Monday, December 31, 2007

A reflective moment

It's the season to be reflective. So this is me reflecting.

What a miserable blogging year I had. It started off oh-so well, with a blog every week. Every week! And then I discovered (in no particular blameworthy order) Facebook, Online Scrabble, and English summers. There was also the minor matter of my ongoing work-life crisis*, which I am still contemplating whether or not to blog about.

*That's crisis in the current newspaper language. In that it's been stop-start since the beginning of the year and no one is probably going to get hurt, who has not got hurt already.

So, Facebook. It's a great timewaster. I joined just prior to my "becoming a UK solicitor" exams, and spent hours prettying up my profile, loading the books I'd read and movies I'd seen this year and searching the likely and unlikely suspects whom I thought would have joined Facebook. There was a cacophony of internet squeals as old friends from high school and my uni years found me, and kept thinking I was in London. I'm in South East England. Not London. Following on from the internet squealing, I made a number of treks up to London where 'real life' squealing was indulged in, as well as delicious (but rather expensive) meals. My tummy and my heart swelled, and then I returned to my everyday life, one weekend and many pounds poorer. I have, more or less, kept in contact with these rediscovered friends. I am at best a sporadic correspondent (hard to believe, I know), so the mere fact of contact every few months or so is a reasonably good thing.

And then Online Scrabble (or rather, Scrabulous) found me. I don't remember how it all started (the whirlwind of the romance, you see) but, rather quickly, I found myself playing at least 5 games simultaneously. Indeed, I have not played less than 5 games simultatneously since I started playing Scrabble online. This is probably not all that many in comparison to other people. But my time is not my own. From the hours of 9am until 6pm most days, I am required to account for at least 100 six-minute blocks of my time (except for lunch). "Playing Scrabulous" is not a billing code for which I can, ethically, charge clients. I am learning to accept that I will not play a move in every game, every day. And I'm okay with that.

English summers came upon me as a strange, and very pleasant, surprise. Living in Queensland one is not privy to the joy of daylight savings. I guess when one is close to the equator, and generally without seasons anyway, the length or brevity of the day is not really that pertinent. But oh! the length of the English summer days! What joy, what bliss! All those hours to fill with hills to walk on and food to eat and drink to imbibe and friends to visit and music festivals to attend. I had a fabulous but exhausting English summer, in which every weekend - and most weeknights - was filled with some activity. This seeped into English autumn as well, because the trees changing colour was just oh-so exciting, that I had to be out there *looking* at it. And here I am, in the middle of English winter, still pondering the joys of seasons. I love the cold. I grin maniacally as I cycle to work, infecting or disturbing my fellow non-car commuters with my four-year old joy at the frost, the biting cold, and the hope for snow.

And here are some maunderings about me & my work, or my work & my life, or my life, which is mostly my work:-

I remember being quite passionate and *into* my work when I initially started in full-time employment. My job then was more research oriented. I then started work in a private practice firm - I had previously worked in a private practice firm as receptionist / research clerk / general dogsbody and quite enjoyed it. I would have wildly fluctuating levels of enjoyment of my work, but I was also given a lot of freedom to do what I wanted if there was nothing else for me to do. Some days I would be holed up in the library researching, or typing madly, and others I would be surfing the net or reading a novel.

In full-time employment, I worked efficiently and well (I think) and liked best researching an area of law to make a legal argument. My favourite piece was a successful submission to an appeal tribunal: my written argument was incorporated, almost wholesale, into the tribunal's judgment. It was also a great piece of work because I overcame some major personal issues with the client and the facts presented to me, to make that legal argument. I knew when I was able to do that, that one of my major concerns with being a lawyer - the extent to which my prejudices would affect my work - was overcome. That was a great moment for an articled clerk.

I also liked the client interaction and just fitting the facts of their problem to a legal solution. It was, mostly, satisfying work. But there were lengthy periods when I questioned the value of what I was doing. Who was I helping, and why?

