I hate being a lawyer. There. I said it. Out loud. I fucking hate being a lawyer. I dread getting out of bed in the morning. I feel utter despair when I think about doing this job for Ten More Years. Or even five. I spend a lot of time at the office these days crunching numbers on the Best Retirement Calculator, frittering away countless billable hours plotting my escape. Hours I should spend doing billable work in 6-minute increments at $53.50 a pop. I wonder how long I can continue in this manner before the equity partners at the top of the pyramid determine my contribution to the pile of money they share isn’t big enough. And if they were to make that determination, I wonder if I’d care.
When I was a 3L and clerking at a mid-size firm, I had a conversation with a young female partner, Patty. Patty impressed me because not only was she a female partner in firm with a predominantly male partnership (men by far rule the profession, to this day), she still managed to dress like a cool chick. (Later, I would learn she’d been reprimanded for not dressing in the standard uniform: dark suit, white blouse, pantyhose, dark pumps.) I was in her office with another law clerk, and we were discussing our excitement about being nearly finished with school, and on our way to actually practicing law.
“Don’t you love being a lawyer?” I asked her.
“It’s OK,” Patty said. “It pays the bills.”
“But isn’t it cool? Isn’t it fun?” I implored.
“Sometimes. But mostly, it’s just boring.”
This undoubtedly is the most honest conversation I have ever had with a potential legal employer. At the time, I thought she was being ironic like the cool kids often were. Luckily for Patty, she left the profession a few years later, after marrying a lawyer. In fact, I have several friends with whom I went to law school who went on to marry lawyers and quit practicing law. In the two decades since my portentous conversation with Patty, I’ve come to learn that boredom is only a hint of the negative aspects of practicing law. In fact, it’s much worse.
- It steals your time. Not only are you chained to your desk for far too many hours of the day, you are chained to your smartphone once you leave. You can never, ever escape. Unless you’re somewhat rebellious, like me, and take vacations in places with no cellular coverage, like the Great Bear Rainforest or a cabin on Lake Superior in Northern Ontario. In addition to the office hours spent billing time, BigLaw strongly encourages you to volunteer what little time you have left serving on State Bar committees and local boards of directors. Marketing. Rainmaking. All part of the job.
- It steals your creativity. I’m in the middle of a 4-week evening writing Webinar about (re-)finding my writing voice. One of the first exercises we did was to write about a time when we abandoned ourselves to the joy of creativity. I spent the 10 minutes, while others wrote, trying to think of a time I’d recently abandoned myself to any creative endeavor (aside from this blog). When I couldn’t conjure up a single moment of joyful creative abandonment over the past decade, I spent the rest of the meeting distracted and deflated. I used to be creative. In addition to personal essay, I wrote poetry and fiction. I listened to music. I danced. Where has that girl gone?
- It steals your health. I’ve gained 50 pounds since my boutique firm merged with BigLaw. Granted, the dying didn’t help, but having time to heal and nurture myself, having time for my grief, might have lessened the impact. In addition to the weight gain, there’s the overactive bladder. For years I’ve thought it was just some hereditary thing I’d have to deal with. (I’ve come to learn many women suffer from OAB, and so I allow myself to write about it in some detail. Yes, I’m Ella, and I pee myself from time to time.) Lately, since I quit the medication, I’ve noticed something. When I’m away from work, my bladder is relatively calm. When I’m in the office, it goes haywire. So I’ve taken to wearing pads to work. I prefer to use them over the medication. My bladder’s reaction to the office is quite telling. It’s like a clap-on light: Office-On, Office-Off. Having OAB is a minor effect of the stress compared to what some lawyers suffer. Substance abuse, depression, suicide. Here’s an excerpt from a recent CNN story on lawyer suicide:
“There are a lot of high stress professions,” said Yvette Hourigan, who runs the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program. “Being a physician has stress. However, when the surgeon goes into the surgical suite to perform his surgery, they don’t send another physician in to try to kill the patient. You know, they’re all on the same team trying to do one job. In the legal profession, adversity is the nature of our game.”
I’m so fucking sick of adversity, I could vomit. And my disdain for adversity has been increasing exponentially since the dying. I don’t have the stomach for it. I don’t care. It seems so pointless. To try to center and ground myself, to try to lessen the stress of the job (coupled with the stress from the dying), I’ve finally begun to soothe myself in ways other than alcohol and food. Yesterday I completed 30 consecutive days of meditation (and still going strong). I’m feeling a bit better. My sleep is improving. I’m finding the motivation to do consistent daily exercise. This week I began week two of morning walking. It feels wonderful to get out of bed in the morning and start the day outside, moving my body. But none of this is helping to make work more tolerable. In fact, it’s only getting worse. The healthier I get mentally, the less I can stand going to the office in the morning. I’m getting better. And the job is getting more distasteful.
I can’t take it another 5 or 10 years. I just can’t. And so I need to figure out a way out. I feel in my gut that the way out is through writing. I don’t know what form that writing will take. How the escape hatch will manifest. All I know is that if I keep writing, I’ll find my way out. Writing is the key to my freedom.