Yesterday, I ran across some blog that had posted my Paul Hastings email. Most of the people commenting were contract attorneys who expressed annoyance that someone like me would complain about getting fired from a big law firm job. The gist of the comments was, what a self entitled princess to think that she should be guaranteed her job when the rest of the world never makes a portion of the kind of money she used to make. I got the sense that some of them would have been gleeful to bitch slap me.
While I can see why, it feels foreign to think that some perceive me as one of those privileged people. It is true that I had been paid a very generous salary for the past ten years while working at a law firm. I too am baffled that there were people willing to pay me that kind of money for the work I did.
During my last year at Paul Hastings, I was billed out at approximately $600 an hour. I've never done anything that commands $600 per hour. I frankly don't know anyone who has. What kind of work can you do that is worth $10 per minute? Maybe putting out a fire on a house filled with infants, paraplegics, and caged animals. Maybe standing up while Colin Powell is giving his UN presentation on Iraq's purchase of uranium yellowcake and crying out "Liar!" Maybe digging for land mines in Cambodia.
But writing nastygrams to opposing counsel because he inserted too many objections to your interrogatories? I always just assumed that I was overpaid. And that my days of easy money were numbered, and that I should shut up and do the work while the money was there. How could I turn away a job that paid multiples of what my parents used to make?
When I was at Cardozo High School in Bayside, New York, there was a kid named John. Like us, he was from a family of Korean immigrants. His parents ran a fruit stand in the Bronx, and his mom, unbeknownst to her husband, used to take $20 out of the cash register every so often to try (unsuccessfully) to fulfill her tithe to the church. You could see John's jeans tautly stretched at the seams exposing the less faded fabric because he hadn't bought a new pair of jeans in years, even though he was bulking up like most guys do in their late teens. That's my world, where everything was stretched beyond their means and the only justifiable indulgence - to be taken sparingly - was for the salvation of one's soul.
I tried to escape this world by moving to San Francisco in the late 90's. But until three years ago, when my parents finally retired from their dry cleaning business, I was never far from the hand wringing that came with the question of whether to charge an extra quarter for the sequin studded blouse, the nights of grief and arguing after a silk tie was ruined and the customer reimbursed. In my mind, I am still that girl working at the counter on Saturdays who quietly seethed when a customer asked to have her dry cleaning brought to her car because she had just had her nails manicured, who watched her parents tally up every penny after the end of a fourteen hour work day.
There were hundreds of me in my school. Many of us escaped Queens by going to Cornell, Yale, Harvard. We're scattered all over this country, blending in as attorneys, doctors, investment bankers. Some of us have checked some things off of the list of the things we'd like to do for our parents, like getting them health insurance, paying off the mortgage, or sending them on a vacation. For some of us, just getting by wasn't really an option (which isn't to say there weren't others with more creativity and smarts to figure out something better). And saying thanks, but no thanks, to those who offer a six figure salary doesn't feel so wise when every quarter seemed to matter way back when.
And if we over did it and became self-entitled princes and princesses in the process, is that so terrible? What I would really like, though, is a fairy princess wand to turn some of those Paul Hastings partners into toads. Oh, right, they already are.
In the meantime, maybe I've earned enough credits to turn to this soul saving business.