Monday, September 28, 2020

September 2020 Shopping Reflections

September has been a strange month. 

In most ways, I'm reasonably well-adjusted to our COVID-era "new normal." Since late July or so, I haven't had any disturbances to my sleep schedule, which is a relief. The only downside is that -  probably because I now get a solid seven to eight hours of sleep a night, due to not needing to commute to the office before I start work - I can't really sleep in on weekends anymore. I haven't had more stress-induced slight tightness in my throat or chest, unlike in the first two months of COVID-19 shutdowns. As an introverted homebody, it's never been a real emotional hardship to be stuck at home, even if I'm now trying to process the daunting prospect of Americans potentially needing to continue taking serious COVID precautions through late 2021

But I don't feel quite like myself. At the moment - outside of the political situation in the US - I don't have any major stressors in my life. For now, I only have a reasonable, manageable workload "at the office." My family and friends are doing as well as can be expected. Yet I still find myself feeling unusually irritable at times. I also generally still have trouble focusing on reading for fun, no matter how good or engaging a book is. 

I'm sometimes tempted to describe life these days by saying that a "veneer of unreality" hangs over everything, because life changed so drastically and so quickly from the old, pre-COVID normal. With that, I feel like my judgment and ability to make decisions - whether about small, relatively un-serious things like shopping or about bigger, important things like future job transitions and career development - simply isn't the same as what it used to be. I'm probably being overly dramatic to describe life in the "new normal" this way, but I just can't shake the feeling that I don't feel like myself, because things are currently so sad and strange and - politically speaking - more than a little scary. 

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Turning back now to the lighter topic of shopping: If you read my recent "COVID-era staycation" money diary, you've already had a spoiler for this month's post. I've long been a fan of the London-based jewelry brand Alighieri, designed by Rosh Mahtani. One of this month's purchases is an Alighieri design I'd been thinking about for a long time. During the six-day period covered by my recent money diary, the brand had a surprise one-day sale and I just couldn't resist. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $411.12)

  • Cuyana French Terry Boatneck Sweatshirt, deep ocean - $85.00 - (sold out, other colors available) - These days, I'm really into the idea of matching lounge sets, something I'd never before had any interest in until COVID-19 caused me to start working from home full-time. There aren't a lot of bright teal sweatsuits out there, and the "deep ocean" color of this Cuyana set was what first caught my eye. (I have a bit of a thing for teal, to put it lightly.) I ordered a size L because I like a relaxed fit for things I wear around the house and because of where my chest measurement lands on Cuyana's sizing chart. I think I'd have done better with an M instead, though, because the cotton-modal-spandex blend has a very soft, comfortable stretch. The boatneck, slight balloon sleeve, and back pleat details also magnify the oversized feel even more. Put all those together with a sweatshirt that's already a little big on my short-ish frame, and it starts looking a bit too oversized in the mirror! But I decided to keep this anyway since it's still comfortable, I'd only ever wear it to lounge at home, and none of the details make it less functional for that purpose. 
  • Cuyana French Terry Tapered Lounge Pant, deep ocean - $95.00 - (limited sizes available) - I got a size M in this based on the size chart, and that's the right size for me. The lounge pants in this Cuyana set are more typical-looking, I don't think there are any unusual design details, unlike with the sweatshirt. The cotton-modal-spandex material is, again, very soft and comfortable and quite stretchy. I'm not sure, however, that this particular material is better - whether in terms of comfort and function, or durability - than the cotton-polyester-spandex blends commonly found in sweatsuits these days. The cotton-modal isn't very warm, even if it's soft and nice to wear. I've only been wearing this set off and on for two weeks and have only washed it once, so it's too early to say if the material is actually durable or not. (In the past, I've sometimes found modal to start looking worn out sooner than some other materials with regular machine-washing.)
  • Alighieri Fractured Cloud Necklace - $231.12* - I've been interested in this particular Alighieri necklace design for quite a while. I just think it's really cool looking, like a wax seal on a letter! For a few months, this design was out of stock on the brand's website, but it popped back earlier this summer. I was still going to hold off on purchasing this necklace because I don't wear much jewelry while I'm social distancing at home. But when Alighieri announced their surprise one-day sale on Instagram, I couldn't resist. The design is as beautiful as I thought it would be, the pendant has a very intriguing, organic shape. 

