Today I walked out of my office for the last time.
I'm not going to lie, I shed a few tears as I walked home.
Here's what happened:
Six years ago, a freshly-minted law grad, I joined Biglaw. And I hit the ground running: I had fantastic cases, lucky draws with the partners I worked with, lots of responsibility. I loved my work, I enjoyed my colleagues, I didn't mind pulling 250 hours or so a month. We all know hard work is what I do.
A couple years ago, a few things shifted. I was put on a case that took enormous time but didn't offer new opportunities. Then my favorite partner went out for over a year, and for various reasons (including a general fall-off in my area of the firm) I got less and less work. Then I got no new work at all.
Well. That's never going to work well for anyone. It drove me crazy, and even if the firm swore up and down that it had no intention of laying off more associates ever, how long would they really keep someone who wasn't billing?
I did all the things they say to do. I wrote articles, I co-wrote book chapters. I walked the halls, ambushing partners and asking for work. I filled out the reports showing my abysmal hours and how much availability I had. Whenever anything came down the pike, however tiny, I said yes.
Somehow I had gone from superstar to superslow. More of a dead halt, really.
It took months for me to accept that I really needed to look for a new job, more months for me to get definitely serious about it, not long at all to get an offer once I did get serious.
It seems I'm probably the only woman my age ever hired as an associate in Biglaw. By quitting, I wonder whether I've let down all the other women my age-ish who want to work in Biglaw. Will the firms point to me and say look, we tried it, it didn't work out, we're not hiring any woman over 30? Eh, doubtful I ever drew enough attention for that.
But it's a bitter moment, somehow. To realize that I wasn't able to beat the 99.5 to 1 odds against becoming a partner, to realize I was effectively frozen out of my job, it feels like defeat. Yes, it's Biglaw's loss--they said goodbye to an associate who would bill a thousand hours over the yearly average without blinking. More importantly, they lost someone who, with all due modesty, is a smart and efficient associate with a knack for developing good relationships with clients. I also recognize that to a large extent the firm is trapped in its own weird universe and has no mechanisms for breaking through its rigid system to keep someone like me, even if there were some individuals who would have wanted to do so. Still, to Biglaw I'm fungible.
I think it would be foolish on my part to gloss over the sense of loss I feel. I went in recognizing the odds and hoping to beat them anyway. I lost. I left. Even when you're braced for impact, it hurts.
On Monday I start anew. A smaller firm, a specialized practice, and a daily train ride are in store for me. I'm intrigued by the work. I liked the people with whom I interviewed. I'm resigned to no longer being able to walk to work. I'm taking a salary cut, but it's not as drastic as it might have been. We'll cope.
Maybe I'll thrive.
Certainly, I'm glad that I was able to leave on my own terms, and looking forward to something new.