The other day, I was sitting with a few friends of mine. One is a 3L in law school, currently working at the public defender’s office, but the others are not in the legal profession. We were joking around about what it would be like to defend criminals, and as that discussion came to a close, one of the girls said to me, so, still planning on going into corporate law? I told her that, yes, I had a law firm job lined up. Another girl immediately began going on about how miserable her friend who currently works at a firm is, how this friend is constantly working and stressed out, how all she does all day is “contracts.” Eventually, this friend told me, her law firm friend would go into pro bono.
As most people in law school will tell you, this isn’t a particularly unique discussion, especially among women. It seems like every discussion about law firms ends up focusing on the hours, the misery, and, of course, the exit strategy. Already on this blog, women are talking about the “work life balance sales pitch,” and how women leave law firms “because they can.” I think a great dialogue is being fostered, and, like everyone else, I believe that law firms need to change the way they do business if they want to keep young associates around, male or female.
But this time, I’m not sure what it was—perhaps that the criticism of law firms was coming from someone who had no personal experience with them—the conversation kind of got to me. Suddenly I became a walking law firm advertisement—I talked about how I took this job because I would be working with smart people, getting great experience in my practice area, working on big deals, and how I could use this job as a launching pad to something else (read: something with better hours where I’m actually helping people and have time for a family).
In the end, though, my defense of my choice bothered me even more than the implication that my choice was a bad one, because it was not only disingenuous but unnecessary. Why should I have to apologize for taking the highest paid position I could land out of school? Isn’t it a simple, rational economic choice to seek the job with the most compensation? I know as well as anyone else that this isn’t going to be a 9-5 job, but then, the money isn’t 9-5 either. Why isn’t it assumed that I looked at my options and made an informed decision?
A bigger question, of course, at least is this forum, is whether men would ever be having this conversation. Would they be like me—explaining away their choices, or, like my friend, explaining away her friend’s choices—by saying that the job is only temporary, until they can find work that is more acceptable in their social group? Or is working at a law firm the acceptable choice to begin with, something that they don’t have to defend at all?