*Indicates that price includes international shipping charges. 

Do you have any favorite lounge clothes for wearing at home? How has your September been? Maybe I'm not the only one who feels like a "veneer of unreality" hangs over everything now, with all the uncertainty associated with long-term COVID-containment policies in most places and jurisdictions, and with all the other not-so-great things happening in the world. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Getting Into Fountain Pens

Featuring the Sailor Pro Gear Slim, Yuki-tsubaki pen. I now have... a few more pens and inks now than I did back in July. Most of these inks are samples though, I don't own many full bottles.

I bought my first ever fountain pen - a Pilot Metropolitan - back in early July, after seeing Adina post about her favorite fountain pen inks. Since then, I've been completely enamored with writing and journaling with fountain pens. Though I've only been part of the fountain pen hobby for three months, the size of my collection is already formidable. And judging from various comments and posts in the many super-active online fountain pen communities out there, I'm far from the only person who started their participation in this hobby - and then escalated very quickly - during these recent months of COVID-19 social distancing! 

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

Just the pens and bottled inks I mentioned in late July, including the ones sampled in the photograph - plus a converter for each pen that needs one, so I can actually use bottled inks - totals to a retail value of approximately $240 (including the dozen ink samples at ~$2 each). Everything discussed in that post was purchased at the US retail price. (Some Japanese pens and inks can also be readily obtained more cheaply from gray market sellers, including on Amazon, because they retail for significantly less in Japan.) And, ah, I now have... at least a few more pens and inks than in late July. In short, fountain pens can be a fairly expensive hobby. I'm even omitting the not-insignificant cost of fountain pen-friendly notebooks and paper! 

It's interesting to me to think about how this hobby and its associated online communities are similar to - but also different from - my fashion hobby and its relevant online communities. Though I can't exactly say I'm an expert in either hobby, of course. 

To tell the truth, I can barely even claim to be that knowledgeable about the relevant online communities either. Outside of keeping this blog and responding to comments here, I'm basically just a "lurker" or observer. I'm extremely shy - even when online and mostly anonymous - and only rarely interact directly with other people in any of these hobbies, whether on Instagram, Reddit, or otherwise. So my thoughts do need to be taken with that grain of salt.

Similarity: Lots of Small Businesses and Independent Creators to Support

Much like with fashion, there are many small businesses and individual creators and artists in the fountain pen space. Fountain pens are a fairly specialized, niche interest after all.

I mentioned in my recent money diary that I've been shopping online for some of my fountain pens, inks, and fountain pen-friendly notebooks from Yoseka Stationery, a small independent shop that's local to me. (They're great, and I highly recommend them!) From looking at Yelp, I understand there aren't many other brick and mortar stores in NYC that stock a wide range of fountain pens and inks. Fountain Pen Hospital may be the only dedicated fountain pen shop in the city. 

Super-large companies like Amazon do sell fountain pens and related supplies. Target even has a limited selection of slightly below-retail Pilot Metropolitan fountain pens and Pilot Iroshizuku fountain pen ink (only four colors, and only Take-Sumi and Asa-Gao are below retail at the time of this writing). Though it may generally be best to avoid such non-specialist retailers, at least for ink. When ink is not packed properly - as the specialized retailers generally all take special care to do - disaster can ensue. But I should note that most new fountain pens come in very secure packaging, generally in small padded boxes, so buying the pens themselves from a big-box retailer probably doesn't carry particular risk of damage in transit. I've read anecdotal comments about counterfeit Lamy pens on Amazon, however, so that's something to be aware of. 

There are also larger stationery or fountain pen online retailers that are still relatively small businesses, in the grand scheme of things. In addition to Yoseka Stationery, I've enjoyed shopping from Goulet Pens, Jetpens, and Goldspot

Monday, September 21, 2020

On Justice Ginsburg

A photograph of Justice Ginsburg with other members of the Harvard Law Review. She was the first female member of the Law Review, and one of only nine women in her Harvard Law School class of over 500 students ( link, if needed). Due to family reasons, she ultimately moved to New York City and completed her 3L year as a graduate of Columbia Law School instead.

