I’ve been stressing for days about an annual job evaluation that I am scheduled to have next week with the new head of my department. He is a partner I’ve known for many years, but his home base is on the opposite coast so we don’t often have an opportunity to work together. Up till now, for the entire time I have worked at my firm , my trusted boss of long standing – a lovely man about whom I’ve written before (see “The Blizzard of 2016 and Some Thoughts About My Job,” 1/27/16) – has been both my direct supervisor and my evaluator as the head of the department. This will be my first evaluation that isn’t with him.
[An aside: The firm, for some reason, believes that associates need their assigned “mentors” (regardless of the extent to which such person has served as an actual mentor) to sit in on these evaluations, ostensibly for the protection and support of the associate. I have assured the powers-that-be on numerous occasions, especially as I’ve become more senior and more separate, that I don’t need my “mentor” – a female partner with whom I have had a long, tumultuous and somewhat passive-aggressive relationship – to attend the evaluation on my behalf, but to no avail.]
My boss is well aware of the rationales for having cut back on my workload, and in fact is solely responsible for my special work situation. I know he values what he calls my “institutional memory” (I have been there for nearly 15 years, after all), my responsiveness to the clients and my ability to handle the workload he sends my way largely autonomously. But he also realizes that my evolution as a structured finance lawyer plateaued at about the equivalent of a mid-level associate.
So I’m dreading this evaluation with a virtual stranger, accompanied by a so-called advocate who has often been a harsh critic in the guise of “making [me] a better lawyer” whether or not I’ve asked for the feedback. The thing that frightens me most is that I won’t be able to justify my half-time, work-from-home arrangement and, as a result, will bring about the demise of my cushy employment situation. I fear it is much more likely that my evaluator (who is a very nice and fair man but who is trying to establish himself as the new “leader of the pack” following the long and successful tenure of my boss) will decide that I really no longer have a valid function within the group, I’m merely dead weight and I’m incapable of developing beyond my current status (the latter of which I freely admit). Why would they possibly want to keep me around?
This raises two alternate streams of thought in my addled brain:
- I need to come up with a way to justify my existence at the firm, at least for the next year or so.
- I need to start thinking about a “Plan B” employment strategy that will prevent me from becoming homeless. This is further exacerbated by the fact that, thanks to my house elevation/renovation, I am in the deepest depths of debt and I’ve decimated my safety net.
Out of an abundance of anxiousness, I had a brief conversation with my boss last week to kind of toss out some buzz words that might satisfy my evaluator that I actually do bring value to the firm. We came up with the following: (a) Certain clients of long standing actually come to me directly with work and questions, often bypassing the billing partner. (b) I am responsible for numerous “one-off” and recurring deals that might fall through the cracks when the rest of the group is busy with large-scale transactions. (c) I can be relied upon by my superiors to complete work on time and correctly when asked to do so (although I only really get assignments from my “good” boss and my “nemesis” boss), and I am responsive to and dependable for clients. (d) I don’t require a lot of administrative support, given that I have a certain depth of knowledge about common issues we frequently encounter in our line of work just by virtue of having done it for so many years (and I know enough to consult with the boss when I don’t) and facility with document manipulation, drafting and editing (I am a former word processor, after all). (e) Finally, there’s the old stand-by economic argument: At my level, they can bill the client much more for me per hour than the hourly wage they actually pay ME. I am, therefore, a cash cow. And even though I have a designated office in the city, I’m pretty easy on the overhead because I’m only there once a week
Who knows if it will work? Perhaps I can just charm the fellow. [LOL]
But this may be the wake-up call I need to give some serious thought to wage-earning- life-after-law-firm that will enable me to maintain my (and my daughter’s) lifestyle and simultaneously dig myself out of debt. Truth be told, I really have no Plan B. None at all. And it is especially troubling considering that I’ve become basically a hermit who spends all her time sitting in front of her home computer, trolling the Internet and waiting for work requests to cross her inbox.
I saw something on Facebook today that listed 30 or so simple ways you could earn extra money doing things like being a “mystery shopper,” watching TV through a sort of measuring device to help market researchers figure out what people are (or are not) watching, or participating in focus groups. You could be a bookkeeper (even if you’re math-challenged, like I am) or a proofreader for, like, $17 an hour without having to leave the confines of your home. I could maybe try to do some writing-for-cash (it worked for Neil Gaiman, after all), although I don’t really have any marketable expertise. I also looked into an online transcription company – I could maybe revert back to my old “profession,” although I can no longer type quite as fast as I used to. A friend of a friend who abandoned the 9-to-5 world to become a freelance writer and jack-of-all-trades picks up paying gigs of all types by tapping into a sort of “service provider exchange”, and he seems to have found a reasonably happy balance in his life that I envy. Then again, it’s just him and his dog that he has to support; he doesn’t have a college-age kid who thinks he’s a bottomless pit of money.
When looking for apartments last May, I mentioned to my realtor friend that I would be interested in learning how to do residential closings, because my years doing aviation closings might actually be translatable to closing on houses. She said she could probably hook me up with some local lawyers who might need a hand, so that’s another possibility.
But there are three basic problems with all my “Plan B” ideas: First, even if I did manage to string together three or four different freelance jobs, I would only be making a fraction of what I make now, and I’d still be responsible for paying for my health insurance and now taxes, too, which I currently get deducted from my monthly paychecks even though I’m paid as an independent contractor. Second, the thought of submitting my resume and going on interviews petrifies me. There aren’t too many jobs out there that I can just get without an application and interview process, and I am in no frame of mind to “sell myself” in ANY job market at the moment. And finally, I have become so spoiled working from home these past few years that – shocker! – I only want to work from home, on my own schedule, wearing what I want and taking fridge-visit, local errand and dog-walking breaks whenever I need to.
I’ve had so many other things to stress about these past few months – my house, my lack of money, my downstairs neighbor, getting my daughter through school, not to mention the nightmare of Trump – that the job insecurity has been pushed to the back burner. I’ve always known intellectually that my “good” boss was not going to be around forever and that, when he left the firm, I would probably be asked to leave the firm as well, but I was sort of in denial about it. Now I am beginning to get more and more worried. Next week’s evaluation will offer some clarity but, no matter the outcome, I think it’s definitely time for a Plan B.