Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why I Am Becoming a Lawyer

This post is because Johnny requested it.

The truth is, I did not want to become a lawyer. There. I've said it out loud. Written it anyway. I loved being a teacher. I felt called to be a teacher. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things that sucked about being a classroom teacher. But for the most part, it was exactly what I expected. I knew I wanted to be a high school teacher before I went off to college, and so that's what I did. More specifically, I wanted to teach high school English and coach high school Speech & Debate. And I did. I also taught first year Spanish, which I did not want to do, but ended up loving. So I'm glad I was forced into it. And were I to go back to the classroom, I think I'd want the Spanish-English split again. First year Spanish is a whole lotta fun and games. And teaching English means, well, a whole lotta paper grading.

Anyway, every year I did a project with my juniors in American Literature to Billy Joel's song River of Dreams, and one of the symbols in the song is the ocean of life-- and I asked students to project where they saw themselves in their individual oceans of life. Now, I never gave an assignment I didn't do myself, and after about 5 years of teaching, I realized I really wanted to get a graduate level degree in something other than Education (I already had my Master of Education). More than that, though, I really wanted to become a parent. And so I put them both on my poster and spoke of them briefly in my "model" presentation. How do these two things fit together? I'm not sure. But this is my story.

After I'd been married for a couple of years, I could tell that continuing to coach debate would mean big trouble for our relationship. I give kudos to those people who spend several days a week apart, or several weeks a month, or several months a year-- you get the point. And my husband and I both grew up in families where our dads were gone. A lot. Mine as an airline pilot-- so he was more of the several days a week type. His dad was in the Navy, so he was gone for much longer stretches. And home for longer stretches, too. Anyway, as it turned out, we are not a couple destined to be apart for long. And the strain of traveling with 30-some-odd high school students for two weekends a month was creating tension. So I made a decision to leave coaching. It was a hard choice in many ways. But to me it felt like it was that or my marriage, so it wasn't that hard, at the same time. Plus, I had more "friends" who were 16 than 27, so that didn't bode well for me.

Once I left coaching, though, I felt restless (me, bored? shocking!). Right around that time, I had received (earned, really) a National Board certification and people were stopping my classroom to observe me more often. Plus I'd become a department chair. (That's what happens when I get bored!) One of the groups that had come to observe me liked what I saw and offered me a job at the County Office of Education (ironically) traveling all over the state and training teacher leaders in a new literacy program. The job also allowed me, well required me, really, to help design professional development for teachers. AND it was a "loan" position, which means I never technically would leave my employment with my school district. The district and the county would have a contract; the district would hold my job and pay me my salary and benefits and the county would reimburse the district. Good deal for me.

So I took the job at the county, a job which was going to last the remainder of the school year plus one additional school year.

And once I was out of the classroom, I got antsy again. I started to think about how I'd really wanted that doctorate or something. So I decided to apply to law school. And we weren't having much luck growing our family the traditional, biological way. And at the same time, we also decided to pursue adoption. And fertility. Oh. And I began to train for a marathon about 6 months after that.

Well, the fertility was slow-going and I wanted a child. Like now. So a year later, there I was having just finished the marathon, holding our son in my arms in the midst of a snow storm in Ohio. And life was good. I didn't really care about law school any more. I was going to go back to teaching, to teach part time, and life would be good. Plus, it didn't look like I was going to get accepted to law school anyway.

And then, three days before orientation, I got a phone call from the dean of the law school offering me a seat. I hesitated. Really hesitated. But with a lot of nudging from Jason, I agreed to try it for a year. We reasoned that litigation is a lot like speech & debate (and it actually is). I like speech and debate. Plus, if I did well, I could earn as an attorney what we make combined. And that would mean Jason could quit his job and stay home. As you can see, there are a lot of contingencies in this plan.

So off to law school I went. I loved being a student. It was a lot of work, but it was interesting. I enjoyed legal skills class and oral arguments. And I did really well my first year. But any time things got tough, I'd say to Jason, "I'm just gonna quit law school. There's no shame in that. I really liked be a teacher-- I don't mind doing that again." And Jason would prod me forward.
At the end of my first year (I was in a four-year parttime program so I could continue to work while in school so we wouldn't have to lose the house to put me through school), I was at the top of my class. So I applied for summer jobs. And got one. And hated it. I won't go into where I worked because that would be rude. But let's just say, there I was half way through law school and thinking I really had wasted two years-- because I didn't like being a lawyer. I asked the career counselor about it. And a professor I respected. And they convinced me it was not lawyering I didn't like, it was the firm. Plus, I was on nearly a full academic scholarship after my first year, so the education was free (well, monetarily, anyway). I had nothing to lose (other than time) by sticking it out. So I did.

At the end of my second year, I was still at the top of my class. I interviewed at all the big firms and got offers from most of them. Then hemmed and hawed about picking one that would be the most family-friendly (if there is such a thing) because I knew I wanted balance. And at the end of my third year, I worked there for the summer. And learned that I really do like litigation work, but the transactional stuff just isn't my cup of tea. And while we were in China to meet Marcie, they called and offered me a post-graduation position, which I promptly accepted on the spot. And that's where I'll be working come October-- and, if I passed the darn bar exam, hopefully my tenure will stretch much longer than that. Otherwise, I just might return to the classroom in 2008!

So that all doesn't answer the why of lawyering; it really talks about the how. Why become a lawyer? I have answered this question many times-- sometimes to convince my teacher friends that I'm not selling out. And sometimes to convince attorneys that this isn't a temporary detour in life. And the bottom line is this: I like researching and writing and arguing. I like thinking quickly on my feet, feeling intellectually challenged. I like feeling like I've made a difference in someone else's life.

Did I get all that from teaching? Pretty much, yeah. Will I get all that from being an attorney? I don't know yet. But I do know that becoming an attorney is a decision that's good not just for me but for my family. Because it means we can maintain our lifestyle and they can have an at-home parent devoted to the kids' needs. If Jason weren't willing to stay home full time, I'm not sure I'd be interested in becoming a lawyer. And I don't think having a parent at home is a necessary thing. But it makes sense for us, and for our kids. And shucks, if we can afford it, why not give it a shot?

Maybe I will hate it and go back to teaching. Who knows. But I don't feel badly about leaving education to pursue more money elsewhere, because it's not just about the money. And besides that, imagine if every semi-talented person who could teach actually did for just five years. Don't you think the quality of education would be better? I can't help but think my 5 1/2 years in the classroom made a difference-- to those students, to other teachers. And I likewise like to believe that in the 5 1/2 years since, while I've been designing professional development programs for teachers, I've still been touching kids in some (very) indirect way. I've done my part. I've paid my dues. And I owe it to my own children to provide for them in the very best way I can.
So there you have it. I may end up hating it. But I know I have to give it a shot. And honestly, I think I'll love it . . .


Johnny said...

Hey, thanks for the post. I had an experience in middle school with "mock trial". It had the effect of steering me away from the legal profession. In my line of work, I come into daily contact with attorneys and they love, love, love the English language and how words put in a certain order or a certain context can have significant and DIFFERENT meanings depending on the circumstances.

I like "1's" and "0's", which is why I'm an engineer.

Thanks again!

Julie said...

Well I guess you want to be a litigator. I hope you end up on "our side" :)

:::delinda::: said...

You are going to be an AMAZING lawyer, whether you like it or not. :)