Friday, February 10, 2012

A Year Out

In the past few weeks, I have picked up some additional freelance work.  I love that I am making a bit of extra money, and I especially love that the work doesn't require a law degree.  There's just something strangely satisfying about getting paid for work involving no legal skills.

It's been almost one year since I left my job.  And the longer I am out of the workforce, the more I am realizing that I may never be a lawyer again.

I don't know what I thought when I quit.  I guess part of me always assumed I would go back to a law firm after this little break at home with the kids - as if I was on another leave of absence, or maternity leave.  I even found myself researching law firms which did in fact have sabbatical programs for women (Skadden's Sidebar program being one of them), and casually mentioning it to my former supervisors, as if they would form a special program just for me.  Ha!

But now, one year out, the idea of going back to a law firm, or even being a practicing lawyer again, is scary as hell to me.  When you're in it, you accept it, because it's your life.  But having the opportunity to step away - I get anxiety just thinking about it.  The pressure, the hours, the politics.  I just don't have the energy or the passion for it anymore, and I don't think I ever will again.

So maybe my law career really is over.


It's a shame really, because I was a good lawyer.  But what made me a good lawyer wasn't my love of the profession.  It was my work ethic.  It was my responsiveness.  It was my need to excel at whatever I did and my fear of disappointing others.

The fact is, for me, so much about being a lawyer was the pride in it.  The feeling that I was successful at something.  The title to throw around at cocktail parties.  Some people go to law school because they really want to be lawyers.  But most people are just success driven overachievers who don't know what else to do.  They have energy and intellect, but little passion, courage, or drive.  They use their pedigree as a measure of success.  I fell into this latter category.

But over the past year, I have really redefined my notion of success.  It no longer depends so much on the standards of others - the things that you would put on a resume or discuss in an interview.  Instead, my success hinges on my own sense of freedom.

I felt so trapped when I was working as an attorney, for a variety of reasons, some of my own making.  But now I am fashioning a life for myself where I call the shots.  I hang out with my kids.  I see friends.  I write this blog under no deadlines.  I take the occasional class, I meet interesting people, and I read books.  And slowly but surely, I'm starting to make money again, without the the aid of law school career services.  Nothing like the money I was making a year ago, but money that feels so much more mine.  And I'm so proud of that.

In my first post on this blog, I wrote about how I dreaded going to work functions with my husband, because I was scared of someone asking what I did for a living.  Now I don't feel that way at all.  In fact, I feel like I have a lot to say.  About being a mom, about blogging, about connecting with so many other women who have taken my same path.  And you know what?  I find that people are interested, and some are even (gasp!) envious.

I don't rest my laurels on a title anymore.  And if that's not success, what is?

25 comments:

  1. You have no idea how this encourages and inspires me. So wonderful to connect with like minded women making gutsy and creative choices in their lives. Hurray!

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  2. I so want to quit.

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  3. Love this post...I'm currently in my second year of law school, and I have zero idea of what I really want to do after I graduate. All I know is the excessive hours, tremendous pressure, and lack of a life outside of work sound miserable! Nice to know there is fulfillment to be had for a lawyer outside of the legal profession.

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  4. Third year associate here in big law witha 6 month old - definitely looking to make a change and I'm happy to have found this blog.

    For Shannon - I wish I considered other options when I was in law school. If you don't want excessive hours, trememdous pressure and the lack of life outside of work - as you mentioned - I'd definitely advise you to steer clear of big law and go into the government or possibly a non-profit. Government work is awesome and the pay steadily increases. Would like to make the switch myself but it is easier to get in once you're in law school - harder to break in after a few years with no government experience or a security clearance. I'm more "attactive" to other firms - which won't necessarily be any better than where I am now. Though with 300k of law school debt for me and my spouse, I don't think staying at home is an option at the moment . . . .

    Good luck ladies!

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  5. And please excuse the typos above - didn't proof. :)I meant to say I'm more "attractive" to other firms who are hiring, as opposed to the government . . .

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  6. Thank you for this entry. I am writing from Ottawa, Ontario, but my experience two years into the legal profession sounds very much like what you and your readers have been talking about. My husband and I decided to move to Ottawa from Toronto for a better work-life balance and before I even had a chance to start looking for a new firm here, I found out we brought a little souvenir from Toronto with us...our first child! So excited but also so terrified as I am now going through an identity crisis. I've been a successful junior lawyer the last couple of years, but very unsatisfied with the "big picture". I don't want to have to squeeze in time with my kid because of the dreaded billable hour demands and unreasonable employer expectations. I just don't love what I do enough for that. I admire your courage for stepping away from all that and letting us, your readers, be a part of your journey.

