Another Lawyer-Writer

Image of a brown gavel on a white background

Yes, I am a lawyer.  There are so many lawyer-writers, it’s cliche at this point.  Off the top of my head, there’s John Grisham, Scott Turow, Stephen Carter, Brad Meltzer, Amy Chua, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Min Jin Lee…and the list goes on and on.  In every genre and in every form of writing, you are likely to encounter a lot of former or practicing lawyers.

Why?  Picture yourself as a twenty-two year old writer-wannabe who spent his or her college years immersed in the study of something that you thought would help you become a great writer (i.e., Anthropology, American Studies, History, English, Comparative Literature, or really anything that doesn’t involve hard numbers or using Excel).  You probably got some pretty good grades in that subject, and thought the world was your oyster upon graduation, but you planned on doing “something creative,” instead of becoming another “corporate drone.”

Upon entering the real world, you find that there is no job called “something creative.”  Also, much to your surprise, you find that no one cares about your high GPA in a liberal arts degree, even though it was earned at a “good” school, and after several frustrating rounds of interviews at various non-profits and “cool” Internet startups, you are unemployed.  You have artistic ambitions that you decide to pursue, but as you have little life experience to draw on, you are rejected at every turn, and either return home to “I told you so” parents, or find yourself sleeping on futons of “corporate drone” friends whom you considered yourself smarter than.  Of course, since those friends are living in nice apartments and going out to eat on occasion, you question if you are actually smarter.

You believe that your life options at that point are to: (a) keep pursuing artistic ambitions while watching your peers buy nice things you can never have, (b) marry someone who is rich enough to support your artistic ambitions (you must be very good-looking to have this option), or (c) law school.

I thought my only choice was (c).

I’m not the only one who lived that above scenario.  Many, if not most, lawyers I know were at one point young people who went through that same flawed reasoning and thought they had to choose option (c).  In fact, you would be amazed at how many law students have no interest in being lawyers.  They just did not know what else to do, and it seemed like the best option at the time.  “I can go into public interest law, which isn’t so bad, right?” they told themselves while racking up student loans.

After I decided to go to law school, the desire to express myself artistically did not fade.  I still wanted to write, and continued to do so, though I didn’t manage to find my way into any publications at that point.  As I entered the real word and was faced with the reality of having to work really hard to support myself and pay off student loans, my desire to write still did not go away.  It continued to nag at me, but I had less time to do it, and definitely not enough time to be very good at it.  I kept writing when I could though, just to have a way of expressing my hopes and frustrations.

After a few years at law firms, I left New York and found my way to the San Francisco Bay area for a variety of reasons.  I started working in-house at technology companies, and found more time to focus on the craft of writing.  I began to view writing as a skill that I needed to hone rather than a hobby that I liked.

When I joined writer’s workshops, I found that about half the people I met were also lawyers.  In talking to them, I realized that they had pretty much gone through the same experiences that I had.  They didn’t want to be lawyers when they were younger.  They had no real clue what being a lawyer would be like when they first entered law school.  They just didn’t think they had any better options at the time.

In retrospect, I should have realized that option (c) was not my only choice.  You should become a lawyer because you want to be one, not because you can’t think of anything else to do, or because you want to get your parents off your back.  There are plenty of people who make a good living diving for oysters, chicken farming, driving tankers, or selling snake oil.  Believe me, I considered quitting the law for any one of these other options, since, at many points, I hated my profession.  The hours, the stress, the mind-numbing work, and the annoying company you are forced to keep can really get to you.  Had I done a little research and realized all of this before I submitted my applications, I might have learned to be less afraid of my parents.  I might have been less afraid of poverty and failure.  Perhaps then, I might have come to realize that there were options (d) through (z) that I didn’t even think about.

But that’s in the past, and I can’t change what I’ve done.  I’ve been a lawyer for over 12 years now, and though I have had plenty of setbacks, twists, turns, binge drinking episodes, inappropriate relationships, and moments of deep regret, I’m in a pretty good place now.   I’ve now found that being a lawyer can actually be pretty rewarding sometimes, and, at its best, even enjoyable.  I like my current job as a technology lawyer and am glad that I managed to find it after bouncing around the legal landscape for a while.  I’m also happy with my current work/life balance, since I have the time to pursue writing at a high level.

In short, if you are an aspiring young writer who is thinking of law school, my advice would be to think about it long and hard before you go, and definitely do not go because you don’t know what else to do.  Do your homework about what a lawyer does first, and realize that the vast majority of lawyers find the first few years to be pretty miserable.   If you are a lawyer and you want to write, all I have to say is try to stay positive.  Keep writing and keep believing.  It is possible to be both a good lawyer and a good writer.  That’s my current goal, and as the list of successful lawyer/writers is long and growing, I know it’s attainable with a lot of effort.

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