Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Petit Rant

If you're not in the mood to hear someone whining/complaining a little, please feel free to ignore this post. ;) There are just some things on my mind that i'd normally write in my journal, but knowing my readers, i feel that i could get some valuable feedback by blogging about it. So here i go!

Yesterday was a bad day (as it was for many of you, apparently). Aside from the bad drivers, pet mishaps, etc., i was really frustrated at work, which guarantees a bad day, n'est ce pas? As if i don't question enough what the heck i'm doing here, my attitude towards work worsens exponentially when i don't have enough work to do. In theory, not having much to do sounds great. I can roll in around 9 and leave as early as 5:30. I don't have to work weekends or evenings, and i'm pretty certain i won't get a frantic email at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The problem with being an attorney and having no work is that your productivity/success is measured on the number of hours you bill.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow moi to introduce you to the billable hour. We. Hate. It. (at least the the lawyers i know do) Evaluating your day in terms of billable hours can wreak havoc on the mind and soul, esp. when that number is low, or oftentimes, zero. Your value to the firm is how much you can bill the client - money, no matter where you are, is the bottom line. And unfortunately in this economy and in the particular practice area I'm in, business is slow. Being a new associate makes things way more stressful, especially when you read and hear about new layoffs almost daily (thankfully, that seems to have slowed down as well). I'm done (for the most part) worrying about being laid off. There was a period i was literally sick with fear every day i came into the office. I emailed City Girl almost daily with new fears/concerns, and she was WONDERFUL about addressing them and getting me to see the big picture (merci beaucoup, City Girl!!). What will i accomplish by making myself sick with worry? If i get laid off, so be it. I can't control the future, and i can only focus on doing the best i can do right now. Right?

This brings me to my current "problem". I'm trying to do the best i can do right now, but it's not enough. And furthermore, i can't bring in my own work which means i'm completely dependent on those senior to me to give me work to do, the hours to bill. It's a difficult balance - being diligent about finding work while also not be the nagging/annoying associate. Everyone is worried about hours, and since there aren't many to go around, being last on the totem pole is a disadvantage. Well yesterday i was faced with Day #3 of absolutely no billable work to do and starting to get really resentful of not being given anything to do despite my constant requests.

Because here's the deal guys, i know i have to PROVE myself. But how can i do that when it's impossible for me to work hard?? I know this may be hard for many to believe, but I ACTUALLY WANT TO WORK HARD. Because THIS is the time to do it! But i can't! And it's not my fault (for the first time in my life). And the thing is, i DO go above and beyond to try and work hard. I answer every email requesting an associate to do a project, i respond to partners who email on Friday afternoons for someone to work on something over the weekend, i try to do everything i can so that i can bill bill bill. It's not enough though. And i'm frustrated. Because not only do i feel worthless, but i feel like people don't see me for what i am - someone who's actually making a serious effort to work hard.

So, of course, that leads me into a downward spiral of "what the hell am i doing here" and "this is so not the right career for me" and "god could this day go by any slower" and "someone put me out of my misery". Now, don't get me wrong, i'm still me. I don't want to be put on projects that'll keep me in the office until 3 a.m.. What i do want is an opportunity to show my employers that i am capable of being a great associate* (and ok, maybe that will eventually involve some late nights, and that's fine). And more than that, i guess i want to feel like i am actually a valuable player in this whole game and that i'm not wasting my days on the internet FREAKING OUT about the number of hours i'm not billing. (Oh billable hour, how i loathe you.)

Ok, i'm done.

*Well, not quite. I have to say that I have been lucky enough to have been given a great deal of responsibility for a first-year associate, and i have been given great praise. I have been appreciated for the times i stepped up to the plate to do unpleasant tasks. And i know my own partner is happy with me. So okay, not all is awful, but if things keep up the way they do, they could quickly turn that way.


LGirl said...

My best friend works for Cadwalader (sp?) in DC and had this problem last year. She ended up changing practice areas so that she had hours despite not loving her new practice area. Hang in there, maybe talk to a partner in a different area to see if they have work :-)

I, luckily, work for a non-profit so I always have too much work!

