In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a fancy-lookin’ “Esq” at the end of the name of my blog. For those of you not familiar with fun initials and abbreviations you can put after your name, “Esq.” is an abbreviation of the word “Esquire,” which designates that the person is licensed to practice law. Yes, I’m one of the fine folks belonging to the somewhat-elite society of lawyers. Let the lawyer jokes commence.
Anyway, there were a lot of reasons I decided to go to law school. I’d had the desire to be a laywer on and off since high school. I wanted to pursue a more practical and less high-minded profession after studying the philosophy-based History and Political Science of my undergrad (and the thought of writing a dissertation made me want to jump off of the 8th floor of the library I frequented at undergrad). And, to a certain extent, I didn’t really know what else to do with a History/Poli Sci degree if I didn’t want to (a) teach or (b) attempt the crazy world of politics.
“They” (the universe of lawyers and those trying to get you to pony up the tuition) sell law school impeccably well. Big salaries? A degree that means something to every profession in the Universe? Endless opportunities? Helping people and changing the world? All of it is within a lawyer’s grasp. I think a lot of us were sold on the ideas of “helping people” and “making a difference.” Granted, plenty of folks were in it for the money, and I don’t blame them (although most of them were in for a shock in the not-so-stellar job market where only the top three in the class got the so-called “dream” jobs). But I was one of the folks who saw “helping people” and “making a difference” and thought, “Yes. I want to matter.”
I worked in Criminal Law and in Corporate/Real Estate/Contract Law during my stint as a new attorney. Criminal Law, for me, was the epitome of helping people. Helping victims seek justice. I was Alex Cabot, dammit!
Alas, Criminal Law didn’t have enough room for two Alex Cabots (i.e., my office took so long to hire folks on full-time after the Bar Exam, I had to look elsewhere), so I ended up in corporate law. For me, that was the exact opposite of helping anyone. And there was zero work-life balance: work was life. I knew enough about myself to know that life wasn’t for me. I was positively miserable.
I started job-hunting and noticed that if the job wasn’t The Next Alex Cabot, I didn’t have any desire to practice it. That’s a humbling, terrifying thing to realize: that you paid all this money, spent all this time, put forth so much effort, and the only kind of lawyer you want to be is ONE KIND. In case you weren’t aware, that severely limits your options.
I started to think about what I really enjoyed doing. What had I loved most about law school and almost everything I’d ever done up to that point? Reading, researching, writing. I knew a job that involved those things would make me happiest. Ultimately, I applied for and was offered a job in the editing field. I would have loved to have this job right out of high school, but instead, it took me 9 years, two degrees, and a very winding road to get here. But I’m here, and I couldn’t be happier.
Since switching out of the legal profession, I’ve had several friends – graduates and those who are working toward graduation from law school – approach me to talk about what it’s like to take a non-traditional route after getting the law degree. Turns out, plenty of them are looking to get out, too. It’s amazing to me how many of us feel the same way: that we were somehow lied to or naive about or simply wrong about what it would be like to be a lawyer.
One of my friends put it best. The friend said, “Honestly, I just would rather be more at ground level, dealing with . . . problems . . . as opposed to high up from the lawyer’s perch. I just feel detached from everything as a lawyer.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I know plenty of people who love practicing. I’m not knocking the profession – I have a huge amount of respect for it. And I know some people think I’m insane for not working as a lawyer full-time. Hell, 3L Me would have punched myself in the face for thinking of going through all that and then not practicing. I still volunteer with Legal Aid and handle pro bono (free) cases. I’ll keep up my license and keep up with my necessary certifications. But I’m glad I realized what I wanted for myself [relatively] early on.
Law school teaches you a lot of things (except, of course, laws). Even though I am not employed full-time in the practice of law right now, if I had to go back and decide whether to complete law school all over again, I would. I am not the same person I was when I left undergrad and started law school. This is a good thing. I think differently. I approach life differently. Law school taught me how to think, who I am, and what matters to me. Just not in the way I thought it would.