Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ok People. Time To Lower Your Expectations.

I feel that when people ask me what kind of law I want to practice, they expect me to say something inspiring and mind blowing. Like "I want to be an advocate for abused children." Or "I want to save the rainforest right down to the endangered toucan." Or even "I want to enforce social responsibility within publicly traded corporations."

When I tell them that I will probably end up defending insurance agencies and contractors, I can almost feel their disgust. I watch the look of disappointment slowly spread across their faces. How the darkness moves across their expectant stares, it's like watching a solar eclipse.

I finally became smart and started telling people that I haven't decided yet- which is partly true. While it's kind of a let-down, it at least leaves them the possibility that I MIGHT do something extraordinary with my law degree. You know, I haven't decided because I can't make up my mind whether I want to represent sexually abused immigrant workers or whether I want to help poor single mothers fight their custody/child support battles pro bono.

The thing is, I frequently have tug-of-wars with myself. There is a part of me that strives for socially conventional achievement. This side of me encouraged me to get straight A's, to win races at cross country meets, to go to law school to learn something that society considers "difficult" and to seek out a high paying career track. But there has always been another force withing me. This is a force of compassion- compelling me to devote my life to something bigger than myself, to constantly give to others, to dream of establishing or working for a non-profit, to live a life of service.

Law school is amazing in that you can pursue a high paying career or you can pursue a career of public service. A law degree gives you the opportunity to be a high achiever, a materialistic success. Or it can give you the opportunity to truly serve the community in an important way and have a huge impact on the lives of others.

So as I finish up my first semester of my 3L year, this battle still rages on inside me. Life of luxury? Or life of service? I can see myself doing both. What should I chose? I know I need intellectual challenges in the career that I eventually choose. I know I need to have an end product or some kind of result to my work at the end of the day.

Do I want to impress my dad by landing a sought-after position in a successful firm? Or do I want to impress my mom by serving the public and helping the less fortunate? Seriously, this is way to much pressure. Maybe all I really need is enough money to buy ice cream every night of the week. What's that? I have to put my kid through college? I'm screwed.


Butterflyfish said...

I soooooo feel this post.

gudnuff said...

One thing I've learned/decided: what you SAY in casaul, inconsequential by-the-by cocktail party conversations does not have to be anywhere near what you really FEEL or what you think you'll DO eventually. This person is not your Father Confessor, is what I've finally realized. I can say, "I'm going to focus on international law with an emphasis on third-world labor development and exploitation." And who cares? What does it matter? Let the wind blow you where it may. Tell the people (even Mom and Dad) what they want to hear, then get the job you need to get. Or just end up getting. In this hiring environment, you have an easy out...anything with a paycheck is worthy of admiration.

CM said...

You just need a good story.

Bad story: "I'm going to defend insurance companies."

Better story: "I'm going to investigate and fight fraud in insurance cases." (Or whatever it is that you do.)

For me:

Bad story: "I'm a corporate lawyer."

Good story: "I work with startup companies and nonprofits to help them get started and find funding."

LEO said...

Ha, CM I'm totally going to have to steal that when I actually start working as a Corporate lawyer (ok, IF I ever do)...

and people are usually just as impressed when you like your job as when the job you do is something they consider honorable. So hold your head up high and tell them you love your job... that will intimidate the shit out of them


Ok, I change my mind. Just tell them what they want to hear like gudnuff says!

Anonymous said...

ha this reminds me of how I always wanted to practice environmental law... but defense work. but you tell people "i practice environmental law" and they assume you defend bunnies and trees. hilarious.

also, i originally tried to be a bunny and tree defending lawyer but they wouldn't have me. i didn't go to yale or harvard and thus i could not get a non-profit type job. funny when big law is easier to get into than non-profit!

Anonymous said...

I so get this...if you ever figure out the balance, let us know! :)
I'd really like to "save the world" in some small way, but it'd be nice to be able to you know, pay rent and loan payments at the same time, lol.

Older and wiser said...

LOL. These blog comments crack me up. You poor, delusional baby lawyers. You seem to think a JD is a magic carpet to the world of easy riches. Hate to burst your bubbles, my sweet little darlings, but you are in for a RUDE, HELLACIOUS AWAKENING once you leave the womb of law school marketing BS and enter the real workaday world.

There are a million people with JDs in the USA. And in case you haven't heard the news over the last several months, due to the recession (depression?), law firms of all shapes and sizes are shedding attys faster than old geezers dump their first wives and lose their teeth.

If you are lucky enough to have an Ivy League JD and you made Law Review, you will probably survive. If not, you will be very fortunate if you end up in "temp document review hell" to pay the bills until you luck out and land that "cushy" job with Legal Aid, spending your days baby-sitting homeless crack addicts/drunks for peanuts. Or you could work for a bankruptcy
"mill" with 1-800 phone number ads on billboards, Yellow Pages, and the rear ends of buses. Bet the law school employment director didn't mention that reality!! Cause of action for breach of implied contract or fraud, anyone?