Life as a Loser Law Grad

tiny-red-house

A Facebook acquaintance recently shared an article about social media. I know: You’re sick of reading about social media. But before you hit the back button, trust me. You might want to follow the writer’s advice. It goes against the grain. Shauna Niequist wants you to stop instagramming your perfect life.

Her article begins with this:

I keep having the same conversation over and over. It starts like this: ‘I gave up Facebook for Lent, and I realized I’m a lot happier without it.’ Or like this, ‘Pinterest makes me hate my house.’ Or like this: ‘I stopped following a friend on Instagram, and now that I don’t see nonstop snapshots of her perfect life, I like her better.’

Here’s the problem: Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram and all the other social media dreck exacerbates the pitch-black divide between what I thought my life would be like after law school, and how it has turned out so far. I’m simply not as big-time as I thought I would be as a law student.

Reality after Law School

When you’re going to go to law school, or actually in law school, life is very cool. People admire the hell out of you. You are an intelligent and admirable person. Even you admire you. Wow, law school. For me, this was when you could still smoke cigarettes in Minnesota restaurants. It was the end of finals, we’d just finished the first semester with Contracts and Civ Pro behind us, and we sat around a long table inside Billy’s on Grand, chain-smoking Camel Lights, drinking pitchers of Summit EPA from 11 a.m. to close, buzzed on nicotine, alcohol, and achievement.

Little did I know, a few years later, that I’d be told (third-hand) that working with me was like “spitting in the wind.” Honestly, this person may have had psychological issues, but hearing something like that does make you wonder. On my very first cold-call as an inside sales rep (glorified telemarketing, as a colleague once put it) I took too long to answer a basic question and was told it wasn’t rocket science before getting hung up on. And then, of course, I’ve had opposing counsel tell me I am “disingenuous” (I looked it up in the dictionary), which means I am insincere, unaware, or uninformed. Probably all three.

And then there’s the life you have outside of work.

I live in a tiny house. My wife and I have made improvements to it in the time we’ve lived here, but it’s still effing tiny. We bought at the height of the housing bubble in 2007, one of those bend-you-over, no-money-down, first (and second) mortgages that only an idiot young law grad like myself would get into (because law school taught me everything there is to know about mortgages and home-buying, if not how not to be stupid). “Don’t worry,” they said, referring to the interest rate on the second mortgage, “you’ll be out of this your starter home in five years.” We’ve been underwater the entire time I’ve domiciled my thirty-something ass here. Oh, and I drive used Hondas, which is fine, but I’m a lawyer, damn it.

Meanwhile, I log on and treat myself to the “sparkly milestones” of everyone else’s perfect life, as Niequist puts it in her article, the filtered Instagram pictures of a good friend who never went to law school, now a partner in a successful marketing firm, on another trip overseas. I see the Facebook status update of a defense lawyer taking names in court (and, later, pictures of the boat purchased with the taking-names fund). I see this stuff over and over and over again and still I come back for more. Still I get clobbered over the head with the lives of my friends and acquaintances. They seem to have done so much better than I have.

[I]t only takes one friend at the Eiffel Tower to make you feel like a loser.

Niequist is right.

But then I remember that all of it is B.S.

Reality after Law School (Revisited)

So things may not have turned out as I thought they would, but as Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Wherever You Go, There You Are:

Would we know what our way is if we could have it? Would getting our way solve anything at all, or would it only make more of a mess of our lives were it possible to realize our wishes on impulse out of our so frequently mindless states of mind?

If I had known how things would turn out, would I not have gone to law school?

Because I work primarily as a copywriter and creative professional, does that mean I couldn’t hack it in the traditional role of a lawyer?

The answer to both of these questions is no.

