Walking Away From the Law

Spirit Bear

Spirit Bear–Great Bear Rainforest British Columbia

I have 269 days left of the practice of law; not that I’m counting. I will be fifty-six at the end of the year, which means I’m leaving the practice during my peak earning potential. I could go to another firm, or hang up a shingle and start my own practice; work as little or as much as I want. But I’m not going to do that. Like this lovely Spirit Bear, I’m going to meander away and find something new to occupy my time. She’s on her way to fish for salmon upstream in a pool at the foot of a falls. I’m going to make my way toward my own deep pool, filled with stories waiting to be written.

I’ve waited a long time to devote my life to a full-time writing practice. I started my undergraduate studies as a journalism major, believing I could make a living writing that way, and do creative writing as a hobby on the side. I gave in to pressure from my father in my second year, switching to the school of business. After obtaining my bachelors degree, I worked for seven years as a casualty claims adjuster, before returning to law school. I knew immediately working for a law firm was not a good fit. After four years, I began looking for a way out. I nearly took a job with an insurance company in Manchester, New Hampshire as in in-house lawyer. I fantasized about working less hours as an in-house lawyer, and writing  in the evenings in my cozy home, by the crackling fires I’d lay to keep me and the cats warm in the cold New England winters. Instead, I took a job with a law firm in Austin. An improvement over Houston, to be sure, but there were no crackling fires, and no regular hours.

I’ve done some writing over the years, but I’ve not been consistent. I’ve done a lot of starting and stopping on memoir writing, and novel writing, and essay writing. Sometimes it was the job that got in the way. And then there were the losses of my family members, in quick succession. Now, after practicing law for twenty-five excruciating years, and losing my brothers, my father, and my mother, I’ve reached a turning point. There is no one left to care-take, no more drives back and forth on Highway 290 to Houston each weekend, no more funerals to plan, no more ashes to scatter, no more estates to administer.

Now I begin the writing life I’ve wanted since I was a little girl writing stories in my notebook about Miranda and her horse. My creativity has been buried under law books and legal motions for decades, but I’m hopeful the more I write, the more I will be able to access that part of myself. Like the Spirit Bear dipped her paw in the deep pool at the foot of the falls and pulled out a plump salmon, I will dip my pen into the bottle of ink and pull out the stories that have been waiting for me all these years.

Posted in Early Retirement, Great Bear Rainforest, Law, Lawyer, Photography, Retirement, Spirit Bear, Travel, Wildlife Photography, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

African Wild Dogs–Botswana

Here are a few shots of African Wild Dogs from my trip to Botswana last May. We spotted this pair in the lovely morning light, awaiting the return of their pack, who were out hunting. There was lots of tail-wagging in greeting when the pack returned.

African Wild Dogs on Morning PatrolAfrican Wild DogAfrican Wild Dog CloseAfrican Wild Dog Pack
Posted in Africa, African Wild Dog, Botswana, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Cat Number Four

Lucy-2

Lucy Long Tail

 

This is Lucy (a/k/a Lucy Long Tail). She used to live on the other side of my fence in a Buddhist Temple feral cat colony. Her mother hid her and her littermates under my air conditioner slab to keep them safe from a storm when they were tiny kittens. Apparently, she liked my little garden, because she kept coming back. Were it not for my knowledge of her history, and the missing tip on one ear, I would never have taken her for a feral.

The little cat grew fond of hunting in my bird feeders. She’d hide beneath the Plumbago bush and stalk them. Whenever she heard me flip the lock on the back door, she’d shoot out from beneath the bush where she lie in wait, and demand pets. The day she caught a sparrow in front of me and hopped the fence with it squawking in her mouth was the day I started trying to find her a home. Meanwhile, I began bringing her inside when I was home and could supervise her interactions with the other cats. She liked them. They weren’t as thrilled about her.

Eventually I found the little cat a home in Houston. Just days after the Memorial Day floods of 2015, I put Lucy (who had not yet been named) in a carrier and drove her from Austin to Houston. She was still a kitten, and hadn’t grown into her tail, which was quite long in comparison to the rest of her. When I got to her new home and brought her inside, I learned the residents of the house were indoor smokers. I knew I couldn’t leave her in that environment, so I popped her back into the carrier and took her to my mother’s house. I had planned to stay the weekend as we were holding an estate sale in preparation for putting my mother’s home on the market. (She was declining from Alzheimer’s and had moved into assisted living.)

