Home > job hunt, the law > Looking Back, Looking Up

Looking Back, Looking Up

It’s been a rough couple of years.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. A lot of lawyers and workers in general are feeling down and out. A lot of people are out of work. Even more are underemployed. And really? I know my story isn’t anything as bad as a lot of people’s. It’s August after my May graduation. I’ve been officially “unemployed” for about a week. I’ve got some money saved. I’m soon to have health insurance again. And eventually, one of these days, The Fiance is going to have a job that will comfortably pay our bills.

I’m very lucky.

I’m also feeling very lucky to have my circle of real-life and internet friends. In the past few days, I’ve been given some interesting resume building opportunities and short-term or part-time opportunities to get my feet wet in the legal realm. And even though I wasn’t (and am still not) sure that I’ll end up being a practicing attorney, it’s no longer because I think I’m somehow not good enough to do it, or that I would be amazingly and horrendously bad at it if I were given the chance.

How did I get to the point of believing, despite the fact that I worked my butt off in law school and my internships and clerkships during school, that I would be terrible, and that I was somehow too stupid to do this? Looking back on it now, I realize that I was in a job that was a bad fit for me during law school. This isn’t to insult my former employer. I got good experience, and learned a lot of things from attorneys who are great at what they do. I liked them. But I also dreaded coming into work. I dreaded the “emergencies” that weren’t emergencies. I feared being yelled at for something I couldn’t control. I resented never being given feedback, even when I asked for it. I hated never having a clear picture of what was expected. I hated feeling ignored and like the work I was doing was never good enough. I was sure I didn’t fit in, and that it was a problem with me.

It wasn’t until spring of my third year, almost two years after starting my job, that I suspected it wasn’t my fault. I ran into a former professor in one of my clinical-type classes who was a partner at a local firm. He stopped me and told me that he was impressed with my work, and that if I ever needed a recommendation I could call him. When I said my firm wasn’t retaining me, he seemed shocked, and said that if I were to stay in the city (I didn’t), he’d be glad to help me find something that would be a good fit. I’d been turning in the same work to him that I’d been giving to my employer.

My lawyer friends tried to tell me that it was just a bad firm experience and not to give up. I didn’t want to hear it. I studied for the bar, freaked out, and convinced myself all over again that this wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t know anything. Who would ever want to hire me? Why would I want to go back to feeling the way I did while I was working during law school?

I don’t feel that way anymore, in part because of an email I got from an attorney after day 1 of the bar exam. She’d listened to me lament, complain, and get angry about my career. She’d listened to my hissy fits, and hadn’t given up on me. Instead, at a time when I’m sure she knew that I felt the dumbest, she sent me an email telling me to keep my chin up, and that the profession could use more women like me. I sat in my hotel room and read it over and over again.

After that, I actually started listening to my attorney friends. I’m beginning to realize that my experience wasn’t normal. It wasn’t my fault. It was just a bad fit. I’m not dumb, I’m not incompetent. I’m still learning, but that’s normal. I’m not supposed to know how to do everything right now.

So for now, until results come out and probably after, I’ll piece together my new career with part-time gigs, contract work, and volunteering. I’m lucky that my network of legal and non-legal people is so supportive, open, and warm. I’m lucky that they kept telling me, even when I didn’t want to hear it, that there’s nothing wrong with me.

I think I’m starting to believe it. Things are looking up.

Categories: job hunt, the law
  1. Kim
    August 10, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Want to know a secret? I’ve been officially practicing for almost a year (will be 1 year in October), have been with my firm doing legal things (drafting, meeting with clients, answering questions, etc.) since summer of 2009 (coincidentally, that was the last time I cleaned out my shred box prior to today) and I STILL feel incompetent. Less so than before, but still pretty incompetent.

    But it’s ok. Because here’s the thing. Every once in a while, I’ll be talking to a client, or looking at a situation/question, and I realize hey, I know what to do, I don’t need to look at a book or talk to one of the other attorneys here.

    I can only assume that as you practice more in an area, or in general, those moments become more and more frequent.

    Or, you know, you get better at bluffing when you don’t know the answer. 😛

    But either way, we’ll be ok!

  2. August 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    It wasn’t until I was sworn in that I really wanted to be a lawyer – in September, after I graduated in May. I know, crazy. But sometimes you have to get a little distance to really know what you can do/want to do!

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