I was devastated to learn of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing last Friday. Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer in the profession, entering it in a time when women were, by and large, unwelcome. 

Three years ago, in July 2017, I wrote a blog entry discussing some of Justice Ginsburg's personal writing, focusing mainly on her opinion piece about her "Advice for Living," which she wrote for the New York Times in October 2016 ( link, if needed). In that entry, I made sure to emphasize just how extraordinary she was, just how extreme the obstacles were against her and against all women who sought to become attorneys in her day:
I had to search hard for a readily accessible online citation for how things were: "Upon graduation from Columbia Law School with top honors in 1959, [Justice Ginsburg] received no job offer from any law firm in New York City, presumably because white shoe law firms were aghast that a woman, a mother and a Jew would dare think she was qualified for the job." She has also written that, back then, law firms simply "would engage no women" as a matter of absolute policy. [See Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Changing Complexion of Harvard Law School, 27 Harv. Women's L.J. 303, 307 (2004).] 
So I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that all women attorneys practicing today - regardless of political views or preferred judicial philosophy - should reasonably consider Justice Ginsburg to be a role model, someone who helped make it possible for us to participate fully in the profession today.  We are all, in a way, part of her legacy to the profession. While the legal profession remains an extremely challenging one for women and minorities to navigate, it has come a very long way since the early days of Justice Ginsburg's career. 

By now, you've probably also seen that, long before she was appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant attorney. In that time, she argued several key cases before the Supreme Court that developed our gender discrimination jurisprudence under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, practically from the ground up. 

One nuance that isn't always fully headlined in non-lawyer discussions about gender discrimination law is that - based on their facts - the landmark cases that Justice Ginsburg argued also made clear that women's rights are everybody's rights. Just as the law must not restrict the rights of women based on antiquated stereotypes about a woman's "proper" role in the home or in society, the law is also not to burden men based on those same stereotypes: husbands of those serving in the United States military should be entitled to the same dependent spouses' benefits as the wives of those in the military, Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973); widowers should be entitled to the same Social Security survivors' benefits as widows, Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636 (1975); and boys should be entitled to purchase alcoholic "near-beer" beverages at the same age as girls, Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976).

After hearing about Justice Ginsburg's passing last Friday evening, I am currently staying off Twitter and limiting the time I spend on news sites in order to protect my mental health. Up until now, I've never before in my life felt the need to separate myself from social media or from the news like this, but last Friday pushed me over that edge. I simply cannot tolerate hearing about what the President or Mitch McConnell are saying right now, for at least a few more days. 

I have also made donations to the Biden/Harris campaign and to the "Get Mitch or Die Trying" fund. (Sadly, I understand that the polling data shows Amy McGrath probably has no real chance of unseating Mitch McConnell, so the latter fund donates to other Democratic senate campaigns that have a better chance.) With regards to the Supreme Court as an institution, and regardless of how Justice Ginsburg's seat is filled, I don't really see any way around needing some radical change to the structure of the Court, such as by court-packing. This was true even before last Friday, and it remains true now. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: Six Months and Counting

via Unsplash

When my colleagues and I abruptly rushed home from Luxembourg in mid-March, none of us could truly have imagined that, six months on, life would still not be anywhere close to normal. As we transited through Heathrow that day - after having booked new tickets last-minute in the wee hours of the morning, upon being woken up by concerned friends and family back home following the President's sudden announcement of a proposed Western Europe travel ban - the pandemic didn't feel real yet. Barely anyone at the airport was wearing a face mask. Things still looked almost normal, even if we knew they were not. 

Local Policies in NYC 

Now, six months later, NYC has - since June or so - controlled the spread of COVID-19 better than many other places in the US. Yet the prospect of resuming any substantial new indoor activities here - things bringing bigger groups of people together in closer quarters than the retail stores or museums that are currently open with drastically limited capacity - still feels potentially perilous. For the attorneys amongst us, participating safely in in-person court proceedings - particularly jury trials - and in-person depositions still feels like an impossibility. (Especially when we keep in mind that at least some participants or attorneys typically need to travel from out-of-state for such events.) 

