Saturday, July 30, 2005

Why do I want to be a lawyer?

An older anonymous comment to my Why do I blog? post posits:
I am a lawyer. I wish I stuck to my original plan of becoming a pre-school teacher. I read why you blog. I haven't stumbled on your reason/s why you want to become a lawyer. I am rather curious why you want to become one.
Seeing as I stumbled across this comment just now, I thought I'd respond.

And I'm foregoing the Google search. This time it's personal. (And I briefly tried Googling that latter phrase but could find nothing substantial to link to within my first 30-45 seconds of skimming the results. So bleh.)

To understand how I got to law school and/or why I "want" to be a lawyer, you need to look back to my high school and college days. I knew I was going to study physics long before I even knew what physics meant. I'm talking back in middle school I knew. I just did. No real basis, I just knew. Like I knew at a young age that I'd play the trumpet in the Trumbull High School Marching Band, which I did.

So, holding true to form, I majored in physics in college. Funny thing is that I enjoyed it the vast majority of the time. It was fun! The math classes were a piece of cake, the physics classes, while obscure and obtuse at times, weren't bad. On the whole, it helped make my college studies interesting and engaging. Probably the last time I really paid attention in a class and learned something.

The problem with a science degree is that it's difficult to be half-assed about it. What I mean is that with an undergraduate degree in a science, your options, should you choose to pursue a career relating to that scientific field, are very limited. You can get your master's then do research. You can get your PhD then try to find one of those rare teaching positions or you can do research. Hmmm.. I'm not a huge fan of 'research' and I'm not too psyched to spend and additional 4-7 years only to try and fight for a low-paying position that may or may not be out there. If you're not going for your MA or PhD, what do you do? Few science-based jobs want someone with a B.A. or B.S. There are plenty of non-science jobs but those would be available no matter my specific college major nor my own personal inclinations.

So what do I do? I go to law school and get into intellectual property, specifically patent law -- where the money is good and a physics background is a strong asset. The odd thing was that as I became exposed to intellectual property law and worked for a patent firm I learned that I actually liked it. I found it to be engaging. Even the most menial items, such as looking up obscure points of patent practice, were not boring to me but interesting. I honestly like it.

For me, it's not so much why do I "want" to be a lawyer as why am I becoming a lawyer. "Want" had relatively little to do with it. I went to law school because it sounded good, it fit with my physics background and potential aspiration for becoming a patent lawyer, and it was my "next step." I wasn't ready to go find a job in the real world just yet right after college. It wasn't time. 3 years of law school and becoming a lawyer -- that's a direction that would tide me over to the present day at least.

Of course the sad thing is getting to where I am and being unsure as to whether or not it's the direction I want to pursue. Friends of mine say that a lot of people in the world, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, feel this uncertainty at some point or other. I don't disagree, I just don't think that's quite my issue. Yes I'm not convinced I want to be a lawyer but it's more than that for me. 'Cause if I don't, then what do I do, who am I, and where do I go? And those latter two are the tougher ones to answer.

As a law student, you hear of so many unhappy lawyers. Our profession has a horribly high rate of alcohol and substance abuse. Lawyers are not known for being genial, convivial people. Lawyers are generally known for being ball-busting asshats who work 60 hours a week if they're lucky. Bill 2500 hours a week or die trying. (Okay, okay, 1750 at the firm I worked for but they were really nice and lenient!!!) As a lawyer, if you want a family or a life outside the law, good luck! That's the hardest thing to coexist with the profession. And it sucks. It completely and utterly bites. But if you want to make a decent wage as a lawyer, earn some good money, then you give your life to the law. You make a sacrifice on the altar and hope it all works out in the end, that some sort of cosmic balance is achieved. More often than not, the sacrifice isn't worth it and the bigshot lawyer comes to fundamentally regret his choices and where they have led him or her.

I refuse to be that lawyer. To my last breath. But if you don't play the game you can't reap the rewards. And I do want to make good money. I do want to do something that actually interests me, something I enjoy -- the true holy grail of lawyerdom. I have little doubt that I will end up practicing intellectual property law in the end. It fits for me. It fits well. But right now I'm just not sure it's where I need to go, what I need to do. Plus I don't have a job waiting for me right now. So I still have choices and freedoms, options that close off once you really begin down your chosen path. And I'm unattached. The only ones I'm really accountable to are the credit card companies, the loan company, and my mom (for continuing support and accrued debt). While those 3 are certainly not insignificant, they won't dictate the metes and bounds of my future, merely speed bumps to be passed on the way.

Somewhere in my digressions and musings I think I've explained why I "want" to be a lawyer. To those other would-be lawyers who read this, those who have just sat for the bar exam, those still in law school, those entering law school, even the actually-am lawyers:
Why do/did you want to be a lawyer?
Please respond in the comments. That's probably one of the best questions to ask yourself and consider. It tends to show not only where you've come from but where you've gotten to thus far and what you've learned on the way.

Live for the journey, not the destination. (link)