Since I hadn’t planned to have the company of a cat for the weekend, I had to buy supplies for her: litter box, litter, food, bowls, treats, and toys. I installed her in my childhood bedroom, the only room in the house that was off limits during the sale. She was a very good cat: Relaxed, playful, cuddly, and terribly cute. In fact, she was a bit of a comedienne. As we cuddled together on the very first night in my childhood bedroom, I decided to call her Lucy.

By the time we made it back to Austin at the end of weekend, I knew I wouldn’t try to find her another home. We’d gone on a weekend road trip and slept together in my childhood bedroom. I’d named her. What else was I to do? Lucy had become Cat Number Four.

 

 

 

Posted in Animal Rescue, Cats | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Unofficially Official

When last we met, I had concluded with near certainty that my position with BigLaw was reaching the end. I’ve been wanting to leave for years. In fact, when I returned from Belize, a trip with which I rewarded myself after finishing the bar exam twenty-four years ago, I was fairly certain I was embarking on a mismatch career. It turns out, newly-licensed me was correct.

But then there were the student loans to pay, not to mention all the time I’d invested in law school. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the actual practice of law would be more interesting than the work I’d been doing during my clerkships. Maybe as I got deeper into the practice, I’d find it was indeed my calling. I appeared to have a talent for it, and over the years, would learn I am indeed quite good at it. I would also learn you can be good at something that is tedious, boring, contentious, and often, more stressful than the paycheck is worth. Not to mention, it was, for long stretches, not conducive toward having a life outside of work.

Since I had no idea what I wanted in my next life, I stayed put. Also, I enjoyed the security of a steady paycheck. And, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find the prestige (deserved, or not) alluring. So here I am, nearly twenty-five years later, still at it. 

But not for long. In 291 days, I’ll be done with the practice of law.

Two days ago (on Tuesday), the guy second from the top of the 1000-plus lawyer pyramid, called my boss and informed him they would not be extending his contract, which is set to expire at the end of the year. Mister second-in-command also told my boss that my tenure with the firm would conclude at year-end. This information was verbally passed on to me, but I’ve received nothing in writing: which is why I have termed the word of my exit “unofficially official.” It’s a law firm. I’m a lawyer. Until I get it in writing, it’s not official. My contract says as much. This is important, because under my contract, the firm has to give me ninety days written notice. Once they give written notice, they have to pay me for ninety more days, whether they throw me out the door, or not. Since it is a law firm, I expect they’re at the top of their game when it comes to things like abiding by contract terms. Assuming I’m correct, I’ll likely receive written notice in the coming days that my talents no longer are welcome beyond December 31, 2019, thus fulfilling the ninety-day notice requirement. I would be quite tickled if BigLaw management screwed up, and had to pay me an additional ninety days of salary beyond the end of the year.

Irrespective of the lack of officiality of notice, after December 31, 2019, I’ll no longer be a practicing lawyer. I’m thrilled with that prospect. Friends and colleagues have inquired whether I’ve contacted a head hunter, whether my resume is up to date, whether I have any leads for my next law job. These are the same people I have been telling for years I want out. And yet, they are nudging me toward staying in. I find this odd. I’ve made no secret of the fact I am ready to call it quits for good. But yet, these people are finding it difficult to fathom that I’d actually walk away from the practice (and the money, and the prestige) at age fifty-six. 

Receiving the unofficial word that we are out at the end of the year was a relief. I had been leaning toward sticking it out for another year to give myself a bit more money in my retirement account. I’m nervous about whether I have enough, despite the fact I’ve run all the scenarios over and over in numerous calculators, and they all tell me I’ll make it through retirement without running out of money. The first few years will be tricky. I’ll have to learn how best to make investment withdrawals for living expenses, how to calculate MAGI for purposes of obtaining insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and how to drive from Texas to Ontario, Canada with four cats to escape the summer heat. (Seeing the cats are house cats, and not lions, I should be able to figure out the logistics of the drive.)

If any of you are aware of any posts or other resources that might help with the transition, please let me know in the comments. So many retirement blogs talk about how to save for the big event, but not many discuss what happens once they pull the retirement trigger.  

Lion Pair

African Lions — Botswana (May 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in 4 Percent Rule, Africa, Attorney, BigLaw, BigLawBoss, Botswana, Early Retirement, Frugality, Lions, Retirement, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

The End of Lawyering Is Nigh

I’ve been practicing law for twenty-four years. That makes twenty-four years engaged in a profession I don’t enjoy. I know I’m not alone here: Many lawyers dislike lawyering. There’s an entire industry geared toward helping lawyers leave the practice of law, including career counselors and therapists. I’ve personally consulted with both over the years, trying to find my way out of the profession. I thought switching firms would help, so I did that. I thought switching cities would help, so I did that. Both of those things helped for a while, but once the newness wore off, I knew it wasn’t the law firm I needed to change. I needed to leave the practice entirely.

