Thursday, August 8, 2013

Now...

In 2008, I was fired by Paul Hastings three days after I returned to work after having a miscarriage. The firm knew about my pregnancy - and my subsequent miscarriage. I thought the firm's timing of my termination was deliberate and to put it mildly, insensitive. In response, I wrote a lengthy email detailing my perspective of the situation and turning down their offer of three months severance in exchange for an agreement promising to keep my termination and the firm's handling of the termination secret. That email went viral.

Even now, five years later, when Above the Law happens to reference my email, traffic to my blog spikes. I'm sure many are curious. Whatever happened to that woman? Did she get her ass kicked? Did she show them by going in-house and refusing to hire that firm? Did she ever manage to land another job interview? Does she regret what she did?

Like the thousands of comments that my original email spurred, I'm sure many of these questions have nothing to do with me. They are more about the reader's own concerns and anxieties. What happens to an employee who sticks out her middle finger at her former employer? Does she get away with it? Or is she shot down to wallow in her own remorse? What can I do to protect my own job, ensure I make partnership?

Well, I'll tell you what happened to me. For a brief period after the termination, I worked on a few projects as a contract attorney. Then my friends started referring clients to me, and I handled my own cases until my son was about a year and a half. It started to feel overwhelming to handle my own cases solo while also raising a child, so I decided then to refer those cases out and become a stay at home mom. That's what I have been doing for the past three years.

During that time, I also had a second child. My days have been filled with trips to Sea World, to Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, and playdates. I have time to read with my children, to answer all of their questions (and there are plenty from a 3.5 year old), to prepare their snacks and their meals, to bathe them, to roll around in the sand and to giggle with them. I wouldn't have traded that time for anything. Not even a law firm salary.

I've also had the luxury to think about what I want in life. And I've allowed myself to admit that I really don't want to be a lawyer for the rest of my life. I've always known that, but it's another to decide to act on that -- to give up that bar membership, to dismiss the 100K in student loan as just a minor financial miscalculation (and thank goodness I paid off my debts within the first three years of my practice), to decide that the three years spent in law school wasn't really a terrible waste of time since I learned so much.

I may have arrived at this decision even without the Paul Hastings incident. But it certainly made it easier. I saw a different perspective to what it means to be a stooge in a big law firm. The people who were involved in my termination were not evil. I actually liked them as individuals. But maybe the type of people who succeed in that type of environment are those who simply go along with whatever is asked of them. Not raise a stink. Be a good soldier. Check your spine at the door.

I remember participating in our litigation department meetings in the few months leading up to my termination. A few associates in our department had stopped showing up for work, and no one knew what happened to them. Did they quit? Did they get fired? Did they transfer? What happened? Well, we figured they got fired because some associates stayed in touch with them, but no one knew of the circumstances. During our department meetings, I remember raising my hand and asking about those associates who disappeared. I directly asked, "Are we having layoffs?" Several of the partners acted astounded that I would even think that the firm was having layoff, but refused to acknowledge that those associates had been fired. The department head simply said that he could not talk about them because the information was private.

What was amazing about those meetings was that no one -- not even one other associate -- was willing to ask questions about what was going on. Maybe some already knew the details because they were friends with those who left. But I know many other associates were in the dark with me because I had asked around and no one knew. I was astounded that I was working in an environment where people were afraid to ask basic questions about their job security.

After I left, a few of the younger associates thanked me for asking those questions at the department meetings that they said they were too afraid to ask. It says something about today's corporate environment in America that people can't ask basic questions -- that my one email should spur such interest and such a reaction.

For me, it was a healthy experience. I not only gained a new perspective, but I now feel more confident about myself. I feel like I can do so much more than I thought myself capable of doing. I also left the firm with a healthy sense of respect for myself. I can speak up for myself, and I can defend myself. That feels pretty good.

I'm trying to figure out my new career. It hasn't been easy trying to fit that in while I'm also taking care of two little ones. At the same time, it's a luxury and a privilege. Not many people are in a situation where they have the means to stay at home with the children and the means to invest in a new career. I feel blessed every day.

I'm just living my life. And trying to be a decent human being and a good citizen. And use my time wisely. All that good stuff. Not too different from what you are probably doing.

23 comments:

  1. Thank you so much!!

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  2. Glad to hear that you're happy and doing well.

    -Another ex-PHer

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  3. Bravo, Shinyung! I have followed you since the "letter" and it's so great to know things are going so wonderfully in your life!

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    1. Wow, can't believe you're been following me for all these years. Hope all is well on your end as well!

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    2. Well worth it to know that you and your family are doing well!

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  4. You have more guts than I ever could have. Great to hear you're doing well and are very happy. My very best wishes to you.

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    1. Oh, I'm sure you're underestimating yourself and overestimating what I did. You may surprise yourself, as I did! Best wishes to you as well.

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  5. Thank you for the update! I am very glad to hear that you are doing well.

    -E

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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  6. So glad to know that everything turned out for the best. Good luck with the babies!

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  7. Good to hear all is well, and you really have to count yourself lucky that you made enough at PH to pay your loans off win 3 years. So many are not so lucky, and have to work, at whatever they can get, in order to pay off such loans. Its especially hard on women who do have children.

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    1. I do feel lucky. I paid off my loans at my first job (at O'Melveny & Myers) at a time when the starting salary for first years was 87K. I'm very grateful to OMM for their generosity, especially for the work I did. I agree that it's especially tough on women with children. Best of luck to you. I hope you're not one of those finding it especially hard...

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  8. Kudos to you on the choice you made in your life. Without even having an opportunity to meet, you sound like a wonderful, warm (and extremely articulate) person who anyone would be fortunate to know. As far as a career, please consider writing- you are a gifted communicator.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. It's so generous of you!

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  9. I am so, so glad to hear you're doing well. I thought you handled the whole situation perfectly -- you managed to stick up for yourself without sounding petty or like sour grapes. Kudos, and keep up the great work of raising your kids!

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    1. Thank you so much. So nice to read these comments. They mean a lot. I hope you too are doing well!

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  10. Like some of the pp above, I have followed your blog(s) since the letter. All your life's ups and downs have somehow mirrored mine - miscarriages, the law etc; some snippets of your childhood hit a chord too. You have many gifts, I am sure, and writing and self-reflection are some of them.

    Based on your writings, I bet you would be an asset to any (honest) business. You are probably a great friend to those who are lucky enough to know you as well.

    Keep on going!

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  11. What an awesome update! I've been following your blog since all this happened. I was also working at a law firm at that time and you were quite the heroine at our firm and many others everywhere. I love following your journey not only because you're a gifted writer but also because I've also followed a similar path~ now a stay-at-home mom to two little ones. Thank you for sharing! =)

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  12. INTEGRITY. That is what you have. Well done for asking all the questions that noone else would. Well done for speaking up. At the end of the day, integrity is what counts -- not the fat paychecks.

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  13. For next phase of your career, look into ethics and compliance -- CCEP certification, then work in-house to develop culture of openness and integrity, follow up on whistleblower reports, foster employee engagement, speak truth to power as a profession. A perfect fit for people like you and me. You don't have to be a lawyer to be a Chief Compliance Officer or report to one, but many do and it helps!

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