Something gregwest98 said to me this week got me thinking, just a needful fraction of a bit. I was saying to him that I have been practicing law for 18 years now, and that I wondered if I am to practice for the remaining 17 years until I am 60. I have a nice little law firm with a congenial partner, and know how to try a case. If one knows how to try a case, then ordinarily one can make a living of one sort or another. Although one sometimes meets a person who finished law school and never could latch onto that first law job, once one has "learned a trade" in law, the issue is usually how nice a living, not whether one earns a living.
My point to Greg, though, was that I might someday want to downsize my career into a less stressful career. Greg reminded, me, though, that I already "down-sized" my career into a less stressful career. I used to work in larger, specialty boutique law firms in which, at my peak, I worked truly astounding work hours. What made them even more astounding was that others of my co-workers worked far, far more astouding work hours. Law was less a job or even a profession or calling than the way to spend all my time.
Right now I'm extremely busy at work (although apparently slack enough that I can post to LJ). I'm pleased that while the general economy is in a downturn, my personal legal economy is in an upturn. This is not unusual, as legal economies, based on disputes and deals, do not "track" the general economy. Still, when I'm busy at work, I'm reminded of old, stressful days.
My father is a great guy. When I was a kid, though, he worked literally all the time. He was a country doctor in a two doctor town, and we literally had to race to get out the door on a Sunday before the telephone rang. I love my Dad, admire his career immensely, and always swore to myself that I would NEVER have a career as stressful as his.
Nonetheless, I went to work for a somewhat demanding law firm when I first got out of law school. I found myself pushed in ways, professionally, personally, and stress-wise, that took me rather by surprise. As my initial plan was to practice a few years, get an LLM, and then teach law school, I figured this would be a one or two year experience. The salary was nice, by 1984 standards, although it would be a pittance, even adjusted for inflation, in today's legal market. For some reason that I have explained in another journal post or will explain some other time, I elected to stay in practice, though, so that I could try to really "master" it.
During all the time that I was a young lawyer, from the time that I gave up on my dream of academia, I marveled to myself at how nice it would be to have my own small law firm. A law firm built on the human practice of law rather than merely being a downtown, high dollar "big city" law firm. A firm in which I could handle consumer or commercial cases. A firm in which I could have a lifestyle built on really living, not just work.
Now, I essentially have that lifestyle. A bit more than two years ago, my wife and I moved back here to TX from CA so that I could set up my current small, suburban firm with an old friend. We knew, from very early in, that we could "make a go of it". What has been interesting is that both of us have been more successful at getting "corporate" clients here than we ever were in our prior decade and a half of working in "downtown" law firms. We now have a practice that is a pleasant blend of consumer, commercial and general practice claims.
On a number of days, I can leave at 5 or 6, a time unheard of in earlier times. I can take regular vacations without the fear of losing them to the work flow. I do not have to deal with firm politics or the other things that are difficult about working with lawyers. I can take more cases on because I think I can help someone than I could in a more revenue-obsessed world.
So what's the problem? The problem is that nothing is perfect. No matter how good one's life is, one wonders if one can live the life one has. I now have the practice that I dreamed of having. But guess what? Even when you have the job you dreamed of, doing what you are good at doing, it's still a job, you still breathe in, you still breathe out,
and no angelic trumpets sound when you enter your offices (at our office, a mildly annoying soft bell sounds--more "It's a Wonderful Life" than "Paradiso").
Now my work life does have its flaws. I've downsized my lifestyle a bit. I don't get to live in the CA foothills anymore. Trial is still trial, requiring immense work to prepare for. I must navigate the usual client service issues of making clients as happy as I can.
But I'm not thinking so much right now of the niggles which exist in any work life. I'm thinking of the real fantasy about my work life I have now. It no longer has a physical change in it so much, as that's less a matter for dreaming than for spreadsheets and marketing and those odd lunches where they serve buffets and someone speaks on a topic that might or might not interest me.
What I want is not something new or different. What I want is to want what I have. My problem is not my career. My problem is me. Well, I'm not a problem, exactly, but my goal is to achieve what I mean to achieve.
In short, my dream is to fully want the life I have, and to engage myself into achieving it every day in a more perfect way than I do. I no longer see a law professorship, another career line or another firm as my salvation. My salvation, if any, is to be a better me. It's a harsh reality to face, but I've got to recognize I have the life I wanted, and live it a bit more.
I begin today.