Then, I started working in commercial law. Although the work was pretty dry and there was very little client interaction, I found the mechanical work satisfying in its odd way. And it was very clear who I was helping and what I had to do to help them. I was helping a company make more money. Simple. I could put up with it because I knew it was short term, and I got given smaller pieces of research to keep me interested in the law (my bosses knew I liked doing research, and that was supposedly rare). It was like doing factory process work: satisfying when it's done for the simple reason that it is now done. But there's no bigger meaning behind it. Or what bigger meaning there was, was much too long-term and big to be comprehended.

I am now in an area that I believe I want to remain in. But I am not always happy. As a matter of fact, I am sometimes bored. Part of this is my own fault, and not the fault of the work. I could engage myself in it, but I don't. I think some part of me has changed, and I don't love doing this as much as I used to.

The things I like about being a lawyer is fitting a factual problem to a legal solution. What I don't like is that you may not agree with the outcome that you are assisting your client to obtain.

I did say something in a random conversation with my boss which surprised me as being both accurate and true (in that I did beleive it). I said that there is no reason why the people whom we help have to be deserving of that help. If they have the legal right, than we can assist them to assert their right. They don't have to be deserving people. Money should not be the barrier to people asserting their rights - but it often is.

It is very clear who I am helping now - each of the individuals who come my way - and why. It is tangible. But sometimes, I don't agree with it. And sometimes, I don't like it. And sometimes, I'm bored of it. Each of those feelings happens to me every day. And each work day seems to involve some navel gazing on my part. (Navel gazing is also not billable time, in case you're wondering).

Working in the law, on the side of the individual, is not satisfying work. Because you have an almost insurmountable opposition (the case law, the legislative law, the sheer weight of resources on the other side), but you have to believe that your meagre presence is worth something. That asserting a legal right, even if the odds are poor is important to the whole legal structure.

I believe this, and yet it is a hard pill to swallow. To put it into practise everyday is hard.

My 2008 looks set to be more of the same. I don't expect to come to conclusions about how I feel about my work. I do expect to post more often. Let's see how I go.

Happy New Year, all and sundry.


Wandering Chopsticks said...

I'm so addicted to Scrabulous. I've got about 9 games going on at any time. :P

As for work, I think I was more idealistic in my 20s. Once I entered my 30s, that same drive seems to have tempered with age.

Hedgehog said...

ahem, I'm one of those who used to think you are London based. No wonder why you couldn't find a place that sells chao when you were ill (I couldn't find a Viet restaurant where I live either)
I agree with you on your point about Facebook. I still don't understand why people can get hooked on it to be honest.
Have a great new year. Sending you a virtual hug from the North West :D

uk employment law solicitors said...

This is not your fault .. people are so much busy in their lives . that they hardly get time for all this

n.t said...


i chucked it towards the end of the last year. i got sick of doing mundane work, all in the name of earning money either for my boss or for my clients. there was brief personal satisfaction as i was able to push my files through the hurdles and make my deadlines, but it wasn't personally satisfying and i felt listless and hollow. i was in a tiny commercial firm, but i just go sick of it: the turning point was when i was sick and trying to settle a property under a recission notice, my bf was going through a hard time and my boss was constantly yelling and berating me to work harder and i just couldn't see the point of living like that.

i've just started a new job working in policy. it's really great. it's still the law - but much closer to what i think the law is, and how i want to be contributing to the law. i get to do research, write papers, analyse the law, and i have the chance to influence and bring change. and i think i will have enough spare hours to dream and create.

maybe it's time for you to move on. i'm sure when you know where to, you'll start your journey there and everything will feel like it's in its right place.

good luck this year Oanh, and keep delighting in wonderful things!

Oanh said...

WC - You win! I too often don't hold up my end of a Scrabulous game, which gets added to the list of things I feel guilty about ...

I want to stay idealistic. Or if I'm not going to be idealistic, I think that I should throw in the towel and work in something that demands less of my time and emotions.

Hedgehog -
Not to worry on the London point. It is a fair assumption to make, after all, plenty of *other* Australians are hanging out there.

I'm still trying to find my balance with Facebook...


Thanks for visiting. I guess I do sound like I'm berating myself. But you're wrong. It is no one else's fault, but my own. And it's up to me to sort it out. I don't hate myself though.

NT -

Hey, I had no idea you were a lawyer!

I'm not sure about moving on just yet, but I am sure about delighting in wonderful things. What a lovely phrase, and I shall keep trying!

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