During hard economic times, lawyer gets paid to travel

Forgive me for sounding schizophrenic, but this recent article in The New York Times, which explains how 36-year-old associate, Heather Eisenlord, has opted to accept $80,000, just one-third of her normal yearly income, to take not work for her New York law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and travel the world has gotten me thinking many things ranging from “I’m jealous” to “I picked the wrong profession” to “Couldn’t that money be better spent?”

A few details on Eisenlord’s situation: Over 1,000 Skadden associates were offered a similar one-year “salary” because of the firm’s outlook on hard times to come. There is no catch, no requirements for how the money should be spent during this year off, so Eisenlord plans to pack her bags and travel the world, which is clearly what I would do if given this offer. When she returns to New York next here, Skadden guarantees her job back.

So, am I jealous? Of course! $80,000 will allow a budget traveler like myself more than three years of healthy, worry-free travel! I’m right now dreaming, as I’m sure Eisenlord is right now, of the all the places I could go.

Did I pick the I pick the wrong profession? Maybe. But Eisenlord likely earned this paid leave of absence through considerable hard work at one of the toughest law firms in the nation. At least I wake up every morning in my modest one bedroom apartment thinking, “I love being a travel writer even though I’m getting paid next to nothing.” I’m sure Eisenlord wasn’t waking up every morning before work at Skadden thinking, “I love being a lawyer.”

The real question I can’t seem to find an answer for, though, is this: Couldn’t that money be better spent? If over 1,000 other Skadden associates were offered a paid year off, that is over $80,000,000 (that is not a typo; it’s really 80 million dollars!) that could be going to something like saving the economy, ending the war in Iraq, or feeding the whole continent of Africa for half a year. I’m sorry, but no matter how hard-earned that year-long vacation is, I hope-pray-beg for Eisenlord or others in her situation to do some good with at least some of that money during her travels abroad.

Jodie Foster or me. Speeding stories. Who faired better?

Reading about Jodie Foster’s speeding ticket experience reminded me of my own ticket four Sundays ago, and the adage about how important it is to be polite when stopped by the police. In case you missed this bit of celebrity gossip, Jodie Foster was clocked allegedly going 54 in a 35 mile an hour speed zone. Horrors. No, that’s not the gist of the gossip.

What is the story is that she argued with the police, and to make it a bit more interesting, a film crew from truTV’s reality show “Speeders ” was on the scene hoping to get her to sign a waiver so they could use the footage of her getting a ticket. She didn’t sign the waiver. Good for her. Still, Jodie, Jodie, Jodie, do not argue with the police.

According to the news, Jodie sputtered and argued that she was not going that fast. Maybe not. It is true that sometimes speed guns aren’t accurate. However, that said, Jodie, don’t argue. Arguing will get you no where and getting a ticket will not go any faster. You will be on your way when the policeman is finished.

Here’s what I did when I was stopped.

Like Jodie, when the officer stopped me, I was genuinely surprised. I didn’t think I was speeding. In my case, I thought something might have been wrong with my tail light. But, I took the ticket, was polite, and went on my way. At the time, I hoped he would notice just how polite I was and let me go on my way with a friendly warning. No such luck. Next step.

Then I had a lawyer go with me to court. I was still polite, but interested in making sure the ticket would not carry a point. Plus, I had my doubts.

When I talked with the prosecutor, he looked at my record–squeaky clean and then looked at what the ticket said–the officer had written down that I was polite. See? He then told me about people who don’t behave as nicely as I did, took out his pen, and reduced the speed. I still paid the fine–politely.

All in all, I left the courtroom feeling good. While I sat in traffic court watching case after case of people being polite and the prosecutor and the magistrate looking to cut them a fair break, I thought about how civility does pay off. From what I remember, everyone received some sort of break. No one got off, but everyone got a break–even the guy who kept forgetting to take off his hat. Each time he took it off, he apologized for forgetting-politely.

Jodie, next time, save it for court. You’ll be able to have your say, but be nice. To be fair, with the camera crew in on the scene, I can imagine how it would be hard to not lose it. No one was interested in my ticket. As polite as I was, it would have made for dull TV anyway.

By the way, I was one of the only people to have a lawyer. According to this article, having a lawyer is a good idea. Ever since my day in court, I am carefully watching my speed. I wouldn’t want to let that nice prosecutor down.