My Key to Freedom

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.

WritingI 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.


  • I hear what you are saying! It can be very scary…

    I’m been listening for the past several hours a variety of mantras sung by Deva Premal. I’ve been listening to the The Moola Mantra CD at least 3 times now for it has the phrase…Hari Om Tat Sat…

    I’m restudying the Gita this summer and the phrase…Om Tat Sat…stuck me…the translation I read said it means ‘that is the real’ …what is the real? The Divine!

    When we don’t know what to do…we go to the Divine!

    So I asked myself…
    What wisdom can I find in my cards of ‘archetypal reiki’ that may be of help to Ella while she feels so at a loss? I picked up the cards and started to shuffle them as I walked across the room; one fall onto the floor…that’s the one.

    It’s called Dragon’s Breath spiritual initiation; opposites are misalignment and alignment. The book says…’the dragon is a powerful symbol that represents life force and great potency. This is the time to step into your power. Dragons also guards treasure…your precious Higher Self.’

    This card signals to step into your own power via your Reiki energy. Use the dragon spirit guide and its breath to strengthen your ki. Over time your dragon breath will bring to you what you need.

    Om Tat Sat! Shanti, shanti, shanti! Peace, peace, peace!


  • I work for Corporate America and I can totally relate to all you pointed out.. I am tossing around ideas on how I can spend the remainder of my career years being productive yet enjoyable.. Still working on that.. Now if I were a lawyer, I already know I would leave the “Boutique firm” and work for the Innocence Project (Barry Scheck’s organization)..just a thought..


    • Lynne, the boutique firm wasn’t as bad. It’s when we merged with BigLaw several years back that it got really ugly. I tried non-profit several years back in the animal rights sector. Never heard from them. I’m assuming those jobs are coveted. Particularly the Innocence Project. So I’ll save them one kitty at a time. I would like to figure out how to make the time I have left tolerable. I’ll find a solution. Where there’s a will there’s a way.


  • I can really relate to your issues on some levels. it can be so discouraging to be in a profession and feel as if there is no way out. I was especially struck by the sense that your job steals your creativity. I can see why it would and I would think that would be so very painful. Good luck.


      • Plot away! A bit of time for you, a bit of time for them and a bit of time to get your family business on track – might be a great cocktail for success.


  • Imagine you won the lottery. What would you do that you can’t do now? Think about it. Maybe you can do your preferred activity now. What preparation would you need. I bought a lotto ticket once and thought about my dream. Then I decided I could move. I could change jobs. I just needed a plan. And I moved to the city I loved and found a job I liked better than the one I had. It wasn’t retirement and I wasn’t rich. But still I felt a freedom to make a change I needed to make.


    • That is an interesting exercise. It’s time I stopped whining about my circumstances, and started brainstorming lotto-ticket style. Thanks for the inspiration. And I’m so pleased for you and your new-found freedom.


  • Sweetheart, my Heart really goes out to you. I’ve been exposed to our legal system and what I have seen, and what I have been through, leaves me with nightmares. Recently I again had the opportunity to “rightfully” so begin legal processes and the terror, the absolute dread of facing adversity, and fighting, and knowing that his lawyer is bigger then I, and knows more then I, and so it goes round and round to nowhere. I HATE our legal system. There I SAID it out loud! It is all about who knows who, how much the other palm greases the other, and from one experience alone, I saw what lawyers will do to BE right even when they were WRONG. I too am in a situation I see no way out, but this I will tell you. I will NOT go through the legal system. I like you feel so strongly that my photography and my writing are my way out. Somehow someday, my world will be the one that I carry around with me in my Heart. I also am an RN, out of the system for over 20 years due to a severe back injury, BUT, you could NOT pay me enough to go back into the medical system, another very SICK system. So there too, I stay away, both as a professional, and as a patient. I’ve learned how to take care of myself. And in the meantime, I pour my Heart and Soul into Petals, knowing this is the way to the LIFE I dream of. I pray the same for you. I actually have tears in my eyes because I know the STRESS of being in a situation that you abhor. I know. My saving grace is my camera. YOU keep writing, and writing. The more you write the more creative you will become. I am seeing this with my own creativity. Perhaps one day you and I will meet to actually hug when we both are living the lives of our dreams. Please don’t give up. I too used to laugh, and dance, and have a smile on my face all the time. What happened to that woman? She is still there, as she is with you. Don’t give up. Please. Sending you LOTS of LOVE, Amy


    • Amy, there are so many of us who have given up our creativity, our dreams, for a life we thought we were supposed to have. Or for me, a life my father thought I should have. Your photography, your blog, is beautiful. I do believe some day we will meet, and hug, filled with the joy of living the lives we are dreaming of today. Your words are so uplifting. Your words, along with your beautiful photographs, will get you there. Lots of love, back at you. 🙂 Ella


      • Ella, I hope you are right. I really do. I must keep believing in myself, and you as well, keep believing in you. In your dreams, not what others want from you. And I really thank you for your kind and loving words regarding Petals. Bless you! Love, Amy


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