It’s been over 10 months since I was let go as associate at a large, international law firm and I’ve been thinking about the next step. Everyone always asks me whether I desire to ever return to the practice of law, and the questions are coming more frequently as of late, as JG and I consider in which state to establish our next home base. The short answer to the question of whether I ever want to practice law again is “F&ck no, are you crazy?!” But in reality, the real answer is far more complicated (but with possibly as much swearing).
There were a few things I liked about being a lawyer. I liked dressing up in power suits from career-woman stores like Ann Taylor. I liked hashing out legal strategy on rapidly devolving cases. I liked playing detective on bullshit personal injury cases and speaking geek with our construction, engineering and accident reconstruction experts. I got jazzed by new case law from time to time and felt accomplished when I could take a boat-load of research and condense it into a coherent analysis of some mildly interesting legal dilemma (often with treasure map-like graphics). I liked some of the paperwork (my mind could find repetitive paper-flipping tasks calming at times) and I liked being in the courtroom.
Despite the initial, “I think I have to poop” feeling that comes over you when you walk up to the podium to face off to your opponent and start oral arguments, the after-argument feeling is positively exhilarating. Especially if the judge sided with your argument. And especially if the judge basically called your opponent an idiot in the process. You feel, well, special. You feel like you have power. You feel like you command respect, like you’re dangerous in some way; you can get shit done. And sometimes you do. But most of the time, getting shit done means just that, shit. It’s taking sides in the whine and grime of he-said, she-said. It’s the, “It’s not my fault,” mentality of those forever trying to escape responsibility for their actions. It’s the, “I may not have been watching where I was going, but someone else should have to pay because I fell and got hurt.”
It can be easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re bogged down with ridiculous and mean legal claims. I remember all too well the mundane, never-ending, eyes bleeding out of my head, mind-numbing review of document production, all billed to the client in one tenth of an hour increments. I used to want to cry out of sheer frustration, my ass getting so flat from sitting in a chair 12 hours a day, bribing myself to keep going with coffee and chocolate because I hadn’t billed enough hours in the day to warrant leaving and doing something resembling a delightful human endeavor. (I’ve clearly struck a nerve with myself and everything I have pushed away for the past many months is threatening to rush back in and pop the bubble of the feel-good love fest that I’ve had going on as an elementary literacy tutor).
If you’ve managed to sift through the above and you’re still with me, I’ll say it again, the answer of whether I want to work as a lawyer is a complicated one, fraught with tangents and fits of angry crying. I hate to think that the 3 years and tens of thousands of dollars I spent on law school were a waste, along with the 3 years in private practice. I would like to possibly plan a career tangential to law, but one in no danger of ever intersecting anything that even remotely resembles a traditional law firm environment. In legalese, we may call that an “alternative legal career”, not to be confused with loud, irritating guitar rifts and balding, white men with glasses.
An alternative legal career can apparently be found in business, in law firm libraries and with non-profits. The “alternative” part means that you can essentially do anything with your law degree other than practice law and call it an alternative law career. Because of that, it is really hard to get a handle on what a true, alternative legal career can look like. What I need are concrete examples of things that I am supposed to be good at simply because I have the fancy title of “Juris Doctorate”, which, although I can’t get anyone to call me doctor, or even esquire, means I can still annoy people by acting like I am cross-examining them at the dinner table.
(Side bar – In law school I used to long for the time when someone would get angry at me in conversation and yell for me to stop thinking like a lawyer. Because that would mean that something was actually happening in my brain as a result of those terrible Socratic-method torture, ah, educational, classroom sessions that I, along with every other law student known to man, was routinely subjected to. Alas, the only “victory” I had was in conversation with my own father, once).
So if anyone has any ideas of what I could do with my law degree, without actually having to practice law, please share. Your witness, counselor (I just couldn’t resist!)