Our state and city government are generally moving slowly and cautiously to gradually allow more significant indoor activities. In-person schooling at NYC public schools may restart in phases starting next week, on a partial schedule for the families that opt-in. Restaurant dining rooms may be allowed to open at the end of the month, at 25% capacity. 

Personal Comfort Levels

Completely separate from the issue of what's legally allowed, there's also the question of my personal comfort level with additional activities. I would not be happy about being forced to attend in-person court proceedings anytime soon. Nor am I willing to put others and myself at risk by partaking in indoor restaurant dining before a vaccine becomes widely available. Nothing short of a court order - and the fear of being in contempt of court - or a serious family emergency would get me on a plane before I'm vaccinated. 

I am somewhat apprehensive about when my workplace might start requiring attorneys to come into the office more often. New York officially allowed white-collar workplaces like law firms to reopen with certain safety precautions back in early July. But up to now, state law has also required that categories of employees who can perform the vast majority of their duties from home - attorneys included - be offered the choice to continue working from home, something I've availed myself of to the fullest extent. I'm not sure when that state policy might change.

K and I have loosened up somewhat since I last wrote about our ongoing social distancing experience in late July. We've both had our long-overdue haircuts now, and we each felt quite safe with all the new safety precautions at New York salons. In the next month or so, we'll probably both go to our first routine doctor's appointments since the COVID-19 shutdowns began. As mentioned in my recent money diary, we also ended up needing our building's superintendent and then a contractor to come in to our apartment for some repairs, across a few different days. And that also felt just fine, with everyone wearing masks and given NYC's continuing trend of favorable COVID numbers. 

While we've applied for absentee ballots, we may yet decline to use them and choose to vote in-person instead - most likely by early voting - knowing there were... some issues... with absentee ballots actually getting counted during the recent New York primary. To be fair, our election procedures have changed to directly address these problems, including to allow voters to track their own absentee ballots and have an opportunity to cure alleged defects instead of the ballot just being thrown out.

But I think it's fair to say our household is technically still practicing fairly strict social distancing. Outside of the errands described above, we are still staying home except for essential grocery and pharmacy trips, which we continue to limit to approximately once every three weeks. And our friends in NYC are still not quite ready to socialize yet, even outdoors.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Money Diary: COVID-era Staycation, Part 2

And here's part two of the COVID-era staycation money diary I started last week! When I left off, a contractor was in the process of replacing a large swath of floorboards in our living room, and we'd relocated our coffee table and office chairs to our bedroom for the duration of the work. The repairs were going to take three days total, factoring in that certain things needed time to dry or set. 

Only day one of the work had been completed so far, and the contractor needed to come in at 9:00 AM the following two days. This meant we needed to set our alarms for 8:00 AM to have enough time to get dressed and eat before the contractor came by. That's a very early wake-up call by our standards, alas, but we'll be glad to have the repairs done before we're technically back to work next week. 

We wake up at 8:00 AM so we can cook and eat before the contractor arrives at 9:00. The easiest and fastest dishes we can make are either grilled cheese, like we had on Monday, or eggs and bacon, like on Tuesday. So it's grilled cheese with mozzarella (Trader Joe's pre-sliced fresh mozzarella log, to be exact) and prosciutto again! I cook and K cleans up after. 

We mask up when the contractor arrives, before letting him in, and then we stay masked if we're in the living room while the contractor is working. We have an ample supply of disposable surgery masks, because my mom and her friends in California participated in charity drives to order dramatically large quantities of surgical masks and other PPE to donate to local hospitals, senior centers, and the like. While doing those orders, they also bought enough surgical masks for their families, so my mom has kept my sister and I well-supplied. 

