Monday, March 21, 2011


I have two deal toys.  Actually, I have one.  I have one deal toy, and one award from Legal Aid.  And a paperweight. 

In case you don't know, a deal toy is a little trophy that you get when a deal you work on closes.  They are also called "tombstones," I guess because of the typical shape?  Or maybe because by the time the deal closes, you wish you were dead.  Anyway, a deal toy usually has the name of the client, the name of the firm and the amount of money that the deal was worth written on it somewhere (which is why you don't see a picture of my real deal toy, just the stock image below).  Usually they are made of some kind of acrylic or Lucite and are kind of ugly.  Lawyers and investment bankers collect them over the course of their career and put them on a shelf in their office (or more than one shelf, depending) to show what a hot-shot they are.  Not all the lawyers on the team get them though -- usually they leave out the junior associates.  This is how the really important lawyers show juniors that they are fungible.  Which is why, over the course of three years, I earned only one.  And an award from Legal Aid for a pro bono case I worked on.  And a paperweight.

(deal toy image via the WSJ)
Anyway, I put my deal toy and my Legal Aid award in a box today, along with a paperweight with a client's logo on it that I received as a gift.  I guess that is what I will have to show for my career as a big firm lawyer.  Each year, distilled down to one of those three hunks of Lucite. 
Today was the first day I had a chance to really begin packing up my office, and I finally, finally felt a twinge of the bittersweetness that comes with any major life change.  I put the deal toy in the box, and thought of my one of my favorite work friends, who I think came to trust my work by working with me on that deal.  I put the Legal Aid award in, and thought about how even a peripheral role in changing a client's life is still a role in changing someone's life.  I put the paperweight in, and thought about how it bore the logo of the client I was seconded to during my first year at the firm -- and the pride in my voice when I called my parents to tell them.
I wouldn't be me if I could go through a big change without any sadness or nostalgia.  When packing up your office, it's easy to remember all the good times.  They do exist, even in Biglaw.  I know I will miss the cameraderie, and how it felt to know I was really good at my job.  (I don't mean to be egotistical, but I was.  I was a good lawyer -- I was good at researching, decent at legal writing, and good at thinking through the analytical and logical arguments.  I was also fast while being accurate.  I was good at my job.) 
After packing up that box and some others, I came home early today.  I had a great night with Kathy and the kids, and remembered why I made this decision in the first place.  I know it was the right one, and I'm looking forward to it.  It was so nice to be able to tell B that I would come to her "math dance" at school without all the usual caveats and reservations about "unless I have a meeting."  It was nice to feel relaxed and enjoy dinner without knowing we had to get the kids to bed so we could go work until midnight.  It makes me smile to myself to picture myself walking across a college campus again, writing papers about topics I find difficult and engaging.
I know I made the right choice, but it's still with a touch of sadness that I will close the door on Biglaw.  Not because of the golden handcuffs or the prestige, but because of the few like-minded friends I was able to find, because of the hope that I felt when first starting out (I was a real grown-up!  I was starting my career!), and because even in the bleakest, harshest corporate environment, I was able to touch some lives and do some good. 

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