Eight years ago, my boutique firm of nine lawyers merged with a 1000-plus lawyer firm: I was now working for BigLaw. I had hoped this newest career change would rejuvenate my interest in my law practice. Instead, it did the opposite: Any enjoyment I found in my work completely disappeared. But still, I didn’t leave. I continued to schlep to the office to bill those hours each day, and fill my bank and investment accounts with the paychecks.

A couple of times during the past eight years, particularly when everybody died, I nearly walked out. Before you experience death of loved ones first-hand, it’s easy to imagine life goes on forever and you have all the time you need to figure things out and get it right. When I was hit smack in the face with the reality of how short and fragile life is, I knew I needed to leave the law and do something else. But what?

Not knowing what else to do has kept me frozen. I don’t know where to go, so I don’t go anywhere.

I have enough saved to pay the bills. I have no debt, other than what remains of my mortgage. I’m fairly certain I’ll be fine if I retire completely. And if that turns out to not be the case, I can go back to work. Sometimes, I get nervous, and think I could use a bigger cushion. My father’s voice grows loud in my head, telling me to keep working until I drop dead, or the firm throws me out. If only the firm would throw me out so I don’t have to find the courage to walk away from a steady paycheck.

Last week, I got a visit from one of the firm’s managing partners. This is the first time in my entire tenure with BigLaw that anyone up the food chain has deigned to grace me with a visit. I was certain BigLaw MP wasn’t visiting to bring me news of a promotion or raise. I was correct in this assumption. While he did not clearly state the firm’s position, reading between the lines, I think he was intending to send a message that they are going to shove me out the door at the end of the year when the partner with whom I have worked for the past fifteen years retires. BigLaw MP didn’t flat-out tell me this. I think he wanted to dangle a bit of a carrot to see if he could get me to bill my ass off in the interim to try to save my job, or leave of my own volition and save them from worrying about any legal consequences of sacking a (nearly) fifty-six year-old female lawyer with a fifteen-year tenure.

It seems I’m now in the home stretch of my law career: Ten months remaining. It would have felt bold and powerful to make the affirmative decision to leave the practice as I’ve contemplated so many times over the past few years, rather than waiting until I’d overstayed my welcome. It would have been freeing to tell my father’s voice in my head to piss off: I’m not going to practice law until I drop dead. But it seems I need a push to walk away from the money and make my exit.

The ten-month countdown until the end of my law career has begun.

Posted in Africa, Attorney, BigLaw, BigLawBoss, Botswana, Early Retirement, Finance, Finances, Fuck You Money, Gender Bias at Law Firms, Getting Unstuck, Investing, Law, Law Firm Gender Bias, Lawyer, Mid-Life, Personal Finance, Practice of Law, Women Lawyers | Tagged , | 14 Comments

On Spinsterhood

Wikipedia, states:

Spinster is a term referring to an unmarried woman who is older than what is perceived as the prime age range during which women should marry. It could also indicate that a woman is considered unlikely to ever marry. The term originally denoted a woman whose occupation was to spin. A synonymous but more pejorative term is ‘old maid.’ The closest equivalent term for males is ‘bachelor’, but this doesn’t generally carry the same potentially pejorative connotations in reference to age and perceived desirability in the marriage.

When I began this blog, I was in my forties; beyond the prime age range for marriage. I had never been married and had no children. Back then, I thought perhaps I might marry. I recently had ended a relationship with a man to whom I purportedly was engaged. I say “purportedly” because, looking back, I don’t believe I intended to actually marry him, when push came to shove. I considered marrying him, knowing that it likely would not work out, so I could point to the failed marriage and say: “Yes, I’ve been married. I was chosen. I’m not completely unlovable or undesirable. I am not so difficult that not all men would forgo making a lifetime commitment to me.”

Around the period the engagement and breakup took place, I had just started a job with BigLaw via a merger of my tiny nine-lawyer firm with a thousand-lawyer firm. At the initial reception celebrating the merger, a married, handsome, forty-something male partner who hailed from one of our offices in the Northeast, inquired whether I was married or had children. When I answered in the negative on both counts, he said, “It will be okay. We’ll find you someone.” Yes, he actually said this. (Apropos of nothing, it later would be revealed that this particular partner was having an affair with another married partner, both of whom would divorce their spouses to marry; but not before they were forced out of the firm. Whether they were forced out for breaking some unwritten firm moral code, or something else, was not made public.)

