HOW AND WHY I STOPPED BEING A LAWYER.

Thanks for the request, @Alex. I just saw Inside Out for the 2nd time and couldn't resist the references to it. I'm not sure this is what you were expecting, but I'm always happy to offer advice to prospective lawyers. Holla at carrigan at gmail if you've got any specific questions.
  1. In one sentence: by going back for the degree I should have gotten in the first place.
    But let me back up....
  2. I wanted to be a psychologist since I was 10 years old.
    I was pretty much your classic middle child, highly sensitive to everything that was going on around me. This included having a younger sister who, though a genius, was having severe behavioral issues starting at age six that eventually necessitated family therapy sessions. Sitting in that psychologist's office, completely unable to help with anything but feeling ALL of it, is, in Inside Out parlance, absolutely one of my core memories (color: blue).
  3. So I went to college to study psychology, hellbent on getting a degree that would let me maybe at least help people outside my family.
    I just don't know that many people who've ended up in helping professions who DON'T come from complicated families like mine. I thought I'd go straight to grad school, become a professor, write some books and maybe see clients out of an office in my house.
  4. Around my junior year, I was feeling really disappointed with the honors research I was doing (which I was convinced was the only way into grad school), so I went to my school's career counseling center.
    I'd been assigned to the lab of a professor who was studying management styles. The study I ran was tedious and didn't seem designed to help ANYONE. I wanted new ideas. So after completing a series of assessments, I went in for a meeting with a career counselor. She asked me what I had thought about doing career-wise. I said, "I've always wanted to be a psychologist, but lately it hasn't seemed right. My dad thinks I could be a lawyer [like him] because I write well."
  5. My career counselor more or less told me "your results on these assessments suggest that you're probably not ever going to feel very passionately about the work you do. So, sure, psychologist or lawyer, sounds good."
    This is seriously one of the shittiest things someone has ever said to me (Core memory color: red!) Instead of exploring what might have been standing in the way of that passion or helping me research other options, she was basically like an anti-motivational poster of a kitten hanging from a string that reads, "Ahh, fuck it. Let go." And the worst part is that I believed her!
  6. So, rather than do the hard work of being lost for a while, I figured what the hell and took the LSAT and got into a top 10 program and went through three years of law school.
    People sometimes scoff at me for calling that the path of least resistance but it really, really was. Standardized tests are my jam and having a plan for after graduation, even one I kind of hated, seemed easy. Never mind that I hated the adversarial process and was terrified of public speaking....
  7. I spent all of law school knowing it was a mistake but feeling like, this far in, I had to at least give it a shot for a while after.
    I'd told myself I would be a public interest lawyer, but I had a disappointing experience with legal services 1L summer and the pressure to consider Biglaw was intense. So I interviewed with firms in Chicago and San Francisco, got a ton of callbacks, had two jobs my 2L summer and eventually accepted a full-time offer with the litigation department of a boutique firm that promised work/life balance. I told everyone close to me that it wasn't going to go well.
  8. I lasted three years at the firm, riddled with insecurity and working stupid hours on stupid assignments that made me feel like a stupid, and sometimes bad, person.
    All of a sudden, I didn't feel like a good writer because I wasn't writing in the aggro, condescending tone that my partner liked. I was rolling over to check my Blackberry the second I woke up in the morning (and sometimes in the middle of the night). I was defending companies that nickel and dimed poor people. I ate dinner at the firm at least three nights out of the week. I canceled vacations to go to 1-hour meetings on Saturday afternoons.
  9. About halfway through my time there, I got wise and got a therapist. I worked with him to figure out how I'd ended up in that boat and how to get myself out of it.
    Shocker: I wanted to be the obedient daughter because my sister sure wasn't! So I followed in dad's footsteps even though I knew I didn't love the law like he did (and still does). With enough time, I re-connected with my deepest interests and explored different ways of applying them in a job. I realized PhD programs and private practice therapy aren't the only way to help. I recognized that maybe it was actually better for me NOT to extend myself in some of those ways.
  10. I eventually realized that what I really wanted to do was go back to school for counseling.
    And this is where I have to be really honest: I am enormously privileged to have been able to make that decision. My parents helped with law school and I'd already paid back the rest of my debt. I didn't buy a condo or a new car when I was raking in the $$. I didn't have anyone depending on me for support. So even though I'd spent a lot of the money I'd earned, I could easily take on more debt for a full-time graduate program. I researched my options and found a great one still in Chicago.
  11. So I applied to one graduate program and confided in my mentor that, if I got in, I'd be leaving.
    After agreeing to keep it a secret, he proceeded to tell the entire litigation partnership two days later. They were amazingly chill about it. Which is how I ended up giving the longest notice in the firm's history: nine whole months. I worked with the partners to reconfigure my caseload so that I spent my last several months there as the sole associate on a complicated employment arbitration. It settled a month before I left so I got to spend my last weeks there twiddling my thumbs.
  12. When I left, I sent around a farewell message that I know for a fact made several people cry.
    What can I say? I suspect a few of them wished they could leave but didn't feel like they could. I think the others were just happy that I was taking a big risk to pursue something I felt so strongly about. Inside Out core memory colors: all of them.
  13. The good news is that graduate school was absolutely the right call and eventually led me to the weird place I am today, professionally.
    After two years in a counseling program, I found my way into, yup, career counseling at a university. I did that for five years and was damn good at it, if I do say so myself. Turns out I could really relate to all of those undecided students and disappointed alumni! I still use a lot of those counseling skills in my current job advising film and theatre students.
  14. I won't lie: I miss the money a LOT some days. But I don't miss the intense work-related anxiety and self-doubt.
    I'm glad I got out when I did, but I can't exactly say I regret it. After all, law school introduced me to some of my best friends in the entire world (ahem, @vp). Two of my friends argued against each other in front of the Supreme Court a few years back! I'll probably know a senator someday! But I know that now I'm helping people in a way that makes the best use of my skills and doesn't leave me too emotionally drained in the process. And that's a pretty great place to be at this point.