Friday, April 24, 2009

The Law Thing

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.

8 comments:

  1. It's funny for me to read your posts about life on the "other side" of law as I find myself at times mentally inserting "academia" for "law" in your posts. My husband and I met in doctoral programs and both decided against careers in academia. We found a "haven" (such as it is; trust me, the rose-colored glasses are not in place) in law and have been enjoying it so far.

    Your writing is a healthy dose of perspective. I appreciate how you avoid making sweeping generalizations about "lawyers", "the law", "women", and "men", etc. I'll be reading.

    Neeter

    (PS: I am the woman who recently posted some books to read on a much earlier post. I'm happy to send more suggestions, though it sounds like you have plenty already.)

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  2. i can relate to what you are saying. Everyone in law school was driven to go with a big firm. I wasn't so delusional having been in the working world at a relatively high level prior to law school I figured what would be there waiting for me. I would basically spend 6 years doing work I didn't feel qualified to do for someone else earning one third of their take for my time. I just didn't see why I couldn't do that for myself as opposed to doing it for someone else.

    Right out of law school I started my own firm. I haven't looked back.

    Recently asked by our State Bar President whether or not I enjoyed the practice of law. My reply was, "I like the practice of law. I do not like the business of law." The State Bar President's reply..."I don't know anyone that does."

    Shouldn't that kind of thing speak volumes to the level of reform that is necessary in this profession? Kind of saddens me that ultimately even I know that the business of law is what will drive me to what are commonly called, "non-traditional legal jobs". But that is OK with me too.

    I say do what you enjoy doing and make no apologies for it.

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  3. It's good to see someone going for her dream career.

    Thank you.

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  4. Good to hear from yet another person that it's not so bad. A good friend of mine just took the plundge and hung her own shingle after 8 years in various biglaw jobs. She says the same: come on in, it feels great. Yet I continue to stand on the side of the pool wringing my hands. Sometimes I wish I would be laid off like you were because it least it forces the issue even though I know that's the chicken sh*t way out.

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  5. My hubby serendipitously landed in estate planning and he really enjoys it. He gets to work on complicated matters and loves the challenge of drafting complex plans. But out of all the friends he keeps in touch with from law school, he has one friend who is a partner at a big firm. everyone else went in house or completely out of law.
    my husband is happy doing what he does--we don't know of any other lawyer who can say the same thing. if my kids wanted to follow in their father's footsteps, i would tell them to only consider estate planning, otherwise, it isn't worth it unless you are eli stone.

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  6. I can't believe that I just had my 8th anniversary in practice. First 4-5 years 150% sucked and I hated almost every minute of them (but was chicken shit, and so exhausted all the time that I had no ideas for other plans other than hiding under a rock or moving to the Unabomber's shack). Time since has been briefly horrendous and then pretty good (moved firms) but I still think about leaving all the time. Will be astounded if I'm still in a firm 8 years from now.

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