What I inherently knew had been confirmed: To be successful at this firm, it would be helpful to be the kind of woman men desired to marry.

A few months following the merger party, the firm held its annual partnership retreat. I wore the ring from my recently-failed engagement throughout the days-long retreat. (I had kept the ring because I paid for it.) Looking back, I cringe at my acquiescence and attempt to comply with the expectations of my male-dominated law firm by farcically wearing the ring. (The “male-dominated” descriptor for a law firm generally goes without saying.) I also cringe that I contemplated marrying someone who was abusive and exploitative, in part so I could say I’d been married.

I understand I am far from being the only woman to contemplate marrying because of societal expectations. I understand I am far from being the only woman to, at times, feel broken or flawed for never having found a partner worthy of a life-long commitment.

When I began this blog, I used the term “unconfirmed” because I was not yet prepared to declare myself a life-long single woman. I thought maybe, if I was lucky, I would one day find a life partner. And it would take luck, seeing as I was doing nothing in pursuit of finding a partner. In fact, I was doing quite the opposite. I might even go so far as to call it active avoidance. I used the term “bachelorette” because I thought “spinster” was too harsh; it had negative connotations. It generated images of unhappy, lonely, old, bitter women, living with dozens of cats. I was, and am, a middle-aged woman living alone with cats; four cats, to be precise. (I lost dear Sally, one of the original black cats, to intestinal lymphoma nine months ago, and so now am sharing my home with four cats, rather than five.) I am not lonely. I am not bitter. I am not unhappy.

So now, eight years after starting this blog, I have been contemplating changing its name. I considered “Confirmed Bachelorette,” but “bachelorette,” albeit tongue-in-cheek, has always felt a bit cheesy, particularly in light of the television show. (Will you accept this rose?) I tossed around the idea of calling it “Confirmed Spinster.” The feedback on that was entirely mixed. Two friends found it amusing. Others found it negative and a bit repellent. I saw it as a way to reappropriate the term and chip away at the negative connotations.

Why do women get a bad rap for never marrying? Why are there pejorative terms for unmarried-women-of-a-certain-age, when there are none for men? There’s even a card game, Old Maid, where the penalty card with which you do not want to be left includes the image of an old, gray, woman, often surrounded by cats. What’s wrong with being surrounded by cats?

In contrast, the term “confirmed bachelor” evokes the image of men like George Clooney; men who are handsome and dashing, who have escaped the fate (until recently, for George) of being tied down by a woman. Why am I not viewed as lucky to not be tied down by a man? Why is my independence, my ability to take care of myself, to live life on my terms, not celebrated, as it is for lifelong male bachelors of a certain age?

It’s going to take much more than changing the name of my blog to assist in this course correction. It’s taken decades for me begin to correct the course of my own thinking. I shall continue to strive to do so. For now, I leave you with this:

I am an Unapologetic Spinster.

Posted in Abusive Relationships, BigLaw, Cats, Female Attorneys, Feminism, Gender Bias at Law Firms, Law Firm Gender Bias, Lawyer, Marriage, Mid-Life, Practice of Law, Relationships, Settling, spinster, Spinster, Women Lawyers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Here We Go!

African Elephants
Botswana

It’s 2019: three-hundred-sixty-five blank pages ahead. How shall I fill them? Will I reduce my consumption of anxiety-provoking news and current events? Will I use the new dumbbells I ordered last week? Will I add to my “home gym” (i.e., corner of the living room) the new weight bench I have my eye on? How about reverting to low-sugar and starch consumption: will I be successful at that, once again? Will I write (nearly) every day? Will I edit my NaNoWriMo “novel”? Will I get back in the kayak, even though I flipped it and landed in cold Lake Superior getting in, and getting out, tearing the seat of my pants in the process?

I failed so abysmally at kayaking, and yet, I was hooting and hollering and laughing at myself, as I splashed, and fumbled, and slipped on the rocks, attempting to right the damn thing and dump the gallons of water out. Despite my anxiety, and inability to glide across the lake effortlessly on my first go, I was thrilled that at fifty-five, I bought my first touring lake kayak and had the courage to get in it. It’s sitting in the snow-covered cabin, waiting for me to return, and try again this summer.

