This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Finding Satisfaction


Before I started law school, I had this idea that I was going to be a brilliant, rich and important international business lawyer, jet-setting around the world, furthering the goals of American imperialism through its capitalist endeavors. Drinking bottles of Roederer Cristal in a private jet on the way to 5-star resorts... Okay, so maybe those were my wildest dreams. In my more conceivable dreams I thought I'd be working as in-house counsel for some local corporation with an international market. Even knowing that probably wasn't as sexy as my wildest dreams, more like working in some basement cubicle reading thousand-page contracts by the light of a single dim bulb, but hey, I'd still be brilliant and rich, right? Heh.

Then I went to law school. I soon realized that my brilliance was quite doubtful, I'd likely be taking a pay cut from being a secretary (and have tripled my student loan debt), and I will never be important whatsoever. (Also, I realized I hate corporate law in all respects.) Anyway, law school has a way of either over-inflating your ego if you're at the top of your class, making you believe you are some sort of demi-god of jurisprudence, or making you feel like you should drop out and pick up a job application at a burger joint if you're in the bottom 90% with the rest of us. Most of the time it's somewhere in the middle of those two feelings (and usually closer to the latter), but it's a constant roller coaster. However, if you let it get you down, you end up feeling like Ted from Scrubs (pictured above), standing on top of Sacred Heart Hospital, wondering why you don't even have the balls to jump, ending the misery of your pathetic existence. (No coincidence that the vast majority of my law school chums are on prescription antidepressants.)

When I was pregnant, a friend brought up the subject of the potential for post-partum depression after delivery, and I replied that I'm in law school, how would I even tell the difference? Would I cry less? Seriously though, I've struggled during law school to regain my self-confidence. I used to be a pretty confident person, certain of my abilities while still aware of my weaknesses. Balanced and zen-like. (Okay, maybe not zen-like.) However, law school overall has made me feel like Ted, awkward, lacking confidence, not feeling like a worthwhile individual capable of contributing something meaningful to society. Not to the ledge-jumping point like Ted, but still pretty damn demoralized with many more failures than successes.

But this semester, I think I've recovered from the brutality of law school on my surprisingly-fragile psyche. Part of that has to do with actually having a job lined up after graduation (and a job in areas of law I'm actually excited about practicing), and part of it has to do with the internship I've done this semester with the prosecutor's office that I've absolutely loved, but I really feel like I've just gotten excited about practicing law again. Today really brought all of that home. I was working on this new med mal/nursing home negligence case we have [at my current clerking job], a rare case for us because we do products liability almost exclusively, and it just struck me that I know what I'm doing, I'm pretty good at it, and best of all, I was enjoying it. I know tort law, I know med mal, and I've read enough medical records over the years that I know what I'm reading and I know what to look for. And it felt good. No, I couldn't handle the whole case start to finish and be absolutely brilliant. But I don't have to be. I just have to know what I'm doing, and continue learning as I begin my career. It's a good feeling. I'm feeling much more balanced and zen-like, and less unhinged and Ted-like.

No, law school didn't really teach me that, not completely. But maybe it's like being in the military, where they break your spirit in boot camp, so they can build you back up to be a soldier. (Only without the building-you-back-up part, they just send you out into the world to practice law, doped up on antidepressants, probably having some sort of chemical dependency problem. Anyway.) So now I dream about being a "grown-up lawyer": someone tough and smart, quick-witted and articulate, who stares down her opponents with an icy glare and bends them to her will. Maybe I'll never be that, at least not completely, but hopefully I can just be a good lawyer. Maybe I'll make some money, maybe I'll go into public interest law somewhere down the road, but for right now, I'll take being a "baby lawyer," getting that "Esq." after my name and getting my feet wet. A steady paycheck don't hurt, either.


GG said...

As a first year in the middle of taking my second quarter exams, I definitely understand the tearing you down aspect of law school! I hope I'll reach the building-back up part eventually!

Chere said...

You articulated a lot of what I've been wading through lately...just this feeling like law school is breaking my spirit and while I used to be one of the "smart" people who was "going places" now I'm just another little tiny fish in the bottom 90% at a notrankedhighenough law school.
I'm hoping to get excited about this all again too...and I guess the good thing is I'm not on any meds yet :)

Cee said...

thank you for this post- it sums up my law school experience perfectly! you said it all- i like the bit about post pardum depression0 so hilarious and true!

Rhiannon said...

Well said. I've been wondering lately where my confidence has gone, so it's nice to know that it, like so many other things, is just a victim of law school. I hope that next year, when I'm at your point, it'll start to come back. But I think I'm too paralyzed by fear of the bar (and what I am sure will be bar-inspired depression)to look beyond it.

CM said...

That's awesome -- I'm so glad you found something you like. I don't know if it's what you'll be doing when you start work, but it helps so much to realize that this wasn't all a mistake and there really was a purpose behind all this time and debt.

gudnuff said...

Thank you for this post. The most salient aspect for me is where you say "I know tort laW, I know med mal..."..."I know what I'm reading and I know what to look for".

How cool is it to feel a sense of competence due to your studies, your reading, your expertise in a specific subject area.

So glad you shared this.

PT-LawMom said...

Go you! Want to hear something funny? Both when I was working at the fancy appellate boutique in DC and when I was working at the BigLaw firm in DC, NONE of them used "Esq" after their name. Those Yale/Harvard grads think it is pretentious. LOL. The only people who used it were attorneys at smaller firms. So then it turned into kind of a weird reverse pretention. Like "the people important enough to use our services will just know we are lawyers." (Well, that, and of course they had to have their state bar licensing info on their cards, but still... no esq.)

gudnuff said...

Couple more follow-up thoughts to this post:
(1) What if you're already broken-down, ego-wise? Does that make it better, since you're already down there, or worse, since you could go even lower? (yikes) I know there's no way to answer that, but I AM curious about it.
(2) Would love to hear what you do NOT like about corp law, especially in light of your initial I'm-gonna-be-a-private-jet-setting-lawyer fantasy so long ago.