That being said, now that K and I know we need to settle in for the long haul when it comes to COVID precautions, we're trying out some reusable, washable fabric masks. A friend of a friend recommended "Happy Masks" a small company that sells masks with an extra filter layer sewn in, and that's what K and I use today. I find these Happy Masks very comfortable because the elastic ear loops are quite secure, yet also quite soft, causing no discomfort even after several hours of staying masked up. The front of the mask is shaped so there's some space under the mask (like with a N95 or a cone-shaped mask that's molded or sort of 3D in shape, so only the edges of the mask sit on the face) and the fabric isn't directly in contact with the nostrils and mouth (like with a standard disposable surgical mask that's fully touching the face). I like the Happy Masks a lot, but I don't have enough knowledge about the science to vouch for the relative merits of the extra filter layer they sew in. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Money Diary: COVID-era Staycation, Part 1

Approximately once a year, I get inspired to write a money diary post in the Man Repeller format (focused on that week's spending only, without additional details about overall finances like at Refinery 29). I've done a 2018 "atypical week" money diary (part one, part two) and a 2019 "slightly more typical week" money diary (part one, part two). And now, with COVID-19 and everything else that's been going on, here's part one of a 2020 money diary! (I was definitely also inspired by Luxe's recent COVID-era weekend money diary.)

This year's money diary covers a six-day period. There's no point extending the diary to a full week, because the days immediately before and after this six-day period were both extremely boring, with no spending or outings further away than our apartment building's lobby. Heck, there are already two no-spending days in this diary, which was unthinkable for me in pre-COVID times! 

During the six days covered by this diary, both K and I were technically not working, and were instead enjoying a staycation. Though you'll see I still needed to do some work, some of it billable and some of it not. Until late August, I hadn't taken any vacation time in 2020. My supervisors at work encouraged me to take some time off, even if one can't go many places without potentially needing to do a two-week quarantine afterwards, pursuant to New York state law. 

For my part, I've always enjoyed staycations. I'm even known to take an extra vacation day after a trip is over, so I can relax at home a bit before returning to the office. (K prefers not to do this, as he doesn't think it's a great use of a vacation day. He'd rather head straight back to work!) 

But, well, I obviously also miss normal, pre-COVID times, when we'd have been able to freely use our vacation time to, say, go to Taiwan and Japan, as we were about to do in April. Maybe in late 2021? I can only hope...

Wow, a no-spending day! I didn't have a single one of those across my 2018 and 2019 money diaries... 

We sleep in a bit, as is typical for us on the weekends. I wake up around 10:00 AM, a bit ahead of K. Once K is up around 10:30, I start making brunch. I use the oven to cook Trader Joe's frozen hash browns and make an egg scramble on the stovetop with cheddar and chopped-up Trader Joe's "garlic herb" chicken sausage. (That's not my favorite flavor, the "spicy jalapeno" - which isn't actually spicy - is better, but they didn't have any in stock on our last Trader Joe's trip two weeks ago.) I cook and K cleans after the meal.  

Monday, September 7, 2020

Link List: More About Workplace Discrimination


Of late, I've been preoccupied with some of the smaller topics that have come up in connection with recent conversations about race and discrimination in the US. Because of certain of my own less happy professional experiences, and because I've experienced firsthand how difficult it is to truly and meaningfully challenge discrimination in the legal profession, I have a deep interest in discussions about workplace discrimination across various industries, not just in the law. 

1. // This first article, from Vice, is not technically about workplace discrimination, though my personal encounters with its subject matter have tended - distressingly, and somewhat creepily - to occur in the biglaw workplace and the law school recruiting process to get into said workplace. The article is about a joke t-shirt displaying the message "I Don't Need to Know About Your Asian Wife" and about the experiences with racism and sexism that caused the frustration and anger leading to the creation of said t-shirt.

One recurring theme to my personal reflections about all these discussions is that I'm fully cognizant of the relative privileges I've experienced as an Asian-American of East Asian descent - solidly within "model minority" stereotypes - and this is true here too. Within the article, the most distressing and sexually objectifying experiences with "Asian wife guys" are generally not from interviewees or Twitter users of East Asian descent. 

This is consistent with my personal experience. My biglaw and on-campus recruiting encounters with a number of "Asian wife guys" have all been comparatively... benign. They're definitely not making a pass at me, they genuinely just seem to think - perplexingly - that... it's a good way to make friendly small talk with the Asian-American junior associate or law student. And if this "Asian wife guy" is someone at your firm and in your practice group, this particular trait is probably going to be part of a combination of things that clearly show you over time that this person - almost always a partner, ugh - is likely... not going to be a particularly good professional mentor or sponsor for your career development.