I feel optimistic about the new year. I don’t always feel optimistic at the start of a new year, so this bodes well. On January 1, 2017 and 2018, I was pretty much checked out, emotionally. I wasn’t in a pit of despair; I just wasn’t “there.” It’s interesting to feel like I’m beginning to stir, sniffing the scents outside my den, when we are here, in the dead of winter. I’m feeling optimism at age fifty-five, when a few years back, I thought the best was behind me. I am willing to allow, I may have been wrong about that.

Three-hundred-sixty-five blank pages in the year 2019 to be filled however I wish. Here we go.

Posted in Africa, Botswana, Elephants, Getting Unstuck, Healing, Kayaking, Lake Superior, Living Life, Mid-Life, Photography, Travel, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The more things change . . .

Two years ago, as my mother was dying from Alzheimer’s, I wondered how my life would be different once she was gone. I felt as if I was suspended between my life before the deaths of my nuclear family, and the life I would have after they were gone. The “In Between,” I called it. As it turns out, there hasn’t been much of a transformation.

Granted, the stress I’d been under for years is greatly reduced. I’m not worrying about my father’s declining health and cognition. (He, too, died from complications of Alzheimer’s.) I’m not worrying about whether my brothers are killing themselves with alcohol. (They did.) I’m not worrying about having to see my sister’s horrible husband at holiday dinners. (Now that Mom is gone, my sister and I don’t do holiday dinners together any more. And, earlier this year, she finally divorced him.) And I’m not worrying about my mother’s declining health.

I miss my mother the most. I think this guy misses her, too.

SPOTTY

Work is better. The unpleasant partner in North Carolina is leaving the firm on April 1; pushed out, as far as I can discern. The partner who dragged me into the heinous BigLaw merger eight years ago has divorced his wife and married his girlfriend. He plans to retire in a year or two, which means I’ll be leaving the firm then, as well. I’d planned to leave sooner, but with the market tanking, I’ll be sticking around, scooping up the income for as long as they’ll have me. Reading between the lines, that will only be as long as newly-remarried partner is around. I suppose that saves me from doing the “one-more-year” thing for more than two more years. After that, I have no idea what I’ll do.

Although I have no idea in which direction my life is headed, I have begun to nudge it in the direction I feel I’d like it to go. Finally, after a two-year hiatus, I have begun writing again. In October, I started a daily writing practice, with a goal of no less than one hour per day. That segued nicely into NaNoWriMo, which is the acronym for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November, which translates into roughly 1,667 words per day. If you meet the goal, you’ve “won” NaNoWriMo. This year was my first ever attempt at NaNoWriMo, and I am proud to report, I won. I now have my first-ever shitty first draft of a novel. I wrote an entire story, from beginning to end. Whether I will continue to work on it, or start something new now that I’ve gotten that story out of my system (at long last), I am undecided.

I’ve also been giving some thought as to where this blog is headed, now that it’s moving again. I bought a new domain: Confirmed Spinster. To start using it, I’ll need to figure out if I can transfer everything from here over to there, including you all, or whether I’ll have to start from scratch. If I do have to start over, I may just forgo the whole anonymous thing and let the world see me. I don’t think that will be terribly difficult, seeing the most sensitive aspects of my life (and those around me) appear to be behind me.

Much has happened over the past two years, but I don’t think it would be ideal blogging to spill it all out here into this post. Now that I have this entree completed, I suppose I’ll come out with it all in bits and pieces. Topics that come to mind include, but are not limited to*:

  • Cat Update
  • San Miguel de Allende Excursion
  • Botswana Safari
  • Lake Superior Cabin Update (Including Bears!)
  • Condo Remodel
  • Minor Flirtation
  • Sister Update

*Goal: Stop writing like a lawyer.

Posted in Blogging, Cats, Death and Grief, Death of a sibling, Early Retirement, Female Attorneys, Long Distance Caregiving, Mid-Life, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

Lilac Breasted Roller

The Lilac Breasted Roller is one of Botswana’s most abundant and widespread species. I have dozens of photos of this breathtakingly photogenic bird. Here are a few of my favorites (so far).

Posted in Africa, Birding, Birds, Botswana, Nature, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Thirsty Giraffe

I discovered on my Botswana trip that I am quite a good spotter of wildlife, beating our guide in some instances. But the giraffe was different. I had difficulty seeing them, even when they were pointed out to me, they blended in so well with the trees with their fabulous camouflage.

_DSC0498

It’s quite a production for giraffes to drink, having to get themselves into this awkward position. Notice the birds on her head.

_DSC0912-2

They’re sneaky, I tell you.

_DSC0938-2

This one, I could see.

 

Posted in Africa, Botswana, Giraffe, Nature, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments