December 15, 2010 | File under: Advice and Lessons
I spent nearly a third of my life as a lawyer. Three years of law school and six years of working in a law firm. That’s nine years, not counting my undergraduate time leading up to law school. I’m 31. That’s a huge chunk of life devoted to a career that I ultimately left!
At the time I entered law school, I assumed I was in it for the long haul. I did not consider, nor was I prepared for, the possibility that a career in the law would not be a good fit for me. Had I been sensitive to this before I plunged into my legal studies, I may have put more thought into whether devoting all of my twenties (or more) to the profession was worth sacrificing the time I could have spent on other pursuits.
Instead, my careared perspective conditioned me to perceive only the positive ramifications of attending law school and becoming a lawyer: career opportunities, financial reward, social status. I did not consider that once I embarked on that path and assumed the financial burden of my schooling other paths would immediately become off-limits, or at least highly incompatible with the choices I had made.
After school, the debt burden I faced was so substantial that it made little sense to put my degree to use in any way other than going to work in a law firm. This was the most logical choice among the available alternatives, given that joining a firm would be the quickest route to reaching my ultimate goal of attaining freedom from educational debt and the ability to seek other opportunities outside of the law. My impulse to get out as soon as possible was only reinforced as I began to discover the all-consuming nature of practicing law at a firm and the limits it presented to my ability to have a family or develop new skills.
Had I truly enjoyed practicing law, I would not have had any reservations devoting such a substantial portion of my life to it. Those years would have been an investment, rather than a stepping stone to the next phase in my life. These days, it is common for people to jump straight into graduate school immediately after college, or just a few years after first entering the workforce. Often, this choice comes with the consequence of devoting a significant number of years to the chosen field. My experience required nine years. Other professionals, particularly those who pursue doctorate degrees, may be looking at a commitment of at least a decade. It is important to consider that time at the outset in relation to the proportion of life it demands and the potential sacrifices involved.
Nine years is a long time. When I was in elementary school, nine years would have seemed like an eternity. When I look back, it still amazes me that I invested such a huge portion of my life to something that I was so relieved to put behind me. To others facing the same choice I made, proceed with caution and a hefty dose of skepticism. A person’s twenties is a period in his or her life filled with innumerable possibilities accompanied by the energy of youth to make things happen. Cultivating a career path on account of society’s carearing pressures and jumping into long-term decisions is something that should be given careful evaluation. Once such a path is forged, it is often difficult to turn back without severe consequences. Years later, time will be one thing that can never be recaptured even if circumstances have changed.