|Excuse Me While I Bliss This Job
By Thomas Adcock
Marci Alboher wrote a book, in part because “my lawyer friends were saying, I’d love this job a whole lot more if I didn’t have to be at it all the time.”
Thus was born One Person/Multiple Careers, subtitled “How ‘The Slash Effect’ Can Work for You.” It chronicles the experiences of attorneys and others who have added outside interests to their careers, and offers practical tips on how to succeed as a multi-professional.
A lawyer herself who lives in Manhattan, Ms. Alboher was inspired by author and sociologist Gail Sheehy, whose lines from “New Passages” serve as philosophical introduction for “One Person”:
A single fixed identity is a liability today. It only makes people more vulnerable to sudden changes in economic conditions. . . . [D]eveloping multiple identities is one of the best buffers we can erect against mental and physical illness.
Accordingly, Ms. Alboher suggests that lawyers becomes “slashes,” as in lawyer/actor or lawyer/entrepreneur or lawyer/filmmaker – or, like herself and others, lawyer/writer.
Bottom line, she contends in her book, lawyers who manage to incorporate other professional interests “seem more satisfied with their careers – and less oppressed by them – than those who hold just one job.”
For example, the book recounts the experience of Joel Zighelboim, a 37-year-old former associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett “on the very path to which many young lawyers from elite schools aspire” with financial security assured if only he would “log grueling hours and continue to be a star performer.”
The promise did nothing to relax Mr. Zighelboim. To the contrary, wrote Ms. Alboher, “it showed him that everything was wrong.”
Mr. Zieghelboim took a three-month leave of absence from Simpson Thacher and enrolled in a digital filmmaking course, culminating in a 30-minute comic documentary about “bourgeois New York parents’ obsession with the newest must-have accessory, the Bugaboo stroller.”
Mr. Ziegelboim chose not to return to his firm. Instead, he took a judicial clerkship, which he subsequently left to open a wine and tapas bar in Greenwich Village. He considers himself a happily-ever-after slash.
Ms. Alboher, who describes herself as an author/speaker/coach is careful not to recommend that all lawyers quit the profession.
As a life coach, she said, “The first thing I tell lawyers is to figure out whether they’re dissatisfied with the profession, or the way they’re practicing it” before abandoning the law altogether.
“One of the wonderful things about law is that it’s virtual, portable and flexible,” she added. “Lawyers don’t have to be physically tied to their work.”
There is flexibility galore at Axiom Legal, a lawyer placement agency in SoHo featured in Ms. Alboher’s book. At Axiom, the first questions lawyer applicants are asked are, “How many hours would you like to work?” and “Where would you like to work from?”
“Some lawyers work the equivalent of a full-time job for awhile and then take a number of months off to immerse in another commitment,” Ms. Alboher wrote. “Others work a regular three-day-a-week schedule for months at a time. There is no standard.”
Ms. Alboher practiced advertising law for nine years, mostly as in-house counsel at Reader’s Digest, first at the magazine’s headquarters in Westchester County and then in Hong Kong, where she kept an e-mail log of her impressions abroad.
“I got really committed to it, and a lot of my readers were journalists who said I ought to really do something with it,” said Ms. Alboher in a telephone interview from Denver, where she is touring with her book. “I thought I might become a travel writer, but instead I began writing about the law.”
The venture became her weekly column, “Shifting Careers,” published on the Web site of The New York Times.
“I left the law itself because I’d got into a really narrow specialty,” said Ms. Alboher. “It got to the point where it was easier to make a career outside the law than to reinvent myself within the law. Plus, I had this itch to write.”
The book’s final bit of counsel underscores the firm belief of all slash lawyers interviewed:
“[W]ho can answer the question, ‘What do you do?’ with a singular response?” wrote Ms. Alboher. “And why would we want to?”