In Elaine’s first post, she talked about her background and motivations for leaving her BigLaw litigation job. Today, she discusses the steps she took before she left for good.
How Can You Figure Out What to Do When You Work All the Time?
I was working too much to think about what I wanted to do. When I came home from work, the last thing I wanted to do was do more research on the Internet or to meditate on career aspirations; I was far more inclined to pass out in front of the TV to last season’s episode of 30 Rock.
So I made an appointment with a career counselor, who I found through Yelp. It wasn’t that she said things that were terribly surprising or life changing — but I just needed to do something. We discussed my personality and what types of jobs might be better suited for me. (I’m still not sure how “dental hygienist” and “coal miner” made that list.)
After about three or four sessions, I found the following advice to be very helpful: contrary to what every legal recruiter will tell you (“It’s virtually impossible to find a legal position if you’re unemployed”), she suggested that I take time off and volunteer in areas I might be interested in.
I felt that I still needed to give litigation one more try, so I decided to take time off to work at the District Attorney’s Office. Where else would I get rapid-fire courtroom experience, arguing motions and conducting jury trials — and without waiting a decade in a big firm to do it? I applied to be a volunteer prosecutor. (Note: Some law firms have programs where they will pay their attorneys to spend three months at the DA’s office to get more trial experience. Mine didn’t.) If I liked it, I would either try to be a prosecutor for a little while and maybe head back to the firm, or just return to the firm and accept that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. If I didn’t like it, well. At least I’d know what I shouldn’t be doing.
Figuring Out the Logistics
The other helpful part about career counseling was talking through the logistics.
I figured out my monthly budget — what was the bare minimum I needed to get by, what was a more “comfortable amount,” how much I had in savings, and how long I could stay out of work. I had to consider: mortgage, property taxes, health insurance, home insurance, car insurance, utilities, transportation, food, etc. In this area, I was very, very, very lucky. I had just finished paying off my law school loans, and I didn’t have a family to support. I had a mortgage, but it wasn’t terrible. I had enough socked away in savings. In other words, I had the luxury to indulge in hippie-dippy “professional discovery.”
I spoke with an insurance broker. I found that the most economical option for me was to use COBRA for dental and vision, since independent dental and vision plans were usually overly expensive and covered very little. I went with an independent plan for general health insurance, which had good coverage but cost substantially less than COBRA. A no-frills but comfortable insurance coverage would have meant that my total monthly insurance bill, with dental and vision, would be about $200-$220.
In the meantime, I also spoke with friends who had already done what I was contemplating (including Alison!). I asked them why they left Biglaw and exactly what happened on their last days so I knew what to expect.
The month before I left, I met with the career counselor one last time to discuss how to tell the partners I was leaving.
I hated the idea of disappointing anybody or leaving anybody in a lurch, and imagining how I would give notice kept me up at night.
The career counselor and I worked out what I would say — which was merely the truth, but much more succinct and without the stammering, babbling, and non-sequiturs.
Embarrassingly, I actually wrote it down on a napkin and tried to memorize it.
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Next Up: What happened on the last day?
If you missed Part One, check it out here!