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Every afternoon at three, Lindsey Buss, Esq., takes a hug break. It’s his favorite perk at his new job at Martha’s Table, a nonprofit in Washington that provides day care, after-school programs, and food for the homeless. He gets those hugs from the dozens of children who pour into Martha’s Table after school, ready to read, tackle homework, play computer games, or go outside to the playground. Just six weeks into his job, Buss already is greeted familiarly with a chorus of pleas for help with homework or for companionship on the playground. Buss’ official title is director of development, but he actually does a little bit of everything, from delivering food to serving every afternoon as a counselor with the nearly 100 children in the 5- to 10-year-old group. It’s a far cry from the quiet, plush corridors of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where Buss was a litigator for seven years. Now his office is a tiny windowless room with linoleum floors beneath mismatched furniture and an acoustic tile ceiling with squares popping from their braces. Gone are the secretaries and the paralegals; he still doesn’t have e-mail. But Buss doesn’t seem to notice, much less care. He left Gibson Dunn not because he was unhappy there or with the practice of law — in fact, Buss speaks warmly of the firm and his colleagues. Instead, he is pursuing a lifelong passion for social service work. “I really wanted to do this,” says Buss, 33, who, 10 years ago, nearly chose graduate school for social work over law school. “Actually, I thought I would have left practice earlier.” He stayed as long as he did because Los Angeles-based Gibson Dunn gave him “great cases and wonderful opportunities.” Law firm work also enabled him to pay off $40,000 in law school debt and build a nest egg, softening the blow of the 80 percent pay cut he took to join Martha’s Table. AN UNCONVENTIONAL LIFE Buss probably was better prepared to weather a pay cut than most of his law firm peers. He is one of those rare creatures who lives beneath their means; in Buss’ case, that means renting an efficiency apartment in Cleveland Park and driving a 1993 Mazda Prot�g�. “My life has been unconventional enough that it made it easier for me,” he says. “There is nothing that I miss yet.” Among the advantages to his new job are shorter days and fewer working weekends. But Buss says he most appreciates the regular rhythm of his schedule. At Gibson Dunn, where he typically put in 10- to 12-hour days, there was always the possibility of a last-minute call to go take depositions in California. “My time is much more predictable, and I am working fewer hours.” On most days, Buss says he has to remind himself that he doesn’t have to go back to work at the firm. “One of the things that is hard about comparing the two jobs is that this is what I used to do for fun,” Buss says. “It’s like I just became a professional baseball player.” He chose Martha’s Table because he wanted to work with children and the homeless: “By feeding the homeless with McKenna’s Wagons [vans with soup and sandwiches], we are addressing immediate needs and through our children and family programs, we are trying to provide the kind of support that can help end the cycle of poverty.” Unconventional is an understatement in describing Buss’ upbringing. He gets his passion for social work from his parents, who helped found the Institute of Cultural Affairs in the early 1960s in Chicago. The institute’s purpose was international community development, and Buss and his older sister spent the first decade of their lives in a variety of exotic postings — including Hong Kong, Australia and Brussels — before his parents moved back to their native Texas in the late 1970s and took up other pursuits. His father now teaches sociology at a small college in Florida, his mother is retired, and his sister is an artist in Northern California. “I was doing volunteer work from the fourth grade on,” says Buss. “It hit with me early.” His first memorable experience was digging sewer lines in Pace, Miss., an impoverished rural community in the Mississippi Delta. In law school at the University of Texas, he headed Texas Law Fellowships for two years, an organization that raises money for summer law jobs in the public interest sector. Since moving to Washington, D.C., in 1993 to take the job with Gibson Dunn, Buss has worked steadily with the D.C. Bar’s Pro Bono Clinic and handled cases for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, averaging more than 200 hours a year on pro bono work. He is chairman of the board at Rachel’s Women’s Center, a day center for homeless women in the District. He chose Gibson Dunn because the firm was willing to support his pro bono interests, starting with law school summers when he divided his time between the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and the Migrant Legal Action Program, also in D.C. “They let you do what you want to do,” Buss says of his former employer. “There were certain levels you needed to reach in terms of billable hours, but beyond that, they helped financially and with resources.” Now that Buss has moved full time into service work, he is thinking again about getting a master’s degree in social work. He initially opted for the law degree, figuring it would make him a more effective advocate for the needy. “Given my skills, I thought a law degree was the best way to help other people,” he says. Looking forward, Buss sees a lot of jobs that require a master’s in social work, but is not certain how — or even whether — he will combine social work with law. “There are so many challenges day to day, I’m not thinking that far off.” Claudia MacLachlan is a Washington, D.C.-based free-lance writer and a regular contributor to Legal Times.

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