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  7. Love this post. It resonates with me for so many reasons. I ran division I track and cross country in college while double majoring in International Politics & Law & Society. Then I worked for two years and went to law school. Not because I didn't know what to do, but because I really wanted to keep learning and thought being an attorney would provide me that opportunity. Fortunately, I watched tons of friends go to big law and lose their life--I knew I didn't want that, and managed to avoid it. Three years after graduation, I work in-house, but still regret not majoring in nutrition or fitness. I somehow thought that was beneath me--not intellectual enough, etc. Whoops! I am slowly but surely beginning to do what I actually want. I went through teacher training for yoga and next up I want to become a certified running coach. But I totally get your emotions, I am good at being an attorney because of my type A personality, but at the end of the day I identify with myself as an athlete first and an attorney second. I just wish I had realized this sooner. Thank you for your post!

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  8. I practiced law for 11 years and have been a public policy analyst working on women's rights and mothers' economic security for 7. Which is more fun and fulfilling? Which has cooler colleagues? Which engenders personal growth and minimal bull*(# every day? I was home with children for 5 years. All will be well, I promise! You are in the throes of a life transition, and it lasts a looooong time.

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  9. Thank you for the inspiring blog. I am about to embark on a path away from the law. Literally. I just gave my notice 2 weeks ago that I have made the decision to "take a sabbatical from the practice of law" to raise my two boys (a 2 year old and a 9 month old). There is oh such much more I could say, but I will leave it for another day in my own blog. No doubt, I will require a writing outlet, so why not? When I get my act together and think of a catchy name, I will let you know ! For now, I have a few more weeks of being a lawyer to contend with before I am I am free from the shackles of billing time, stressing over deadlines, and generally doing something I don't love.

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  10. Thanks you for your post. I'm so happy for how far you have in only a year. And could not agree more with you about success being defined by your freedom. I left a successful marketing career a year and a half ago to stay at home and be a mom to a 3.5 year old and 5 month old. I finally now feel deprogrammed from corporate life where success was defined by your title and salary. I don't make any money, have only the title of Mommy, won't be promoted, but I can honestly say, I am happy I can stay home and raise my girls and being a good mom means more to me then being a good marketer.

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  11. Great post! I want to respond to this and previous posts more thoroughly at another time...... Thank-you for your insights and to contributors of the discussion that followed. It is essential for woman and mothers to find ways to live out their lives in a way that feels authentic to them. Authenticity is everything. It takes too much energy to live one's life as an imposter, when the pay-off is limited to beleiving we will receive a positive reflection from others. Who are we really if we are driven by success as it is defined by socio-cultural norms? Is it not narcassistic to live out our lives with the unconscious desire to be liked and possibly even admired by others? The trade-off is our happiness. As written in my five year-old's book, we need to let our sparkle out. If we do what we love, if we say how we feel, if we live passionately and in a way that is consistent with who we really are, we will be successful! Life is too short to live any other way. This being said, discovering this takes time and sometimes becoming a mother is the impetus for that change - a molting of our outer shell.

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  12. Excuse the typos, the type A, perfectionist who desires a positive reflection just hates to make mistakes;)

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  13. I have been reading your blog for a while now and as a wife/lawyer with a husband who is also a lawyer, I'd be interested to know how you feel about not having to work at a law firm anymore but now your husband is the sole breadwinner at the very type of institution you hate? Maybe he doesn't hate it/doesn't hate it as much, but as someone who is thinking about moving on to another job (within law, but with lower pay), I'm not sure I can stand to see my husband make the sacrifice on behalf of both of us.

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  14. @8:45 - I wouldn't say I "hate" law firms. For some years, particularly at my second job, it was good to me, despite all the stresses. It paid me well, gave me good experience, and introduced me to some pretty awesome people. But now, for a variety of reasons, it definitely is not the place I should be. As for my husband, I am fully supportive of his career. He's one of those weird biglaw people that truly does love his job, and he is good at it. So I don't think he or I view what he is doing as a sacrifice, though of course I would love to have him home more. :)

    @Jana - LOVE what you wrote. Thank you!

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  15. I am a government lawyer and I love it. When I see big law associates or law students who aren't even practicing yet, talking about how there are no law jobs that don't have demanding hours and high stress, I get annoyed because it's clear they're only thinking about jobs at Big Law firms. But, then I saw the comment by the Big law lawyer saying government work has "steady pay increases." Um no - that may have been true pre-recession, but currently it is not. I have been a government lawyer for 2 years, and I make exactly the same as someone who has been at my office for 6 years - that is because we have had pay freezes to keep from having lay offs. And last summer, we took a 3% paycut that remains in force until sometime in 2013. Unless tax revenue improves between now and then I don't see a lot of hope on the horizon for better pay. That said, I work an average of 40 hours a week, I have done a few trials, written 4 appellate briefs and argued once in the court of appeals on top of my normal day to day job. My husband at a Big Law firm (in a litigation section) for over a year has done none of these things. His job pays our loans though.

