Not to worry: we'll get back to the non-legal business of being Pretty tomorrow. Pinky swear.
You know when you have a crush on someone from afar, someone so supernaturally beautiful, so funny, so entirely perfect it's almost painful? Your stomach churns at the mere thought of 'em.
And then, at long last, you actually talk with him or her. It may even get as far as a first date. And . . . crickets.
Whether it's the way he doesn't pause to breathe between endless stories about himself or that spinach stuck in his (otherwise flawless) teeth, you know one thing for certain - this is not the one for you.
How could two people who on paper seemed so perfect together have such a total lack of chemistry? How could NBC's Olympics coverage be so alternatively drippy and disrespectful? These, friends, are questions for the ages.
But I digress - thanks to some super-duper reader requests, today I'm droning on endlessly about what I didn't like about the practice of law, what I did like - yes, there are a few bits - and whether I regret having been to law school in the first place. Consider this a part two to my Law School Questionnaire - lucky you!
|Please enjoy my PowerPoint skills - apparently I learned something from all those years chained to my computer!|
What I Hated About It
I hate to admit this, but you already think I'm shallow if you've spent any amount of time here, so . . . like for so many people, what drew me to the law was all the image, and none of the reality, of the practice.
From a young age, I'd glamorized the legal profession as one stuffed with smart people in gorgeous suits fighting for justice and making impassioned courtroom speeches. To be blunt, I imagined big paychecks and the admiration of my friends and family. I love/d reading, writing, arguing, my Poli Sci major, and fancy suits, so what could be better than getting paid to do all of the above?
Mind you, I'd spent zero time with an actual attorney, so I had no idea that the vast majority of most lawyers' lives are spent outside of the courtroom, and that to get to the coutroom one had to do a crushing amount of (to me) mind-numbing research and writing. Or pore over equally thrilling piles of discovery. Or deal with intentionally antagonistic opposing counsel, not to mention the clients. In short, it was a business devoted to getting lost in the trees when I was a big-picture forest type.
About that "I love to argue" thing . . . it's one thing to enjoy highbrow undergrad debates over coffee
It turns out I do love to read, write, and give impassioned speeches, but only when I'm actually interested in the subject matter. I wasn't good at faking interest in non-disclosure agreements, or what zoning regulation would allow my client to sue the contractor for simply doing his job, or . . . much of it, to be honest. I was a macro girl stuck in a micro world.
I found the competitive atmosphere amongst attorneys - I reluctantly note that some of the older female attorneys I worked with were the worst about this - draining. There was a macho, sink-or-swim mindset to the profession. Had I been interested in the subject matter, this may have motivated me, but instead it just further discouraged me, particularly in the beginning when I was eager to find mentors.
I intentionally don't moan about that other lawyer un-favorite, the hours, here, though those merit a mention for anyone considering the profession. Again, had I found the job itself interesting, working long hours (pre-child, at least) would not have been nearly as big of a factor. So called "BigLaw" and I mutually had no interest in one another, however, so my time in small firms, clerking, and as GC was incredibly reasonable by comparison - and my salary was commensurately much lower as a result. There isn't really a 9-to-5 job in law - it's a service profession in the end - but my experience was as close to that as you get.
What I Liked About It
My last, longest lasting job as an attorney, as a GC to a private group of companies, was my favorite, and I absolutely enjoyed many aspects of that job.
First and foremost, playing the role of counselor - as in, "attorney and counselor" - came naturally to this student government bossypants type, particularly when I could focus on my one "client". I loved boiling down an issue to its important parts and translating that into layman's speak for my boss. As my son's favorite Thomas the Train would say - yes, I'm quoting a cartoon character - I liked feeling really useful.
I also enjoyed quarterbacking outside counsel in my role as GC, which played to my macro preferences of getting the "big picture" business goal accomplished without having to draft the micro specifics of an agreement.
Also, yes, I enjoyed the trappings of the job, mostly the respect my job title seemed to garner. In my heart, I felt like a secret failure since I knew it wasn't the profession for me, but the external pats on the back helped me stumble along.
There's also the number of practical, real-life benefits of having been to law school that I use in everyday life. Just the ability to draft a coherent email is a surprisingly valuable (and rare) life skill. Which leads me to . . .
Do I Regret Having Been to Law School or Having Practiced Law?
It's like Sinatra crooned. Regrets, I have a few - some moments are not teachable ones but simply awful - but I'm not sure I can say law school was one of them.
What price meeting many of your best friends and, through one of them, your eventual (laywer) husband? Spending perhaps the best summer of your life studying - ahem, "studying" - abroad in Italy? Completing something so difficult you were certain you'd never finish?
About that last bit - I was very, very close to dropping out of law school after my first semester. I recall sitting outside of my apartment, bawling into my cell phone (which was probably the size of Michael Phelps' mug back in those dinosaur days) to one of my best friends, devastated that I'd invested no small amount of time and money into something that just wasn't quite right. The classes were incredibly dull, my grades were abysmal, it was . . . not at all the challenging yet glamorous future I'd envisioned.
The trouble was, I had a long, inglorious history of quitting things I wasn't immediately great at, and I grew determined to not let law school & ultimately the practice be yet another challenge I gave up on too early. I summoned whatever WASP "suck it up"- age I had left and proceeded on, resolving to finish school and give the practice at least five years before giving up on it entirely.
I ended up lasting seven and, at the risk of sounding boastful, I'm proud. I may not have enjoyed a lot of it, I don't intend to practice in the future, but again . . . what price helping a family business I enjoyed and respected (and still do) achieve some of their goals? Helping build the savings that now allow me the privilege of staying home with Master P? Learning, at long last, the pride in sticking something out?
If I had it to do over again, would I take a year or two off before going to law school? Spend more time upping my LSAT score and less at the little "b" bar? Spend some time with actual lawyers before pulling that law school trigger? Taken the teaching master's route I'd also considered instead of the J.D. one? Quit law earlier to pursue that teaching (high school English) plan B?
Duh. But then, like a bad date, at least I got a story or two out of the wrong answer, didn't I?
I've had some excellent questions about quitting current professions in favor of something you actually want to do, or re-entering the workforce after having stayed at home with kids . . . and I feel wholly, 100% unqualified to answer those.
If there's interest, though, I'll happily try to scare up some guest posters on these topics - what do you think?
Any attorneys in the audience want to chime in extra thoughts on this one?