The legal industry is a strange animal. Working in this industry will eventually force one to evolve or perish. Well, not truly perish (I hope). The life span of a boutique firm is sometimes short and oftentimes unstable. Things happen, and you find yourself searching for opportunities to survive, whether it be landing that big new client or joining forces with another firm.
I’ve done a lot of evolving over the past month. Thanks to a surprise merger, I am now an employee of the fastest growing national law firm in the country over the past five years. And while we have the same people, the same clients, and the same office, practically everything about how I do my job has changed. My job functions are basically unchanged, but I’ve had to learn how to carry out those functions in completely new ways. New computers, printers, phones, and dictation equipment, as well as updated programs and software suites, all of which were very welcome additions but required time and effort to learn how to use them.
So essentially, it’s as if I went out and got a new job at a new firm, but still have the same sucky commute.
There is a certain brand of exhaustion that comes with starting a new job (or “new job” in my case). It’s physically taxing, with meetings and training and moving things around the office to accommodate all the changes to our workspace. I have also been so mentally exhausted over the past two months, not just with having to learn all of this new stuff about the actual job but having to process all the changes to my benefits and how those changes will affect our family. Apparently my small firm provided us with perks that are unheard of in the industry. Heavily subsidized insurance premiums, generous 401k match with immediate vesting, 12-week fully paid maternity leave, five weeks of paid time off, a liberal flex time policy.
Gone is my 401k match, and in its place is a yearly profit sharing that I won’t see until June 2015. Maternity leave is cut in half, and is only fully paid after five years of service. Thank the newborn infant Jesus that our service dates were grandfathered and those of us with many years invested in our firm didn’t have to start from scratch. There is a week less PTO. Insurance premiums for family coverage were prohibitively expensive. I am one of the fortunate ones with a spouse that works for a company with great family insurance coverage, and the premiums are comparable to my old plan. That doesn’t help the single mom with kids who play sports, or the new mother who carries her family’s insurance coverage.
The most stressful part for me is the zero flex time. My commute is so unpredictable that I cannot maintain any consistency in my arrival time despite my best efforts. With my small firm, I could make up late arrival times by taking a shorter lunch or staying a few minutes late in the evenings. As long as I got my 40 hours, everything was fine. All that is different now. Any later than the 7-minute “grace period” and I have to use a quarter hour of paid time off. If I leave by 7:15 every morning, I can arrive anywhere from 7:50 to 8:45 or later depending on the traffic, the weather, city events, any number of factors. If I leave earlier than that, I run the risk of getting to the office too early and having to sit around waiting to clock in, which robs me of precious few moments with my kids in the mornings. I can’t leave at 6:30 every morning on the off chance that traffic might be terrible. It’s not fair to my husband to leave him to deal with getting the boys ready for school by himself, or to my kids who only see me for about four waking hours a day.
I’ve had to basically let my husband take over the entire morning routine. He does so with a cheerful heart because he knows that I have a long commute. But I still feel bad running out the door at 7am with kids still in pajamas and backpacks unpacked. I hate rushing the goodbyes when my 2-year old needs one more hug, or my 4-year old hasn’t finished telling me about his dreams. Then I jump from that stressful situation right into Atlanta traffic and try to beat the clock. I use my Waze navigation app every single morning because it gives me an estimated arrival time based on traffic patterns. And as the highways fill up, I watch that arrival time inch closer to 8:15. I’ve seen my estimated arrival time jump from 7:50 to 8:45 in a matter of minutes. If it hits that dreaded time, instant despair. Turning corners in the parking deck on two wheels. Rushing upstairs. Praying the computer boots up quickly. Adrenaline. A dreaded phone call from the office manager. Defeat. Lather, rinse, repeat.
My, that was dramatic. Trust me, I’m fully aware that all of these issues rank pretty highly on the First World Problems list. And you’d think with what we went through two years ago, I’d be grateful that my job survived a merger. And I am. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less stressful on my family.
Although I am fortunate to have a job where I can “leave work at work,” it’s difficult most days to leave the work-related stress at work. My family feels it. I can be short with my children, who climb all over me the instant we walk in the door. They just want to sit with me and be in close physical proximity. I crave a little space and time to chill out before turning into a human bean bag upon which to sit. I can get snippy with my husband, who doesn’t really understand how badly the commute can affect me with his nine minute drive from our home to his office. And whether or not I need time to turn Work Rachel off and turn Home Rachel on, things still have to get done. Dinner still has to be made, laundry still has to be folded, dishes still have to be washed.
It’s a balancing act, and I’ve had the wobbles for the last two months.
I’m hoping to see that light at the end of the tunnel soon. I feel like it’s slowly getting better. I can go home and get dinner started and an activity going for the kids without having to lock myself in the bathroom for 20 minutes just to decompress. I feel like tying on my running shoes and cranking out a few miles on the treadmill again. And less exhaustion means more fun time with my kids. I’m determined to get back to more activities and less TV while I throw something together for dinner. And now that it will be getting warmer soon, we’ll be spending more time outside and I’ll feel more like a referee and less like human furniture.
As Heraclitus said, change is the only constant in life. Big Law is different from my comfy little boutique firm bubble, but I’m grateful that I’m getting the experience without having to actually go out and interview, since I’m sure I could neither find nor fit into my interview suit anymore. I know these things take time to work themselves out, and we’ll get back to normal soon. It’s just been a strange experience. I’ve always prided myself on being able to roll with things, though, so I’m rolling with this.
Rachel and her family live in Lawrenceville, Georgia. When she’s not dealing with her insane commute to her job in Atlanta, Rachel enjoys spending time with her husband, playing tennis, attempting to crochet, and wrangling her 4-year old and 2-year old sons. Rachel blogs about parenting, being a boy mom, and her attempts at craftiness at The House of Burks and overshares on Twitter at @HouseOfBurks.