2. // This next article from The Cut is actually about workplace discrimination in biglaw. Specifically, it's about how "Racism at my Job Literally Gave Me PTSD" ( link, if needed), from the perspective of a Black woman and former associate at a prominent biglaw firm in NYC. (She's previously written at least one other article about her time in biglaw.) 

Here's another instance in which I recognize my comparative privilege as an Asian-American of East Asian descent, one with many markers of the "model minority" stereotype. While I had no real chance to succeed from my very first days in biglaw, well before I had a chance to prove myself a good or bad worker (so it had nothing to do with my merits as an associate) - and while I also felt some of the emotions the author describes in The Cut article in my first months at my subsequent jobs as a result - what I experienced is still nothing in comparison to what my Black and Latinx colleagues face. In the end, no one ever actually said anything to me that could form the basis of a Title VII discrimination claim, and people from my demographic are extremely well-represented in the biglaw junior ranks.  

I'm reminded of a moment from my summer associate days: A well-meaning - but somewhat graceless - white classmate questioned how the firm described our summer class as extremely diverse; if almost every attorney of color in the class was Asian-American, that isn't exactly meaningfully diverse, is it? For context, the summer class consisted of several dozen people (I'm being intentionally imprecise to protect my anonymity). Almost half of us were attorneys of color. (And I can further confirm that most Asian-American members of the class happened to be of East Asian descent, to add to the sense of lacking genuine diversity.) My classmate probably shouldn't have said this thing in front of me, it resembles the "there's too many Asians here" type of racism that's reared its head a number of times in my life, in descriptions of communities I'm a part of - commentary often affirmed by fellow Asian-Americans, it's a very complicated thing - but this classmate also wasn't wrong. 

The author described her entering law firm class in her office as counting only four Black women among its roughly 60 members. My entire firm's newly entering class my year - including robustly-sized classes in several other major-market offices besides NYC, for a total of well over 100 new associates firm-wide - barely had more than that. 

3. // Going back to discussions of workplace discrimination in other industries, here's a Grub Street profile of Tammie Teclamarian ( link, if needed), a.k.a. @tammieetc on Twitter, who can fairly be described as an important food media whistleblower. Teclamarian played a significant role in revealing the misdeeds and problematic behavior that led to the departure of Adam Rapoport, former Editor in Chief at Bon Appetit, and also of Matt Duckor, former head of video at Conde Nast, as discussed in one of my July blog entries.

Teclamarian has also been a major player in the discussions that led to the resignation of Peter Meehan from the Los Angeles Times food section. In the weeks since, it became clear and was well-corroborated that Meehan was often an emotionally volatile and terrible person to work under, just like Teclamarian reported before his resignation. 

Sadly, it's now clear that Conde Nast won't fix the pay disparities associated with the Bon Appetit YouTube channel, which became public knowledge in June and which has since caused the departure of a large percentage of the individuals previously appearing in their videos. As I stated, I personally committed to never again viewing another Bon Appetit YouTube video until this problem was fixed. So because Conde Nast doesn't ever plan to fix it, the Bon Appetit YouTube channel is now dead to me forevermore. Good riddance! 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Some Recent Money Wins (And a Really Wild Money Diary)

Tory Burch Perry Card Case (affiliate link)

Two good money things have happened recently, one small and one not-so-small. Both of these money wins came with essentially no effort on my part, I was just lucky they happened!

And there was also a truly wild Refinery29 money diary this week (see also the very active r/MoneyDiariesActive discussion) that I just had to share. Normally, when a money diary becomes controversial mostly because of the diarist's high income, I generally think much of the skepticism is unfounded or unnecessarily nit-picky. But the numbers in this one really don't make sense if the diarist actually derives all their income from a law firm, as described. 

Actual Refinery29 employees have confirmed on Twitter that their editor "worked extremely hard to protect this person's identity," but without specifying exactly what measures were taken, outside of - at a minimum - taking out "a whole lot of fun stuff... for security's sake." And even if they only subtracted and didn't actively change or add details, there's maybe a question about whether something becomes misleading because too much material information is removed. But I digress... 

