Recently, someone asked me straight out why I chose the area of law I did. Since I moved back to WA state in September 2012, I’ve practiced in areas of law that focus on social justice. This person wanted to know why I didn’t choose malpractice or personal injury law where you have the potential to be a millionaire or at least make $500,000+ a year if you play your cards right and work hard enough to be “lucky enough” to win some major cases with a windfall of attorneys fees.
My answer was, “because I like it.”
I wanted to share this with you guys because I feel like there’s someone out there that needs this encouragement. If you were around when I wrote at Three Years Down, you’d know I hated law school. I’d link you to those posts, but that domain name expired and some spam company bought it. (Sometimes I’m sad about this, sometimes I’m not.)
Three year long story short, I was miserable for most of law school even though I grew up loving school. Then, I became a lawyer. I clerked for a judge and that was fine. It was a huge amount of experience and I learned a ton. It was a dream come true, in that that’s how I wanted to start my career, but it wasn’t dreamy.
I went on to work at big and small firms. And overall, I hated it. It wasn’t the people I worked with (even though some of them were not my favorite). It wasn’t the pay (even though sometimes it sucked. A lot). It just didn’t feel the way I expected.
I expected to feel fulfilled. I expected to be happy. I heard the horror stories. I knew associates worked late nights and weekends and women didn’t get to have kids until they were older. But I didn’t anticipate having to carry my clients around in my cell phone e-mail app. I didn’t anticipate eating KFC for a week because by the time I got home from work I was too tired to function. I didn’t expect having to spend hours and hours every week at networking events trying to hustle for clients and gain referral sources. I never thought I’d be checking out books on running a successful business.
And I saw the horror stories all around me in real life. I witnessed someone sleeping in the office. I never had to as a baby lawyer, but I know people who did.
I found it all exhausting. I was depleated. You leave law school totally depleated and I never felt filled back up. I didn’t prioritize self-care. I started my clerkship three days after graduation and bar prep a day after that. I didn’t take more than a day or two of vacation in a row. I didn’t rest.
I was burnt out, and my career, like so many others, started while I was burnt out. More often than I could count, I wondered if I made a mistake in going to law school. I wondered if I should quit and try something else. But what would I do? I couldn’t think of a single other career that 1) I was interested in, and 2) would pay my once reasonable student loans, but thanks to 7% graduate loan interest, were becoming overwhelming.
If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone. Today I just wanted to share why I chose this area of law. It’s because I like it. Out of all of the work I’ve done, the foundation of law is fascinating to me. I don’t mind reading old cases. I don’t mind keeping up to date on all of the listserv’s I receive that keep me posted on every day updates. And I enjoy nerding out over precedent setting NLRB and Supreme Court decisions.
I’ll come back another day and share how I got to actually liking the practice of law. But if you’re a new lawyer and hate it, or even mildly dislike it, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It took me almost 5 years to get here, but there’s light.