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.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

So you want to be a lawyer...

Ruby Falls has started some excellent posts on the subject of "Should I Go to Law School?" I would love to see all of the Moms in the Legal Profession write a post on this topic to tell our stories. I think the various experiences are important to the discussion, not only for the future members of our profession, but for the current ones.

If you haven't visited the blog of Law Professor Paul Campos, it's worth a read through. (And as a six degrees to Kevin Bacon aside, Prof. Campos also blogs at Lawyers, Guns & Money, along with a professor from my foreign relations graduate program). I am extremely critical of law schools. I hated law school. Which is incredibly ironic, since I'm now teaching law students. Bahahaha! However, I also have extremely strong opinions (involving violent, uncontrollable twitching) concerning the load of crap from two people who have no idea what the legal profession is like on the ground McGinnis and Mangas op-ed from the Wall Street Journal that goes far beyond the criticisms made by Prof. Campos. Legal education may need a huge overhaul, but it cannot be eliminated. It would destroy our profession. And I believe in this profession, as fucked up as it is.

First, some background on me. I worked in the legal profession for six years before I started law school. I worked mostly in insurance defense, but I did some foreclosure and real estate law too. I was not some naive 22 year old, with a gleam in her eye about doing public interest law, saving the world, and hugging it out with some indigent criminal defendants. I knew the employment statistics were rubbish. I knew the career services program at my law school was a total joke. I knew the legal profession was sexist and unforgiving, and generally did not pay very well. I knew a significant number of attorneys are miserable, horrible people, and several are downright sociopaths. But, dammit, I wanted to be a lawyer. Why? I thought I'd be damn good at it. I loved the legal profession, yet I'd never be satisfied being "just" a secretary, or even a paralegal. I wanted to climb the foodchain. I wanted to call the shots, I wanted the responsibility. I wanted a seat at the table. Was it hubris? Of course it was!

It still is. When I think of leaving the profession, going and doing something else, even something more "meaningful," I just can't. I crave being in the courtroom, even though I'm a nervous public speaker. I love the rush. I love problem-solving. I love the satisfaction of doing a good job. I love helping people, even unappreciative assholes. I love a challenge. I love taking something that terrifies me (public speaking) and making it my bitch. (The exception being spiders. Spiders, you win.)

But there are things about this profession I hate. I hate the job insecurity. I hate the sexist, racist, classist, douchebags that dominate this profession. I hate escalating emotional conflict. I hate time vampires. I hate risk. I hate not knowing what I'm doing. I hate billable hours. I really hate running a business. I hate goddamn people with goddamn personality disorders, and they're freakin' everywhere. I hate clients that don't paying their fucking bills as though my time is worthless. I hate clients that insult me, especially when I do a goddamn excellent job for them. I hate opposing counsel that plays nasty tricks, or tries to throw me under a goddamn bus. I hate how stuff keeps me up at night, and I have a hard time putting it to rest.

This is a damn hard profession. I'm a broke ass with a ton of debt, a shitty car, and I only get to eat because I married a guy who made better career choices. I practice poverty law. It fucking sucks. It's awesome when you get a great result and really help someone. It's a kick to the gut when there's someone really deserving that you can do absolutely nothing for. You get a helluva lot more kicks to the gut. I also practice family law, and that sucks too. People are petty assholes. They don't pay their bills. Those things are connected.

But on occasion, you get to do some real good for people, and I'm not saying that was worth the $140K I spent on obtaining three advanced degrees, but it dulls the pain a bit. On Monday, on MLK Day, I spent the entire morning meeting with opposing counsel and our clients concerning a custody dispute. We resolved it without litigation. We took two people who hate each other, and we worked through their issues, and we have a fantastic custody agreement in place that is great for that kid. They are a long way from being effective co-parents, but they took important first steps. It was worth working on my day off. For free. I love alternate dispute resolution. I want to be a mediator when I grow up. It will be a very long time before I grow up.

I took a reduced-fee custody case a few months back for a client who couldn't afford to pay much. Even with the reduced hourly rate, I wrote off several hours of work. I got the other party to sign an agreed custody order, which I took to him at the jail. We set up a visitation schedule and restrictions that will protect the kids, but give him the chance to work his way back up to being a dad, instead of losing his kids after the crap he's done. The client was so grateful. With her Christmas bonus, she paid her bill in full.

Yes, there are clients who are just assholes, and some days, some weeks, those clients over-shadow everything else and I just want to quit, go do something else, anything else. I still haven't figured out how to make this profession profitable. I'm too much of a bleeding heart, even still. I'm getting better though. I took a case for an old friend, and she hasn't paid me yet. And if she doesn't pay me, she can file her own responsive pleadings. I'm done doing pro bono for awhile. I'm so far over my recommended hours for the year, it's ridiculous. I'm tired of drowning in debt, while working my ass off. I need to take a page from a few colleagues, and pull out my Square device, plug it into my iPhone, and swipe some credit cards. (See above, where I discuss the $140K in student loans.)

However, if our grant money comes through, I'll be giving up solo practice to join the non-profit legal services world full time for the next 5 years. I will be making 2/3 the amount I was making at my first law job, out in Appalachia. (However, at least I won't be spending money on a second residence.) I will, however, have benefits, including free tuition. Husband's going back for his Doctorate this fall. I may do the same. Of course, I have to do another Master's first, since my Master's is a professional degree, without a thesis. But I think if that happens, I'll try to climb the food chain within the hospital. Work my way into middle management. I dunno. Try something different. But I just have a hard time giving up the idea of actually practicing law. I always had a hard time giving up poisonous relationships though. Why should law be any different?


Bernadette & Duane said...

I love this! Just discovered your blog. I am a 30 year old (really) hopeful mom to be of twins (come May) who graduated from a mediocre law school and is enjoying practicing for the time being but scared to death of how it's going to work once my little ones arrive. (We worked VERY hard for them and I haven't a clue how I'm going to leave them in someone else's care.) Looking forward to reading!

Bernadette & Duane said...

I love this! Just discovered your blog. I am a 30 year old (really) hopeful mom to be of twins (come May) who graduated from a mediocre law school and is enjoying practicing for the time being but scared to death of how it's going to work once my little ones arrive. (We worked VERY hard for them and I haven't a clue how I'm going to leave them in someone else's care.) Looking forward to reading!

-R- said...

This is such, such, such a good post about being a lawyer.

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