The truth is, I don’t know what my life would be like if I could realize my wishes on impulse, if I could brush away the “failures” above—the spitting in the wind and the cold call and the exchange with opposing counsel—with the flick of my wrist. I’m not sure it would be worse, but I don’t think it would be any better. Because while I may have only practiced law “on the side,” and while I am “just” a copywriter now, it’s a job for which I am reasonably suited. I’d rather pursue a career in writing and creative work—the stuff I love—than spin my wheels and feel bad about myself because everyone else seems to be doing so much better.

I would urge law students and recent law grads to look deeper into the idea of an “alternative career,” and whether or not you should pursue one—and feel perfectly good about your life no matter where you’ve gone so far—given the lawyer bubble we find ourselves in.

Remember that quote above about the Eiffel Tower?

Here’s the part I left out:

When you’re waiting for your coffee to brew [and checking your newsfeed], the majority of your friends probably aren’t doing anything any more special.

When I go to bed at night, after having read stories to my son, and fed bottles to the twins, and put my feet up with a novel in my tiny living room, and snuggled up with my wife on our tiny couch, I know I’m not really a loser law grad, even though that’s what the rest of the world would have me believe.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tinyhousepaintings/4263478158/)

  • http://associatesmind.com/ Keith Lee

    Not to flog my own stuff, but I feel the image in this post accurately sums up the above sentiment:

    http://associatesmind.com/2011/07/30/facebook-you-v-real-you-or-why-personal-branding-is-stupid/

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      Blast from the past. I remember your post and enjoyed it.

  • Paul McGuire

    The title of this blog post sums up my thoughts.
    “You’re a Loser When You Compare Yourself to Others”
    http://divorcediscourse.com/2013/04/03/youre-loser-compare/

    Those people who look super successful may actually be successful or they may just be flaunting symbols of success that they bought on credit. You aren’t going to know the difference unless you are close enough to them to know what the reality is.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      I think humans are comparison animals. Our brains are hardwired to notice differences.

  • http://jdblogger.com John Skiba

    I have thought a lot about this subject over the last ten years. Prior to going to law school I used to be very critical of those people who would tell others to pursue their dreams. I always felt like your dreams probably won’t pay the bills – so pursue what will pay the bills, even if you don’t enjoy it. The problem with that is, even if the bills are being paid, you will be miserable if you hate what you do all day. My advice to my children will be to find something you enjoy doing (or think you would enjoy doing) and then work to find a way to make a living at it.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      I truly think there’s always a way to make a decent living doing “what you love,” although it might not exactly match up to the fantasies you have in your head.

  • http://letudiantendroit.com/ Awovi K.

    I think its important for law grads to know that alternative careers are not for losers who couldn’t make it at Biglaw firms or any law practicing related field. As a recent law graduate, i’m working on how to combine everything that makes me happy (such as writing, empowering people, travels, people etc) and create a stemming law related business from these passions one day. That will be the ideal job. And i will definitely find a way to get there.

  • Mark Barbour

    You are being way too hard on yourself. Take a longer view of life.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      Don’t let the title fool you.

      • Mark Barbour

        Good to hear.

  • Leslie MacKenzie

    The curse of comparison, it’s not just for law school grads. From where I sit, I’m envious of your evenings reading to a little one and time spent holding and feeding babies. As a practicing lawyer, it’s likely you would have missed those fleeting moments and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

    (Hey, I love your comment about comments.)

  • Olugbenga Oke-Samuel

    You just reminded me of my own failure to read to my kids and the desperation to meet up with the so called standards by hanging out late in order to socialise with the big boys in order to meet the sometimes elusive clients. The message from your post is just for one pay attention to important things in our life while and making steady progress. Thank you for this.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      Paying attention to the important things (and recognizing them) while at the same time making steady progress—that’s exactly what I try to go for.

  • Pantera

    Law is not what it used to be. As a practicing attorney I find that law has become more like an insider’s club. Lawyers, judges, enforcement officials are in it together and those who do not belong to the club surely get the bend over treatment. It is disgusting and humiliating. Who wants to spend money to be part of a system that is failing America.