care about. This series on money is categorized under “Sail Kitty.”
Where we last left off, it was 2009 and we were in the thick of the economic down turn. Andrew and I learned important lessons about our own financial risk tolerance and cobbled together an emergency fund just in time for the second round of layoffs in my company.
So, without further ado…
One day, my boss arrived in my office and shut the door. This is always an ominous sign. The boss never comes into one’s office and shuts one’s door to talk about golf.
“Some of us are leaving the firm and moving to a larger firm. I don’t know whether you will be welcome at the new firm or not. You have to interview with the other firm’s partners.”
“Okay, I can do that. When is the interview?” I ask. I’m going to have to shake the dust off. I haven’t interviewed since my interview for my clerkship in fall of 2004.
“Right after lunch.”
Okay, then. I’m going to have to shake the dust off quickly! I look down at my “office casual” wardrobe choice for the day: brown heeled loafers, brown slacks, and a light cream colored sweater that was starting to pill a little bit where my arms move. Uhg. This fine for a day typing away at a brief, but it simply will not do to meet several new employers. When they ask me “What kind of lawyer are you?” I need an interview suit that says: “A damn good one!”
Handy Tip: Dress like you are going to a job interview every day.
For me, shopping is a stressful endeavor. Not only were we still in penny-pinching mode, but it takes me hours, weeks, months, maybe years, maybe never to find a pair of suit pants that will fit my “curvaceous” rump (as Sonrisa likes to put it) without some manner of tailoring. And, we all know I don’t have time to get pants tailored by this afternoon. Should I just drive home and change? I don’t think I have time. I settled on a kelly-green silk blazer to put over the brown slacks I already had on. “What kind of a lawyer are you?” This suit might have said “One who scurried off to Nordstrom an hour before this interview.” But it is going to have to do.
On my drive back to the office, I try to think of what they might ask me, but I’m shell shocked. I grasp at my thoughts. “What is my five year/ten year plan?” … To kick ass every day, and take a few names. “What is your biggest strength?” … My hamstrings, I think.
I chastise myself. “Stop fooling around, Leslie!”
As soon as I return, I am shuffled off across the street.
At the new firm, I am greeted in the lobby by a friendly woman dressed as smartly as any person I have ever met. A rock sculpture stands in the lobby, a group of rocks stacked one on the other, tilting off into space unsupported. A mosaic patterned wall behind the desk looks modern and clean, the silver letters of the firm name spelling out the name of what I can only hope to be my new employer. As I’m guided through the hallway, we pass a line of original, commissioned art pieces. “What if I trip, bump into this painting of Smoking Jimmy Hendrix, and knock it off the wall?” I think to myself. This is no way to think.
I am introduced to two partners, I smile, shake hands, and we sit in a room with wide windows, a circle of chairs, and more sculptures. For a brief moment, I see myself talking wildly with my hands, knocking the artistic rendition of a clay pot off the shelf next to me. I push this out of my mind. We get settled, and they pitch me my first softball.
“So, tell us about yourself.”
They could not have asked a harder question if they had asked me the physical equations required to fly to the moon. Tell us about yourself…tell us about yourself?! What should I tell these gentlemen about myself? How do I narrow this down?
“Well, I grew up in Tooele, Utah. I have two sisters, and no pets.” I hear myself say.
Dear Sweet Baby Jesus.
But, they are kind and I don’t remember them laughing in my face. One of them responds that he grew up in Price, Utah and the other explains he has done a lot of snow skiing in Utah. In those few moments, I gather up the wherewithal to recover. I remember the #1 rule to legal interviews: it’s up to you to make the sale. They usually don’t ask you: What is your strength? What is your weakness? What is your goal in five years? In fact, sometimes, if the interviewee doesn’t take the bull by the horns, the interviewer and interviewee might make small talk about sports, then stare uncomfortably into space for 15 minutes until someone stands up and says: “well, it’s been nice to meet you.” These partners were’t quite that way, but I knew I had to get talking.
I laugh, “but I’m sure that isn’t what you are looking for.” And from there, I launch into my legal history. Where I went to law school, when I first realized I love litigation, how I ended up in Las Vegas, why I enjoy Las Vegas, etc. The conversation started to flow. I asked them what they enjoyed about the work they do, and the discussion transitioned into a nice conversation about their practices, their experience at this larger law firm, and the leadership they could provide for my career. They had a few hard questions about collection of my prior year’s billing - in an economy like this, clients were struggling to pay - but I was able to calm any fear with a discussion of my foreclosure work. As I sat in that interview, I came to realize the lucky telephone call asking for foreclosure help the year prior was going to save my bacon.
I left feeling all right about my prospects, but I also learned a new Hard Fact that day.
Hard Fact #6: You are always the owner of your own small business, even if you work for the “Man”.
In those first three years of my career, I heard over and over again, “We are family!” “We work hard and we play hard, together!” We had a crackin’ slow pitch softball team, several fun summer barbecues, and a Christmas party where I found myself the unfortunate participant in a group karaoke moment belting out a song about a prostitute: “ROXANNE!” It was a good firm with a number of great people to work with. But when push comes to shove - even when leadership in your company would love to keep you, because they run their office “like a family” - it just cannot be. In a business, leaders are always targeting a profitable business. You can be the most brilliant attorney, the most entertaining guy to have around, and a team player. These qualities will allow you to float when times are flush, but when the economic chips fall, cash is king. The attorney who has flip-side expertise that brings paying clients in a down economy is the attorney who will have a job at the end of the day.
But this story isn’t all sad. I also learned a Fun Fact over the course of this mess.
Fun Fact: When one opportunity ends - by choice or by necessity - it opens up a world of other possibilities that you didn’t think about before.
Some of my friends and colleagues went to the new firm, and some stayed at the prior firm. Some who had to be laid off in the process were cast out to find something new. At the time, I worried for all of us. Will everyone land on their feet? We all did. Eventually, everyone ended up doing something that suits them even better than their prior work did anyway. Some started their own firms, some went to different companies as in-house counsel, some went to other law firms, some took on teaching positions, others diverted away from their legal careers and entered into entirely different fields. One started a baby shoe company, ran a vending machine company, started an online software based business, tried a handful of firms, then started her own firm. I was so impressed to see all of my colleagues embrace their situation as an opportunity to build more.
I wondered what would I do if I were cut loose? But, that is a question I gratefully could leave off for another day. I was offered a spot at the new firm with the art gallery office, just across the street.