Can you hear them bells a-ringin’? It’s ’cause the times they are a-changin’, my friend, and a new day is a-comin’. That’s right. Yeah, yeah, of course I’m being a bit dramatic, but the ides of the year are upon us again. Screw March; ’tis the season for life-related upheavals!
Yes, you read that right. Life-related upheavals. Allow me to explain.
It seems that, en masse, quite a few of my friends are demanding – and taking – more out of their lives at this particular time of year. Not that this occurs with any sort of regularity, but when it happens, it really strikes the ground with the loudest of thwacks. And as a result, there have been countless earth-shattering breakups, engagements, monumental career changes, fulfillments of life goals, and relocations. For example.
Last night was a celebration of one such occasion. After three satisfying years in the Bay Area, a dear friend of mine will be packing his rucksack and heading off to Chicago, the Midwestern mecca of wind and snow. While a somber event in terms of our friendship, I can’t quite complain too loudly, as I am prone to doing the same on a more regular basis than most. Besides, with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, well, you’re never as far away as you think you are anymore.
However, that’s not really my point. My point is, while at this shindig, I met (well, re-met – we most certainly had been introduced before under more inebriated circumstances) a friend of a friend who was a practicing attorney. The lives of practicing attorneys are always of some interest to me, simply because, as a graduate of law school myself, it allows me a small glimpse of who I could’ve been, or who I had the chance to be. You know, how the traditional law graduate lives his/her life post-law school.
In the eyes of the law school gods, this particular attorney had done everything right. She summered (read: was a summer associate) at a BigLaw firm after her second year, accepted a six-figure-plus job offer with said BigLaw firm immediately out of law school, passed the bar, and has been working at her firm for the past four years. On paper, she had the law student’s dream come true. Especially compared to me, an unlicensed law school graduate who has dabbled in almost every field in the three years since she graduated. Except the practice of law, that is.
But ever so oddly enough, in the middle of that dusky bar, with all of our career differences splayed between us, we two legal minds found common ground. Ironically, despite the drastically contrasting paths we’d pursued since graduation, the two of us completely saw eye-to-eye regarding the state of our careers. Isn’t that remarkable?
She and I – the seasoned, practicing attorney and the law-shunning techie do-gooder – somehow commiserated on the most rudimentary of career concerns; namely, that we weren’t getting satisfaction out of our salaried choices. And, try as we might, we seemingly couldn’t find the inroad to our true path to professional happiness. And neither one of us had even an inkling of an idea where to even look when it came to our next feasible step.
The similarities between us truly shocked me. Here we were, scholars of the law that had taken two completely different professional paths, only to end up equally as disappointed with the law and the opportunities (or lack thereof) afforded to us in the end. Does that sound like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth? I’m not.
Here’s the thing – the people that end up in law school are the type that expect to work hard for the rest of their lives. We are the types that want work to become us, overtake us, and define us. We anticipate it, and we relish its onset. We are used to long hours of studying and we are used to sleepless nights, weekends, even weeks without proper respite. These sorts of challenges don’t faze us, because, after all, we are training to become the gatekeepers of the law, formally or informally. We realize that the responsibility is great, and we realize that becoming an attorney means shedding your old self, for better or for worse, and slipping into this new skin for all eternity.
But ask any attorney my age if they like what they’re doing, and you’ll get a surprisingly half-hearted response, preceded by a deep sigh and a long sound laden with uncertainty on how to diplomatically approach the question without sounding utterly miserable.
This level of career discontent is acutely obvious and exampled within my personal sphere of friends. Three years post-law school, almost all of my friends are squarely confronting the fact that their legal careers have been less than satisfying in almost all regards. Many of them have switched employers in the past three years, and although only a few of them have left the practice of law entirely, the doubts about law are sentiments that have been expressed more than twice:
- The insurance litigation attorney fantasizing about careers in merchandise buying and higher education administration;
- The landlord-tenant attorney tenaciously attempting to bridge her way into intellectual property with every new application submitted;
- The intellectual property litigation attorney looking to shun BigLaw by heavily researching the possibility of solo practice;
- The general litigation attorney that ditched the field for employee benefits;
- The big city BigLaw attorney that disappeared to a ranch and waiting tables in the American West, only to abandon her hopes of opening a bar, admit her dependence, and reluctantly return to BigLaw;
- The licensed attorney doing tax consulting and glorifying the day he’ll get a chance to apply for jobs in litigation; and
- The government attorney wishing she could get a shot at BigLaw.
And the list goes on and on and on.
So, where do we find satisfaction in this field? We, the disillusioned, the dissatisfied, the once-idealistic, budding doctors of the law? Or, perhaps the better question is, can we find satisfaction in this field? And if not, then what?