What a Difference a Year Makes
In January 2008, I, along with our firm’s Co-Managing Attorney, Dr. Joe Zhou, went to Hawaii for the biannual American Immigration Lawyer’s Association Conference. Since the flights were long—8 hours from Houston for me, 12 from New York City for Attorney Zhou—we upgraded to business class. It was expensive, but we enjoyed the wine, meal, and other perks of Continental Business First. More importantly, we worked on returning inquiry e-mails and clients’ cases during our flight. Many of the other passengers with us in business class were senior attorneys with gray hair and weary looks from other successful immigration law firms, and we noticed that most of them spent the long flight diligently working from their seats.
On the same airplane to Hawaii, there was one attorney, a partner at a large immigration law firm, sitting in our section. His friend, another partner from his firm was sitting in coach. The one in business class worked the entire 8 hour flight. When I got up to stretch my legs and walk around the plane, I noticed the other partner in coach was fast asleep; from his relaxed position, it appeared he had been sleeping the entire flight. At that moment, I pondered which attorney was more economically efficient, the one spent more on the ticket but maximized his time or the one who spent less but was less productive during the flight. Even though we utilized the entire flight, we felt somewhat guilty about the splurging. But we felt it was a part of the business culture to enjoy and experience during the good times, as clearly many other similarly-positioned attorneys flew in business class.
However, it is not always good times. One year later, the US economy is in a deep recession, and everyone in the United States, including our firm, has been negatively impacted. Though we face tough times, we have embraced a renewed frugality. For example, during my recent trips to our offices, I slept on the floor of the Austin office and on the couch in the Chicago office. Both offices are in good locations and have great furniture and amenities, but sleeping on the floor or the couch certainly has a different feel than reclining in a business class seat and definitely gives a different impression. Nevertheless, I had a great time on my business trips, getting the opportunity to work face-to-face with my colleagues, explore the diverse cities, and cultures.
Naturally, businesses have good times and bad times. The US economy always cycles between prosperous times and recessions; this is nothing new. With these fluctuations, the culture of the business world is constantly changing, and we need to be ready to adapt
Also in the hard times, it is important to remain optimistic and put faith in the future. Our newly-opened LA office is a good example of swimming against the stream and looking beyond the present tough times. We are confident that our investment will not only help us provide for our clients now but also after the recession and for many years to come.
Reflecting back to last year—the good times—I feel humble and blessed that we had the opportunity to experience and work in business class, knowing that Attorney Zhou and I were not only able to enjoy small luxuries but also productively work for our clients’ cases. In these lean times as well, I feel thankful that we still have the ability to work on e-mail and clients’ cases in coach class and even at McDonald’s and provide for our clients with efficient and high-quality services. In the current economic downturn, many have lost their jobs or seen cutbacks in their employment benefits, so we should be even more thankful for the positives that we still have. There are new challenges to the present and in looking to the future, and I anticipate them with much excitement.
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