I Was a Firm Widow


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In June, my husband started his position as a summer associate with a large New York firm. I’ve never been crazy about the substance of corporate work, but I was pretty excited about the gig. All reports indicated that he would have light assignments and be showered with free lunches and expensive city outings, some of which I would be invited to. It seemed like a wonderful way to have some fun and make money before we had to separate in August (he’s a 3L at another law school, I’m a 1L here.)

That’s what I thought in June, anyway.

While the reports about lunches and outings turned out to be true, the reports about the reasonable hours did not. Whether it was a matter of firm policy or just the attorneys my husband worked under, he spent the summer working the kind of hours real associates work. And I spent the summer in days full of resigned, husband-free hours – the kind that the families, lovers, and friends of firm associates regularly endure.

Don’t get me wrong — I had fun this summer. But I had to have it without him, because he was working. I went to movies by myself. I had coffee with mutual friends, but couldn’t bring him along. And it was bearable, because it was ten weeks. But always looming at the end of the summer was the prospect of ten years – or twenty, or forty – at this firm or another, working these hours on last-minute deals and emergency motions.

It all came to a head one weekend in July, where he had to work all of a Sunday (canceling our evening plans), and hadn’t come home by midnight because something was due Monday. He called every hour to tell me he still wasn’t finished, until I fell asleep holding my cell phone. When he finally crawled into bed, I opened my eyes. There was sunlight coming through the window. It was 7 AM.

Even worse, Monday was the all-day firm outing (not exactly optional), so he slept one hour, got on a bus to Westchester, and went golfing. It was only because he skipped dinner and took an early train home that I saw my husband that night, the first time in two and a half days.

Perhaps you are a stronger person than I, but this is not a life I want to live. Not even for “a few years to pay our loans right away.” Not even for “training before we go into another field.” Not at all. My husband and I want to have a family some day. An associate billing 2400 hours a year is not a good candidate for active parenting. That’s important to me, and maybe it is to you, too.

But even if family is far off in your plans, my summer still raises questions you should answer if you’re firm-inclined. We all have important personal relationships – parents, friends, and partners. The work environment at a large firm will change those relationships. All I ask is that you think about the amount of change you’re willing to take. For some people, the content of the work interests them immensely, and for others, the giant salary is so attractive it outweighs everything else. But I know that isn’t true of everyone taking these jobs. So for those of you who are weighing the costs and benefits of firm work, realize that you aren’t the only one bearing the burden of all those hours. Your loved ones will feel your absence. And if the world of news we live in teaches us anything, it’s that tragedy is unpredictable, and we can’t always make up for time ill-spent in the past.

My story ends in August, when my husband got a full-time offer from the firm. A day later, he turned it down. The practical reason is that the firm has no office in Boston, where he’ll be moving when he graduates. The real reason is that the work is not for him. He enjoyed litigation, but not the husband and friend he was while working in litigation. And for him, that realization was worth $125,000 plus bonus. Maybe a similar thought will be worth that much to some of you. I hope it is.

I’ll write many things in the coming year as a reporter and a law student, but today I’m writing as a spouse, a significant other, and a friend. Yes, we want to be financially secure. But we don’t want you to disappear from our lives in pursuit of that goal. We’d rather you make less money, be less stressed, and enjoy the substance of your work. We’d rather you eat a modest dinner with us than a $50 duck the firm had delivered to your desk at 10 pm. When you’re considering the profit you’ll gain, don’t forget to count the costs you incur on yourself- and on us.

It’s lonely as a firm widow.

Andrea Saenz, a 1L, is from Long Beach, CA.

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