Money Win 1: The Mysterious Unclaimed Property

By now, most Americans have probably heard it's good to check your state's unclaimed property listings once in a while, because various types of payments or reimbursements often get lost. I've never really thought it likely I'd ever benefit much from this advice. Because I closely track all my finances to a somewhat excessive level of detail, it'd be a shock to discover I'm owed any money I wasn't already aware of. I keep a close eye on everything, and am generally prompt and proactive about following up if I think I'm missing any payments or refunds, no matter how small. 

But recently, when I checked New York state's unclaimed funds page, I was surprised to discover I apparently had some unclaimed money to my name, apparently from CVS Caremark and associated with my law school apartment address. This was strange, as I didn't recall having any dealings with them during that time. Getting my unclaimed property was painless and quick: I entered some information on the state comptroller's website to confirm my identity and they promptly sent me a check, which I received within a week of making my claim. I had no clue what the amount would be until I received the check, and was pleasantly surprised to see it was $20. (I was expecting more like $5 or $10.) I still don't know what it was for, though... 

Money Win 2: A Better 401(k) Provider

I used to have no choice when it came to the investment of my 401(k) at my current workplace. There was only one actively managed fund, with shockingly high fees - approximately 1% - several orders of magnitude more expensive than anything I'd ever choose for myself. And, to add insult to injury, the fund more or less consisted of what's in a S&P 500 index fund, except in different proportions and it tended to underperform the index in recent years. 

Well, all that is over now because my employer is officially switching us to a better 401(k) provider! We'll now be investing through one of the "big three" providers known for offering a wide range of low-fee index funds (Fidelity, Schwab, or Vanguard). And we'll have access to a full complement of competitively-priced index funds, even more than the solid range of offerings available through my first biglaw employer's 401(k) provider at another of the "big three". I am super, super excited. 

And a Controversial Money Diary

One of this week's Refinery29 money diaries - by a purported 36 year-old Salt Lake City-area family law attorney making $700,000/year, as part of a $1,600,000/year household with 9 children - is truly wild. There's a lot that doesn't add up in this diary, as many people pointed out in the comments there and on Reddit. (I am, by the way, one of the many participants in the Reddit discussion.) 

Keep in mind I'm normally the type of reader where my first impulse is to say "well, actually, this income level is plausible" when I see money diary-type stories that many people decry as fake mostly because of very high income at a relatively young age. Do you recall that controversial - and most likely fake for other reasons - graphic that went around Twitter last year about the alleged $500,000/year two early 30s-lawyer, two-kids household that still felt "average"? One of my first gut reactions was that it quite frankly probably understated the real household income of two attorneys like that, given where the biglaw salary scale has gotten.  

It's difficult for someone like me to confidently state exactly what an accurate-ish income would be for a 36 year-old family law attorney - likely a partner - at a smaller law firm in a lower cost of living area. There's not much transparency in biglaw about how much the partners make, unless you're actually a partner or maybe a fairly senior associate in serious contention. In any case, biglaw in a major market like NYC is not going to be at all comparable to a small firm there, much less to one in a very different market. 

But I still believe I can reasonably say the $700,000/year is not realistic here. I know of quite a few reliable anecdotal data points suggesting that a good number of younger partners at highly profitable NYC biglaw firms make ~$400,000 to ~$500,000/year. And that's within a giant firm where even the most junior associates might bill over $400/hour, mid-level and senior associates over $700/hour, and partners over $1,100/hour at the high end, with the majority of attorneys trying to bill at least 2,000 hours a year (which generally requires significant late night or weekend work at some point). Biglaw-level family law attorneys and practices certainly exist, but they're not common. 

The more interesting issue raised here is the offhanded admission by at least one Refinery29 employee that certain editing work is done to "protect" a diarist's identity. And that apparently they do fact-check with "ID/receipts/documentation."

I doubt anyone from their team will ever share anything more than these vague comments, but this does lead to many big questions: How much editing do they do to "protect" the diarist's anonymity, and does it involve more than just taking out "a whole lot of fun stuff" for "security's sake"? Do they add or revise details, not just subtract? (Regardless, it's possible for certain omissions to be so drastic they render the entire story misleading.) What exact type of documents do they think make for adequate "ID/receipts/documentation" to confirm a $1,600,000/year household income? And why would a purported lawyer share such documentation with Refinery29, essentially just for fun, without even getting any clout or fame for it, if the diary is anonymous?