When Things Don’t Turn Out Like You Expected, Part 1
In the early Fall of 2007 I returned to the practice of law. At the time, I hoped to build a new practice focused on internet issues, intellectual property and start-up ventures growing out of research at The University of Alabama.
I rejoined Rosen Harwood, P.A., in Tuscaloosa, where I'd been a shareholder before leaving for my 10-year stint as a writer/academic. Back then it was known as Rosen, Cook, Sledge, Davis, Carroll & Jones, P.A.
I hadn't anticipated ever returning to active law practice, but the opportunity arose when I contacted Sydney Cook in May 2007 about a recommendation letter for a law school position I'd applied for. When I'd explained to Sydney that I wanted to leave Oklahoma, the question was put forth: Why don't you come back and join us? Within 2 or 3 weeks, I'd said yes to this new opportunity.
My Future In Tech
I was thrilled, envisioning all of the ways I could combine my knowledge of internet technology, IP law, and business transactional law to assist what I anticipated would be a growing community of start-up entrepreneurs in Tuscaloosa.
One of my first actions was to attend a tech start-up event at Innovation Depot in Birmingham. Another attorney with the firm, Andy Jones, drove with me up to Birmingham and he seemed very excited about the possibilities to expand our firm's practice areas and grow our client base through tech start-ups.
I knew there would be a bit of a transition period, as I developed my reputation in this new practice area. But as we approached the end of 2007, I was less-than-thrilled to find myself spending more and more time working on the same types of transactions and preparing the same legal documents as in 1992-97. My excitement over the return to law started to dim a bit, because I was not interested in estate planning or simply restructuring businesses to save taxes. But I soldiered own, not giving up hope.
The Great Recession
My future in tech was not to be, at least not then……
In 2008, the economy imploded. Everything in the legal world shifted to a focus on business restructuring and wealth preservation.
What I'd found when I arrived in 2007 is that Tuscaloosa wasn't yet producing the types of research-driven tech start-ups that I'd anticipated. Alabama's tech start-up community (such that it was) seemed to be based in Birmingham around UAB or in Huntsville around UAH. And the big Birmingham firms had already locked-up that most of that work.
And so, with no end to the recession in site, I began to lose any hope that I would ever get to do the type of legal work I'd envisioned when I said “yes” to the offer I received in June 2007. All of the optimism I had in September 2007 was, by October 2008, shifting into something of a sense of resignation that my law practice would just be more of the same. I couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I was just being short-sighted. Who knows.
At that point, I'd been out of academia for just over a year. I had taught media law as an adjunct at The University of Alabama in the Spring of 2008 and was scheduled to teach it again in Spring 2009. I really enjoyed teaching the class and the students were great. No attitude problems and most were engaged with the course material.
I started have doubts and think that I'd made a mistake in leaving Oklahoma State, where I had a successful academic career underway. The only reason I left was to pursue a new opportunity in a place where I had more friends. I loved my colleagues and classes at Oklahoma State and solid-to-great evaluations from students.
I thought perhaps that my return to law practice was a transition because of an unexpected family crisis that had been unveiled upon my return to Alabama in August 2007. I thought perhaps I'd been brought back to Alabama to deal with that problem and, once I'd solved that problem, it was time to move on again—sort of a real-world Dr. Who.
I took a look at the academic job postings in the Chronicle of Higher Education and sent off a couple of applications.
A New Door Opens?
One day, out of the blue, I got an email or phone call (I don't remember which) from Jon Clemmensen, a faculty member at Samford. He'd seen my picture in an Alabama Sierra Club newsletter and wondered what was up. Jon and I had become friends during the year I taught CA classes at Samford in 2002-2003. My office and most of my classrooms were in his building.
I explained to Jon that I was contemplating a return to academia and he mentioned an opening at Samford. After finding the job listing on the Samford website, I sent off my materials.
At that point, I'd only applied for a couple of positions. I was being quite picky about the locations and the subject matter. I wasn't desperate and not looking to simply leave law practice. I wanted to move into the “place” where I would be able to pursue one of my interests and make a major, substantial contribution.
