You can read part 1 here, if you’re so inclined
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my 2nd internship was with a corporate law firm as a marketing intern. This is why I am grateful for the internship program: in two years it gave me internships in public affairs & marketing, both of which set the stage for the rest of my career trajectory. Had I not had these internships and stuck only with English lit and tutoring jobs (which I did on the side throughout my undergrad career), I may have been pigeonholed, as many lit majors are, into teaching jobs or editing jobs.
Working at a corporate law firm was a culture shock for me. It was a predominantly male office, extremely fast-paced (people literally fast-walked to and from their offices, to the lunch room, etc. – there was very little small talk and everything has a sense of dire urgency), everyone wore suits, and everything was fancy from our front desk area to our bathrooms. Because we were an LLP with offices all over the nation (and internationally), our marketing department was huge (this was also my first time dealing with time zone differences). While it was just me and my boss – the marketing director – in our office, other offices had at least three marketing people and we’d all meet for weekly conference calls to discuss national marketing efforts. Everything was very bureaucratic – partially because it was a law firm and there are state bar regulations governing what can be said in marketing materials and to the press; and partially because there is simply little room for creativity in a law firm; and, well, there were just too many chefs in the kitchen. I rarely made anything from “scratch” in marketing because there were tons of templates we were to use. These were developed by the head marketing honchos on the East Coast.
Within a couple months of being there – my boss (the same boss I had at my previous internship) left for her dream job. It was deja vu: me left alone in a new internship without a boss.
It turned out, again, to work in my favor.
For a while it was just me, so I had no choice but to learn as much about marketing as I could. The firm eventually hired a marketing director to oversee the office and she became one of my closest friends. Still is today.
The lack of creativity in the job is what inspired me to begin writing short stories about my experiences (I’m pretty sure writing these stories kept me sane because they served as a reminder that this was indeed a warped reality and not one I wanted to become immune to). I found the whole experience disheartening, but also hypnotizing. It was for me – very backwards. All women assistants to 98% male attorneys. Little diversity. There seemed to be this huge divide between class and status. The attorneys would arrive to work in their beamers and Mercedes (even Ferrari’s and other names of fancy cars I don’t know because I’m so removed from luxury lol). Their trophy wives would come into the office with the kids the attorneys would rarely see. The feminist in me was very put off by the class and sex disparities. Yet, at one point, I began envisioning myself with my own office and in a fitted suit. I wanted to break the pattern. I wanted to stir things up.
So, I began looking into law schools and began taking an LSAT prep course.
Then, I began asking questions. I started asking the lawyers – many of whom had become my friends at this point – do you like being a lawyer? I’m thinking of going to law school…
Almost all of them glanced in both directions, ushered me into their offices and told me their truth: I have no life. I don’t get to see my spouse and kids. I don’t recommend this life. -Whatever you do, don’t go to law school.
They were repeating what I already knew. And, thankfully, I realized that my motivations for becoming a lawyer were completely superficial and would certainly not sustain me through the horrors of law school.
I had been focused on the money and prestige and proving that a woman could be in one of those offices, barking orders. I hardly stopped to think that being that woman would certainly not usher in a more egalitarian workplace. I also didn’t stop to assess what actually motivates and inspires me. And, lo and behold, it’s not money or prestige.
I had drank the Kool Aid. Being in marketing, I had dabbled in recruiting and knew our selling points to 3rd year law school students we wanted to recruit as first-year associates: we offer work-life balance! We’re different! We’ll start you off at 150k! I had started to believe our own hype.
It was only partially true. We did start most of our first-years off at 150k. But there was no work-life balance. And what is work-life balance anyway? If you hate what you are doing for 8+ hours a day, what kind of balance is that? So what if you have loads of money? It will just go to your student loans and to your inevitable divorce. And this can be said of any profession – not just lawyers – if you’re heart is not in it and you’re doing it for the prestige and money, you may find the sacrifices too great and the job completely unfulfilling, if not damaging to your psyche.
So I stayed in my position, dropped the law school thing, and decided to learn as much as I could. When my internship ended, they promoted me to “marketing coordinator.” When I graduated from UCI, I came on full-time. The lack of creativity in marketing also pushed me to dabble in areas where I might use my brain So, I took up our local PR efforts. We had a PR firm, but they were signed on for 10 hours a week and seemed to spend their contract hours helping us plan events rather than helping us garner press. So, I began asking the lawyers about interesting developments in their fields of law and began pitching to the media. And this is when I began truly doing PR and actually liking it. It was so much fun for me to see our law firm in print in the Wall Street Journal and know that it was my pitch that got us there. I also began ghost-writing and editing attorney’s by-lines for inclusion in trade publications and magazines. This also helped satisfy my need for creativity and my passion for writing.
While I enjoyed taking on the office’s PR efforts, I did not enjoy my interactions with the contract PR firm who often took press that I garnered and added it to their invoices as work accomplished. I did not like what I saw as a huge injustice – much like our first year attorneys who were bringing in 150k, this PR firm was charging nearly $80k a year for 10 hours a week (and they were not committed to working those 10 hours). I knew that the secretaries, and myself, were making peanuts compared to these salaries but playing an integral role with loads of measurable ROI (yes, I learned plenty of annoying business jargon at this job…). It made my stomach turn. Not one of the secretaries was in optimal health. Most, in fact, had poor health due to 10-hour days at the computer, stress, lunches spent at their desk, money problems, etc. And what for?
Eventually, I was given a promotion. The economy was beginning to plummet and they were “dissolving” my position (the “coordinator” position) across the firm’s smaller offices. They didn’t want to lose me, so they offered me a fancy title and a new position filled with additional responsibility (this would be a “national” role rather than a local one). However, they called the position a “lateral move” so that they did not have to increase my pay. I started thinking and asking myself more questions: Is this what I want? What do I want? How do I get there?
I maintained my new position for a while and enjoyed some of the added responsibility, but I knew that I was not meant to be a “suit” and I couldn’t suppress my desire for something else – something that felt fulfilling, that mattered to more people than just the wealthy attorneys I was assisting. So I gave my notice. No back up plan.
I had some savings and a fighting spirit.
I decided to apply for grad school. I wanted to get a masters degree in English. Was this a smart decision? Was this a good move for my career?
What do you think?
Part III to come.
The Cranky One