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  16. Hello again. Anonymous lawyer from above with 3 more weeks to go before I get to be with my boys full time. I want to add to the discussion that my husband is also a lawyer. In fact, he just opened his own practice last year and we are blessed that it is doing well. We also do not view it as his sacrifice. Certainly, he sacrifices hours. But he absolutely loves his job and frequently comments that he is living his dream. I have come to realize that no matter how far I excel in this profession, it will never be my dream. I did not just walk away from my firm. I am also walking away from a recent offer of partnership. I cannot invest my heart in it. However, I can invest my heart in my boys and the exciting opportunity to live my life more creatively, with authenticity, to truly be myself. Thanks Jana for the excellent perspective !

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  17. Anon 8:45 here. Thanks for both of your responses re your husbands and their careers. It is wonderful that neither of them view being the sole breadwinner at a law firm as a sacrifice. It certainly would be in my situation and I think also for many two lawyer-couples out there.

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  18. I so love this blog and the commenters. Thank you all for sharing your experiences. I too recently quit...still getting calls from recruiters. I'm so happy to be staying home with my baby that at times I feel guilty for being this happy. My husband is jealsous but luckily he has a very flexible job so we have decided to travel for a year while the baby is not old enough for preschool. Would have never even imaged being able to do this a month ago before I quit. I still am going through an identity crises. I put myself through school, always made my own money, loved women's study courses and now I'm rediculously happy being a SAHM. Wonder if I've lost myself or found myself. Thanks to this blog and commenters I'm discovering life has different phases and the goal is figuring out what really makes one happy. I know I'm very lucky to have the option to stay home. Thanks so much for this blog and forum.

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  19. i love this post, when you first started this blog i left the following comment "one more thing - one of the best parts about the loss of prestige is that people now have to like and respect you for who you are as your pedigree is worthless. So when I'm at a cocktail party and someone says something that makes me feel intelligent or well read or interesting I know they're talking about me and not my University of Michigan law degree or where I used to work. There's something incredibly powerful about this. I'm now more than a degree, even if it was a degree I worked so hard to get." Anyways, I think you're a fascinating, interesting person and I'm so glad that I've gotten to know you!

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  20. Taking the bar for the second time. I hope I never have to practice law....thanks for sharing that success is not education dependent.

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  21. I am at a government job as well, and despite that I work 9-5, I STILL have the Mommy guilt and constantly question whether I should be staying home with my kids. My job is wonderful, but I don't have a passion for it. My mom always says, "you need to be able to support yourself...what if your husband dies or you get divorced...how will you support your family?" So, I am working because of the "what ifs" and because of the prestige of being a lawyer...what will I be without the title? It's hard to back away from that concept of yourself. Do you have the same "what ifs" keeping you awake at night?

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  22. @5:08- I suppose I do have the what if's, but I feel like they are accounted for. For death we have life insurance, for divorce we have lawyers (kidding, kind of!). But at the end of the day, I remind myself that I DO have several degrees, I do have skills, and even if I am never paid as much as I once was, I do think I could find a full time job again if I really, really needed to.

    As a wise friend always tells me, this is just a phase, as is everything in life. I do not plan to be home forever. Someday, my kids will get older, and I will probably want to pick up a career again. Or maybe not. Who knows? But the fact that I am staying home now doesn't define my future. At least that's what I tell myself.

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  23. New follower from bedtimemonsters and I just wanted to say, Wow! This is exactly how I felt when I left my career. Thanks for sharing :)

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  24. It's been over 3 years since I graduated and took (and passed) the bar...however, I got pregnant (on purpose) that same year I was sworn in and never entered the workforce. Now I have two boys under age 3, a law degree gathering dust, and a school loan about to go into repayment (I've deferred as long as I can)....I know I made the right decision to stay at home with my boys but that loan is just sitting there mocking me, along with the burden of people's expectations. Wth do I do now? Open a cupcake bakery? (Only half joking). Or do something law-related? Sigh. Thanks for this blog...you echo my thoughts and make me feel like I'm not the only lost lawyer mom out there...

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  25. Btw....I started a blog this year and would love to contribute here sometime if you get that started. Http://cambodianmom.blogspot.com

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