It's dark when I roll out of bed on a frosty winter morning near Sydney, Australia. I bundle up, turn on the heat, and boot up my computer. It's time to get to work, as my clients in California are hitting their midday stride, basking in the hot summer sun.
For my job I am telecommuting to the extreme. I am a California State Bar defense attorney, but I live halfway around the world, in Australia. As a trailing spouse, I follow my husband wherever his career as a CPA with a Big Four accounting firm takes us.
I once lived a very different existence. I was a securities litigation associate on a partnership track at a big firm in New York City. I found the all-consuming work highly rewarding and intellectually addicting. For eight years my husband worked the same intense schedule. We were both focused on our careers.
In 2007 I became a mom and soon realized I couldn't be the mother I wanted to be if I continued to devote so many hours to the job I loved. So when my first daughter was ten months old, I stepped off the partnership track and moved to California, where my husband and I both were raised and still had family. There, I worked remotely for my law firm as a senior staff attorney while my husband continued with his Big Four career. I had planned to return to full associate status soon, but then the economy tanked, my position was eliminated, and my second daughter was born in 2009. I took ad hoc legal work from referral sources for the next year and a half.
Then one day, my husband came home from work and asked if I'd like to move to Australia. It sounded like a grand adventure, and location made little difference to the work I was doing. So we headed across the ocean.
At first I was busy just setting up a family life Down Under. But I really missed practicing law - the intellectual stimulation, the interactions with clients and opposing counsel, the fight for what I believe is right. So once again I began to work remotely - only this time as a sole practitioner assisting lawyers who face disciplinary investigations. I had been introduced to this work back in California when someone asked for my help on a State Bar matter. When I worked on that initial case, I felt a real spark of passion.
A defendant lawyer being prosecuted by the State Bar is often a true David v. Goliath situation. Many times, lawyers facing disciplinary charges are dealing with very difficult life situations - physical and mental health issues, family and financial problems - which compound their troubles. I wanted to help these colleagues.
I spend most of my time preparing my clients' written and documentary responses to bar inquiries, and pleadings and motions for the State Bar Court. Because I do not represent my clients directly before the bar, they don't need me to be in the same room with them - just accessible. Using mostly free technology - video chatting, email, and the Dropbox cloud storage service - I am able to stay in close contact with my clients despite the thousands of miles that separate us. I provide clients with deliverable documents electronically, and they can print these and submit them to the bar or the State Bar Court.
The benefits of my arrangement far surpass any inconveniences. I am home for my children at the critical times in their day, which rarely overlap with client working hours. My work now satisfies me on nearly every level: I get the intellectual stimulation and strategizing that I had so desperately missed, and my virtual support network (my assistant, a public relations manager, and research attorneys scattered around the globe) goes a long way toward filling the void left by not working face-to-face with a legal team.
On an emotional level, the work I do defending attorneys is far more gratifying than representing institutions in securities litigation could ever be. Plus, my husband's career can flourish without causing mine to stall, because now no move will interrupt the growth of my firm. That's what I call rewarding!
Megan Zavieh is a lawyer whose practice focuses on attorney defense in the California State Bar disciplinary system.