The Samford position was described as “visual and multimedia communication.” It sounded like a great fit, since I'd taught visual communication theory at Oklahoma State and was a big user of multimedia technology. I had thoroughly enjoyed teaching CA at Samford in 2002-03. I had no experience with Adobe software, but knew how to code websites without Dreamweaver and edit video using other software, so I figured I'd explain that and see what happened.
In light of Jon's phone call, completely out of the blue and unrelated to academia, it just seemed like one of those situations where “a door opens” just when it is meant to open. I figured that it would all unfold as it was supposed to unfold.
I was really interested in another position, at Plymouth State in New Hampshire. I wasn't familiar with the school, but I liked the location and liked what I'd learned about it through my research. I was especially attracted to it because it was a communication position with a business department.
I've always known that my strengths are more focused on business and strategic communication, rather than journalism. [I'll explain another time how I ended up in a Ph.D. program in the College of Communication at UA, rather than a business program.]
In February 2009, I had a couple of phone interviews for positions that didn't seem to be a good fit for me and I ended up withdrawing from both searches, just as I was getting an invitation for a campus visit.
In late March I was scheduled to visit Plymouth State for an interview when I got a Saturday night call from my airline that my Sunday flight had been canceled. There was no way I could get another flight there and still make the meeting schedule on Monday. They kindly reworked my campus visit for the following week.
I loved New Hampshire. I really liked the campus and, more importantly, I really liked everyone I met who might be a potential colleague. The campus visit and interview seemed to go well. I seemed to connect very well with the department chair, Dr. Trent Boggess, as we shared a common fondness for Ford vehicles.
I returned home, hopeful and optimistic.
The Other Search
I hadn't heard anything from Samford as of mid-to-late-March, so I assumed that I was out of consideration for that position.
Around the time as my rescheduled trip to Plymouth State, I'd been invited for an interview at Samford and was given essentially two choices for dates, never of which offered much advance notice. The teaching demonstration was scheduled to be on Photoshop. I had purchased the software, but had no time to learn it.
In light of my optimism about Plymouth State, I attempted to withdraw from the search at Samford. I sent an email the day before my visit and said I was withdrawing.
I received a reply from the department chair Bernie Ankney asking me to come anyway and do my a teaching demonstration on beat reporting. I didn't want to leave them hanging with my last-minute withdrawal, so I said OK. I put together a lecture and demonstration activity and went for my interview.
Nothing felt right about my Samford visit except for the teaching demonstration and conversation with the Provost. Everyone was cordial but I sensed something was off. I kept thinking it was just me and my distractions. I asked about the teaching load and was told it was a 3/3. I was assured that it was fine that I didn't yet feel competent to teach Photoshop. I didn't get any sense that the courses I'd be teaching were print journalism and reporting labs, rather than mainly visual/multimedia communication and media law. I interpreted the beat reporting teaching demonstration to be a simple “gimme” to make me feel comfortable. I didn't really expect to get an offer, quite honestly.
I left with understanding that they had one more interview to complete and then I'd hear something.
At that point, I continued to think that Plymouth State was still a possibility, although I didn't think I was a sure bet. I had gleaned from the campus visit that there might be an inside prospect, such as a regular adjunct who'd taught the course before.
About a week or 10 days passed. I received a notice from Plymouth State that someone else had received and accepted an offer for the business communication position. I was bummed, but accepting of the outcome. The same week, I received a call from offering me the position at Samford.
My gut was unsettled, but I accepted the offer from Dean David Chapman to join Samford in the JMC department as a tenure-track assistant professor. I was given 2-years credit for my 4-years at Oklahoma State.
I simply assumed everything was working out as it was meant to work out.
In my first phone conversation with the department chair after verbally accepting the position my unsettled gut became much more unsettled. Something seemed wrong. I keep telling myself it was just a bit of anxiety over a big decision about my career.
Little did I know how much that decision would change my life.