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Do you want to follow Ed Stevens? Is Stuckeyville looking better and better? For those of you wondering what the heck I’m talking about, here’s the gist of NBC’s much-hyped new show, “Ed”: On one and the same miserable day, Ed gets fired from his job with a big New York law firm (for misplacing a comma) and finds his wife in bed with a mailman. So he packs his bags and heads home to Stuckeyville, Ohio, where he buys a bowling alley, which also becomes his law office. When he’s not wooing his high school crush, he’s providing counsel to the quirky locals. From high-powered associate to bowling alley lawyer in one episode flat — that’s about as probable as, oh, a 7-10 split. Trying hard to be cute, the show’s producers have missed a splendid opportunity to depict the real ordeal of leaving the large firm womb. You don’t see Ed fretting about $100,000 in law school loans, scouring the floor for loose change, or swearing at his forever-crashed computer. He takes to small-town solo practice like a duck to water. If only the change were that easy. Because it’s not just difficult to leave private practice once your wrists are used to the chafing of the golden handcuffs. You have to be half-crazy to say goodbye to the most money you’ve made in your life and step into a financial abyss. Two years ago, I left a large New York firm and took a 50 percent pay cut to become a legal journalist. Naturally, I jumped ship right before the nationwide wave of salary increases. Needless to say, I try not to think too much about how much I would be making now as a sixth-year associate. But I really don’t regret my new career. I do, however, have some advice for others who have left or are considering leaving the mother ship: Accept the fact that, presto, you’re no longer worth $200 an hour. The first step for any recovering associate is to cope with the dramatic loss of self-esteem. At a prestigious firm, it’s natural to think you’re something special based on your ridiculous billing rate — even though you’re really little more than an overpaid paralegal. But exit the firm, and the rest of the world is all too ready to remind you of your true cosmic significance. When you feel blue, I recommend standing in front of a mirror and repeating out loud � la Stuart Smalley from “Saturday Night Live”: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” Welcome to the boiler room. One of the most jarring adjustments is the dramatic diminution of your work space. It’s not easy abandoning your own office with a view for a Dilbertian cubicle. It was a shock to me to go from walnut paneling and overpriced art to coffee-stained carpets and shaky stacks of newspapers everywhere. And my chair (excuse me) blocked a main route to the printer. Bear in mind that it always could be worse. During law school, I toiled in a windowless file room at the Federal Communications Commission that doubled as the office kitchen. There’s nothing like the smell of burnt microwave popcorn in the afternoon. Any idiot can operate a fax machine. You will mourn the loss of support staff. It’s terrifying when you realize there’s no one there to type your letters, handle your overnight packages, order your office supplies, or fix your temperamental printer. There are few tasks more humbling than enduring a Soviet-era line at the post office. Eventually, though, you’ll feel liberated by your newfound resourcefulness. And a copier is much easier to operate when you don’t have to worry about client billing codes. You can survive on less than $100,000 a year. You did it during law school, and you can do it again. Remember when you owned just one good suit, one presentable tie, and one decent pair of shoes? Remember when you brought a bagged lunch rather than paying $4.99 a pound for waterlogged salad fixings at a downtown deli? You might even learn to love PB&J and bologna sandwiches all over again. There’s no place like home. When you’re an associate gunning for partner, you can afford a nice place to live, even though you’re hardly ever there. After you leave the firm, you can spend more time at a place that you can’t afford anymore. One money-saving idea is to move back in with your folks — as long they weren’t the inspiration for George Costanza’s parents. There are only so many times they can bring up the topic of your blighted career, right? Or, like Ed, maybe your old high school buddy and his wife would be happy to put you up for some open-ended period of time. (Maybe not.) Learn from Anna Nicole Smith. As the old saying goes, you can marry more money in one day than you can make in a lifetime. You could woo one of your former colleagues — although it would be better if the sparks flew before you were so obviously hard up for cash. Be sure to read the society pages for potential prospects. Or, like Sen. John Kerry, you might find happiness with a condiment heiress. I’ll take Civil Procedure for $200, Alex. Ever notice how many lawyers end up on game shows like “Jeopardy!” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Attorneys are trained to store up lots of arcane facts, so they excel on trivia shows. Why kill yourself for a 2,400-hour bonus when you can make almost as much off “Final Jeopardy”? Don’t spend more on nursery school than you did on law school. If you already have children, the transition from firm life is even more delicate. Yes, you can spend more quality time with your youngsters, but who wants to explain to them that “Congress didn’t pass Santa’s appropriations bill, so we won’t have Christmas this year”? One obvious way to spend less on your brood is to sidestep the guilt trap of private school. There are lawyer parents who’ll pay $2,000 to a consultant to help get their 4 year old into the right $15,000-a-year pre-K program. You might want to know that, in most jurisdictions, it’s not child abuse to send your kids to public school. Have you driven a Ford Focus — lately? Unless you work in a city with decent mass transit, a car is a necessary but rapidly depreciating asset. To keep up their image, associates often blow more on vehicle payments and insurance than they did on rent during law school. But you can’t afford an image anymore. So forget about a Lexus. Don’t lease a Land Rover, especially if you live in a town like Washington, D.C., where it snows heavily once every four years. And help elderly relatives who are heading toward the nursing home. They’d probably be happy to sell their car to their favorite niece. You see, it’s possible to survive outside the plush confines of a large firm. There really are many other rewarding things you can do with your law degree. And you’re not a failure if you decide you’d rather not spend the next 35 years living your life in six-minute increments. See you at Stuckeybowl. Ted Allen is a lawyer and journalist in Washington, D.C. “Every 6 Minutes” is published monthly in Legal Times. Allen can be reached at [email protected]

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