Before last week, I had been feeling a little down about my job situation. Overall I like my job and the people I work with, but I couldn't stop myself from thinking about how things would be different this year if I had stayed with my last firm. Because if I had stayed with my last firm, I would have made partner this month.
It sounds like a self-aggrandizing thing to say since partnership decisions are never set in stone, but I was certainly on the path to partnership at my last firm and by all indications, I would have been named a partner this December. Of course, at that firm, "partnership" meant non-equity partner, but still. I would have had the title. I knew when I chose to leave that firm that I would not be considered for partnership at my new firm for at least one additional year, and that my current firm's partnership decisions were not made in December, making the process even longer. But partnership at my current firm means full-on equal ownership of the business, so the decision to add a new partner is taken very, very seriously. It only made sense that they'd want me around for a while before they decided to own a business with me. And truthfully, when I was making the decision to move, I pretty much thought I'd want that extra year to make sure I wanted to own a business with them. So back then, the extra year of associate didn't seem so bad. Which may be why I was so surprised to be a little down about what could have been this December if only I had stayed.
Until last Tuesday.
Last Tuesday around 9:30 a.m., I got a call from daycare that Sweet Pea was sick. I'll start by saying she's fine, the worst case scenario that I am about to describe was not the situation. But at the time I got the call, Sweet Pea's sickness seemed pretty serious. And, it seemed potentially related to all of the "tummy troubles" she had as a baby. Sweet Pea needed to see a doctor right away, and hospitalization was not out of the question.
One of the reasons I left my last job was for how they treated me the year Sweet Pea was born. Sweet Pea had a lot of trouble eating - and thus a lot of trouble growing - her first year of life. There were all kinds of doctor appointments. All kinds of tests. You know the pre-tax dollars you can set aside for medical expenses each year? We blew through all the money we had set aside for the year by the first week of March. I only have a few memories from 2009, and sadly the most poignant one is of sitting at my kitchen table at 2 a.m. on my last week of maternity leave crying. I had been in the hospital for an infection and discharged myself so that I could relieve my parents who had been watching the kids and needed to work the next day. Sweet Pea had been very sick for my parents. And despite their best efforts to be reassuring, I knew they were worried. When they left that night to get some sleep, I sat at the table and cried. My baby seemed seriously sick. And I had to go back to work. And my firm had just laid off over 100 people due to the terrible economic climate. How was I going to do it?
Somehow, I managed to make it. I worked full-time, five days a week, scheduled as many doctor appointments and tests as I could on Saturdays and just generally tried my best to make it work. But I was so tired. By the end of July, I knew I couldn't keep at that pace much longer. So I asked my firm if I could go on the (firm approved) four-day-a-week part-time plan for 6 months. And was denied.
They "needed" me full-time, they said. Never mind the fact that there wasn't a lot of work to go around at that particular time. That associates were billing less than 100 per month. Never mind that many of our clients had stopped all unnecessary litigation in order to save capital for their actual business needs. And never mind that my firm would have saved tens of thousands of dollars in salary that I couldn't make up with billable work if I stayed. They wanted me there, and that was that. I had no choice but to continue on full-time. In December, I resubmitted the part-time paperwork and started looking for a job. And in May, I left.
When everything with Sweet Pea had settled down on Tuesday and I had time to reflect on my current firm's response to my emergency, I realized how happy I am to wait a couple more years to be considered for partner. My experiences with my "new" firm have been night-and-day from my old. My current firm started me with every-other-Friday off, and moved me to a four-day work week within a year. I've brought my kids to the office more times in the last 18 months than I did during the entire three years I had kids at my last firm. And, most importantly, they've supported me whenever I've needed to be there for my kids. Whether that's meant handling a routine court call so that I could attend my kid's holiday party, or handing over their car key so that I could get to my sick kid (which actually happened on Tuesday).
For all of my complaints, the men I work with now have priorities like mine. They understand how important family is, and are willing to support me as I try to balance a young family and a demanding profession. They are willing to work with me, even if that means sacrifice on their part from time to time. They understand that I only have one chance to be there for my kids when they are small. But I have my whole career to build a book of business and be named partner. In other words, they are the kind of people that I would want to be partners with. Someday.
And for that, I'm happy to wait.