During the last week at Georgetown Law, right after our last final exam, a group of us sat around a table at the Cheesecake Factory. Someone asked, "How long do you see yourself doing the law thing?"
We had just spent the past three years in classrooms, working toward our JDs. We had each invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I had accumulated a $90K debt. We had passed many nights at the library, preparing outlines, stressing over exams, pouring over the Bluebook. After all that, each of us had been lucky enough to secure positions with big law firms in different cities around the country.
Despite that, the responses were almost uniform. "No more than three." "Two years tops." Not ten, not the rest of our lives. Only two or three.
No one wondered how that made sense. To spend three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars toward a career of two, three years? Instead, we all nodded matter of factly.
I was the last in the circle. I too didn't think to question it. I had no idea about my future, so I just said, "I guess two."
Then one of the guys turned to me, pointed his finger, and said, "I give you no more than one!"
I wondered why he singled me out for just one year.
Well, it turned out to be more than one. More than two or three. It took three years to pay off my debt alone. Then another few to dawdle. Then a few more to talk myself into staying with the well-paying career in which I had invested so many years.
By the time I was fired, most of my friends had already left big law firms. Many had in-house positions. A few went into government, another few to academia. A couple of others were floundering visibly -- although almost all of my friends had wondered quietly at one point or another what the hell they were doing and how much longer they could do the law thing. Only one or two made it to partnership.
These days, I find myself meeting with friends who are starting their own shops. We wonder why it seemed so daunting to move on. Why we wrung our hands so many times wondering what we should do next. What it meant to have our self-esteem tied to a big corporate name. When a friend announces, "She works at Google" as her eyes enlarge and that knowing look appears, I now notice.
I'm now on the other side of that world that seemed to represent a sense of security. It had to happen sooner or later. And it's a relief to find that it's not so bad over here.