Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To Pile On The Balance Beam


There have been a bunch of posts of work life balance in the MILP world recently, so I thought I would come join the party.  I can’t talk about mine, though, without including my husband’s, since he is an attorney too (GASP two attorneys in the house marriage is doomed failure imminent yadda yadda yadda, you think I haven’t heard people say that before? Shut up).

My work/life balance is about as good as you can get for a lawyer, and to prove it, I have a craptastic salary.  That would be part of the balance, folks.  I work for a not-for-profit/public interest company.  I am in court 85% of the time, so my schedule is very dependent on the court’s schedule.  While sometimes that means I am at the whim of a judge scheduling a last minute emergency hearing, or deciding to stay as late as possible to finish the hearing, 95% of the time, it means that when the courts close, there is not too much for me to do.

While my work day itself is very varied—I am always bouncing back and forth between the office, the courthouse, other attorneys’ offices, meeting volunteers in random places, helping with home visits, getting records from random places, and occasionally on a REALLY fun day, going to the jail and having them make me remove staples from all my documents OMG—my usual daily time at work is not.  I am pretty much done by 4:30, and I take maybe an hour of reading home with me.  Yeah, there are some days where the judge leans over the bench and is like, “Hey, all of you can find someone else to pick up your kids/let out your dog, RIGHT? Because I am going to keep going until we finish.”  Those days don’t happen often, and even when they do, I (1) have a husband and a MIL nearby, and (2) I can usually predict that is going to happen the day before, when the lawyers and the pro-se people start blowing up my phone with chaos. 

The balance part that is tricky with my job is the emotional aspect.  I am appointed to help represent children who are suspected of being abused or neglected.  I don’t work for the state—remember, private not-for-profit.  It can be very draining, drama filled, sad, shocking, appalling, etc., etc., etc.  I’ve seen some really awful stuff happen.  There have been days when I’ve gotten home and dissolved into tears because what I dealt with that day was just that bad.  I’ve had to learn how not to take that home, how to leave it at the office, and how to make sure I don’t dredge it up while I am in my of hours.  It’s not something I’ve perfected, but I have gotten better. 

Balance in the traditional sense is more of a problem for us when it comes to Vor’s job.  Intellectual Property is his area, and he works at a big law firm with the big law hours.  When we get to the last month or two of his billable year, I generally expect to not see him until at least 7pm at night, having left at 7am, with him working at home, and then working both weekend days.  It’s not a “make your hours” thing either—it’s just that the clients’ end of year stuff coincides with his end of year, and everyone just wants THINGS DONE NOW.  Makes for crazy making.

That’s pretty normal for life in IP big law—long hours, with periods of intense craziness, followed by times of less crazy but still more work than can possibly be done by the people that are there.   The problem we are encountering is that they truly don’t have enough staff and they don’t pay comparable to other markets to attract people.  There is too much work, not enough people, and they aren’t paid anywhere near what they could be paid if they went somewhere else. 

That part is really frustrating, and it’s the part that is making us less than content right now.  It makes us wonder what life would be like at another law firm, in another city, in a smaller town, in a different state, in a smaller firm, in-house, or maybe, in another sector, such as the government sector.  Of course, the problem with any kind of movement out of this town/state is my job—my bar license is state-specific, while his is federal.  I’ve only been practicing three years, and almost every state that lets you waive in requires five years of practice.  And I like my job and the people, and they like me. 

One of my friends was talking to me last weekend, and I suddenly lost her call.  She texted me a minute later—“sorry lost reception—biking in mountains will call later.”  I showed it to Vor, who said, “I wish I had time for hobbies.  Like mountain biking.  Or yard mowing.  Or something.”  I blamed it on the presence of the very cute tiny human in the house, but Vor shook his head.  “Now, it was like this before Lis.  It’s like this because of our (my) job(s).”  It’s true.  We work, we come home, we eat, we talk to each other and baby, we walk the dog, we (try to, fail to) sleep.  We repeat.  Maybe that’s just how life has to be for awhile, until Lis is older or we rethink the job situation or something.  

In the meantime, we sneak in things that we enjoy.  I still managed to keep my vegetable garden going this summer, though it was more unruly this year than last.  I get to the gym, and I read books.  Vor reads books too, and his does that thing men do when they make their cars pretty.  We take our daily walks together and we go out to dinner with friends.  We just don’t have time for other things—like going to the nearby trails to take a longer walk/hike, or planning the landscape for the backyard, or any DIY house things we would like to do, or for me, work on my little work in progress (that book that I really have no plans for, other than its fun), and so on.  Sometimes, even necessary things get pushed aside, like mowing the yard, because that’s just not the priority (you know, until it becomes the priority). 

So, there’s balance for us.

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