City Girl said...

Thanks for the shout-out :)

LGirl's point is good.

Another thing to think about is doing some writing - I know here, whenever we are slow, I am always writing articles for a couple of industry publications the firm contributes to. SO I am lucky in that these are pre-existing arrangements (in fact, I think I wrote an article like my 3rd week here) - but maybe approach your partner about writing an article for a publication. It doesn't have to be big - even a small industry newsletter is a start.

Lots of law firms let you bill that work as business development - and, yes, you may not get your name on it (i rarely do and it's usually the partners' names on it) but as long as you get credit for the hours and you get some writing done, it's another way to demonstrate your commitment to your employer.

Also when it's slow here, I go to our firm library and read treatises because I am encouraged to do it - I cant really bill for it (I was told to put it under admin time just so they know that I do it) but it's useful learning.

Glad you liked the Antwerp video - I saw it on a day that was truly epic in how bad it was, and the video made me cry and smile at the same time :)

City Girl said...

PS - do talk to your local contacts/peers/mentors - there may be pro bono opportunities locally - if one is really interesting, your firm might be willing to support you doing some of that with your dead time a few hours here or there - again, not billable, but you never know what they might go for.

Angela said...

Carolyn -- sounds like you might benefit from some fresh ideas on marketing yourself. You are very talented. The world needs conscientious attorneys. Don't give up.
Email me and I'll send you some thoughts.


theanalyst said...

Carolyn, I understand your frustration! While I'm not a lawyer, I do research on ethics (so I have a little law experience) and definitely do billable work. As a therapist, I found working in a private practice frustrating when it came to billing. If I didn't have clients (low caseload, cancellations, no shows) I didn't get paid. Not fun for my wallet. After the stress and wasted time, I left the practice and decided to focus on my full-time job (to be discussed next) and my research.

When it comes to my ft position, I work at an agency. I am the only person in my county (a county outside of Philly) with my job. Like you, my direct services are "billable." Unfortunately, I have some pretty acute clients who like to cancel for numerous reasons and this time is not billable. Therefore, my time sitting at my desk looks unused and reflects on me. My supervisor and I are in the process of battling this with the insurance company to allow for more of my work (phone calls, case management, etc.) to become billable.

So what do I tell myself when I'm not stressing out, which is frequent these days: Do your best, do what you can do. Other problems outside of myself aren't mine, so while I can help and offer support I remind myself it isn't mine to own.

The research I work on is my own sort of pro bono basis, though I hope to benefit one day from it. I don't get paid, I put in the hours (physically and mentally), but I know that I plan to use it to further my career down the road. Publications (as CityGirl said) are great tools for networking.

You are young and intelligent, so take a breath, and expand your horizons. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish whatever you want.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about your area of work, being more of the journalistic-inclination, but that really does sound terrible!! It's soul-destroying when you really want to work and do your best and you just can't get a break.
Right now I've the opposite problem ...FAR too much work being dumped on me without any recognition or extra pay ...this recession is no fun!
All I can say is that all this gruelling effort will pay off in a few years and we'll all be incredibly awesome, rich and talented people!lol!c :D

Revisionista said...

This sounds v. frustrating, Carolyn. I like the suggestions about pro bono work. I was also thinking that doing some freelance writing might lead to other opportunities either in law or maybe in PARIS! ;)

Hang in there.

Crystal said...

Ugh, I'm stressed out about billable hours just reading this! So sorry this is causing so much tension and anxiety in your life. :( I read too, and from everything I've read I can't even begin to imagine the kind of pressure lawyers are feeling right now in this economy.

Hang in there, though, you are a strong woman with a great work ethic! As the bellboy said in "My Best Friend's Wedding": This, too, shall pass.

Globetrotting Cacti said...

Not sure that I have any advice as this is not my area of work but just to say that I am thinking of you. Have been in work situations where I am desperate to perform and the opportunity has not been there and it is tough. Hang in there - you sound motivated and a team player, I am sure that doors will open for you soon and there are some wonderful opportunities just around the corner....