Sunday, May 15, 2011

“But I like my job”

There are a lot of blog posts around that focus on ex-lawyers turned . . . whatever; there are even many blogs (e.g., here, here, and here) dedicated to the theme. This is not one of those blogs. While I personally believe that anyone who hates a job should leave that job, regardless of debt, etc., this blog is not about doing something instead of law. I think those people are awesome, and incredibly inspirational, but here I have tried to focus on bringing sanity to the legal profession and to life in general. If I have learned one thing in the last 11 years - during which I moved from California to Michigan to France (twice) to Arizona and then to New Zealand - it is that we cannot run away from ourselves. We can only learn to live each day in a way that works for us.

Although I have clerked for two judges and now I am getting my LLM, and have, therefore, never practiced law except in a law school clinic or as a contract attorney, I actually consider myself a lawyer – more and more every day. Like many lawyers, I have felt the need to apologize for my profession, sheepishly look at the floor when I tell people I am a lawyer, and it just gets worse when I tell people I do family law. It is usually at that moment I want to crawl into a cave. I am always quick to say, “I really want to work with children, and I also teach yoga.” So, on top of living to expect and prepare for disasters, we must often defend our choice of profession. I can understand why so many people want to leave, and for them it is probably the correct decision. But what do you do if you want to stay?

We have many options, but I want to discuss two. First, we can get angry and defensive. This is, after all, what our legal training would expect of us. We are trained to be adversarial . . . at least to an extent. We can continue to do our work because it is what we have chosen to do and apologize for ourselves and our profession when we interact with non-lawyers. How many times have you heard, “you are the only lawyer I have ever met that I liked?” Yes, it is easy to get defensive and angry with how people see the profession. Yes, it is easy to react.

But what if we, instead, chose to respond? What if we took a step back and prepared an answer to this situation? What if we answered it intentionally? Just yesterday I was talking to a friend about what makes yoga different, what I have learned more than anything from it; I have learned to act intentionally. Thus, if we intentionally choose to remain lawyers amidst the loud and growing anti-lawyer discussion from both inside and outside the profession, we can intentionally decide how to explain that decision.

Instead of looking sheepish, we can say, “I am a lawyer.” What I have found is that some people will actually think it is wonderful. But the others will remain, the ones who cannot believe that you, a seemingly kind person, are a lawyer. To them, we can intentionally explain what it is we do. We help people in their disasters. We navigate systems that they cannot navigate alone. My thesis research had me looking at what it is lawyers do, how we define law, and what sort of roles lawyers should have. What I have found is that when we really start examining our work, people are proud of this profession.

As with yoga, when we get intentional, we can be in control. We need not be controlled by the reaction people have to the legal profession. We need not feel that we have to explain to those who have left the profession why we choose to stay. All we need to do is be intentional and honest. And yes, it is even okay if you enjoy your work as a lawyer and want to tell the world why that it.

If you have chosen to leave law, why did you choose to leave? If you have chosen to stay, what keeps you in? There is no shame in either approach. And if you are not a lawyer, and never were, the choice to be intentional about what we do is important. As Confucius said, "If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life." 

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

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