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Seeking the Road Less Traveled in the Legal Profession

Last semester, I had a powerful conversation with my friend Julia while we were sitting outside the law library during a study break.  I looked up at her and said, “I don’t want to be a traditional lawyer.”  She responded by giving me a look that screamed, “Duh.”  I was spending the semester working part-time at a big law firm in Phoenix, and while the people and the projects were top-notch, it was not an environment I could thrive in long-term.  I understand that being a lawyer involves a lot of research and writing, however I am not meant to spend my waking hours alone in an office surrounded my other people who are equally isolated in their offices, and where there is little collaboration.  I realized that I need human interaction and laughter to be happy.

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One of my classmates told me that there used to be a law firm where the lawyers frequently shot each other with Nerf guns.  Unfortunately, that firm no longer exists, but I was so glad to hear that there are non-traditional lawyers out there.

Despite how untraditional I am, I thrive in structure.  I like guidelines, road maps, and guarantees when it comes to achieving my goals.  In law school, there are suggested strategies for getting a job.  The ideal way is to work a summer job at a firm between your second and third years of school where they offer you a job for after graduation.  Having a job offer like that provides a huge sense of security going into the last year of school.  For me to say that I don’t want to be a traditional lawyer or work at a traditional law firm makes me feel like I’m operating without any type of structure, a road map, or any sense of security when it comes to building my career.

It’s a bit frightening to operate with only vague ideas about what I want to do career-wise.  I know that I want to work on problems that have a significant impact on people’s lives, and not just a significant impact on their wallets.  I like the idea of trying to figure out how the law applies to situations that lawmakers never imagined when they were drafting the laws.  I have mental image of my clients calling me on my webcam and saying, “Hey Ruth.  We have a great idea for X, but we need to know how to do it without getting sued or arrested.”  I want clients who want to push the envelope without crossing the line.

I appreciate Google’s dress code policy.  According to rumor, their dress code is simply, “You must wear clothes.”  They encourage employees to do what they need to do to be effective and creative whether that means showing up in a suit or pajamas.  Some law firms believe that they get higher quality work when their lawyers wear suits and professional attire every day.  I work better when I’m comfortable.  If I’m not meeting with clients, I’d prefer to work in jeans and a hoodie.

When I think about seeking a firm that suits my personality or hanging my own shingle, I have fears about money and having enough work to make a living.  I try to temper those fears with the excitement and freeing sensation that come with the prospects of being professionally happy.  When I worry, “What will happen if I try for my dream and fail?,” I try to counter it with, “How much will I regret it if I don’t try?”

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  1. Debbie says:

    I’ve heard you talk about your specific goal and I support it completely. But there’s a reason for those suggested steps. As a person who is at the other end of life (yeah, I’m older) I think if you fly solo too soon – without that basic experience in say, corporate law – you are more likely to fail. Young/new people in any field make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of life and learning. To make those mistakes under the support or cover of a company will be much less devastating to your career (and long-term goal) than if you were going it alone. You should really accept the fact that school isn’t the only place you learn and add a few years of actual real-world experience under your belt before going it alone. I know you think you’re ready RIGHT NOW to take on the world, but I’ve heard too many times that a degree is only a piece of paper and experience is what matters. Hang in there.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Oh I agree with you on so many levels. The idea of going solo right out of law school scares the crap out of me, especially after today’s article from the ABA: I know people who have gone solo right out of law school and others who encourage it, especially in this economy. I think I’d rather spend at least a year learning the ropes before taking the reigns myself. I don’t want to find myself working at a job I hate 20 years from now because I was too afraid to go after what I really want.

  2. Addy says:

    Mark Twain would agree with you.

    “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
    -Mark Twain

    1. Ruthie says:

      I love that! Thanks for sharing the quote.

      1. Jennis says:

        I concur.

        1. Ruth Carter says:

          I like to think that we didn’t come this far to settle for any job just because it pays the bills. I keep watching the movie “Lemonade” and heeding its advice that when you follow your bliss, the money will follow.

  3. Sam Glover says:

    I fully support dressing like a slacker. In fact, many of my clients say they appreciate that I don’t look like a stuffy lawyer.

    You’re on the right track. Don’t be afraid to try and fail. I always ask myself what’s the worst that can happen if I fail. And really, the downside is never really that bad.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks Sam!
      Your advice is one of the things I rely on most when I get scared about my career and the fact that I’m still figuring out what I want to do.