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.