Sunday, January 29, 2012

How did I get here?

I wrote a post a day or two ago, here, where I tried to make a list of things I'd done in my life that I loved.  As often happens, when I start working on a project like that, I start reflecting. My reflections this morning were considering that list and wondering how it came to be that I started law school at age 30 and what I hoped to accomplish by that step.

I was about 28, living in Seattle, and finding little satisfaction and finding a lot of internal questioning about the purpose of my life.  I was unmarried, childless, living paycheck to paycheck in a rental property, working as a office support person, and not seeing any way that my life was going to change without someone disrupting the status quo.  Of course, I had always expected (assumed?) Mr. Right was going to come along and sweep me into some other life, but as I worked my way through my late 20s, I was starting to doubt Mr. Right's imminent appearance, and I think I was finally realizing that perhaps life would be more rewarding if I was the one moving myself forward, rather than waiting to be "rescued".  I spent some months pondering what I might do with myself, I applied for a bunch of jobs in diverse industries - thinking maybe I could find a business where I could advance.  I actually had 2-3 interviews with a shipping company in Seattle, starting out in a support role, but with the possibility of moving up if I earned it.  I was pretty disappointed to get passed over for that job actually and wonder sometimes how that might have worked out. 

Ultimately I decided to go to law school.  I needed to prove to myself that I was smart enough to do it and I knew from the moment I decided to do it that my goal would not be to work in a fancy law firm and get involved in the corporate rat race - instead, I wanted to help regular folks through the regular struggles everyone faces in life, like divorce and other everyday occurrences.  I knew I was good at problem solving and accepting of the jams people can find themselves in, and I felt I was honest and straightforward enough to help.  Doesn't sound very lawyer-like does it?  Ha ha.  Truly, though, when I was in private practice, I would tell people that came to ask about divorce or custody matters that I would gladly help them, but they needed to accept that I was not the kind of lawyer that would posture and preen and call the other person names and try to smear them or otherwise get their pound of flesh for them - if they wanted that kind of lawyer, they should hire someone else. 

Private practice lost its appeal however, the first time I had to deal with the business end of the deal.  I did a fair amount of work trusting that folks would pay their bills and not demanding retainers out of my clients.  I learned fast that you had to be cold blooded about the money - requiring those retainers and billing accurately rather than discounting your time for this and that.  The firm I was in had its own issues and I left after 3 years.

Now I'm a government lawyer. While I am still helping people, it comes from a different angle (governmental intrusion), and our efforts are often not appreciated.  I still get to problem solve and work with other people and agencies to craft what we believe will be helpful for the kids we serve, but ...

The challenge of law school and of practicing law has been a good one for me overall.  I have learned a lot about myself and my abilities, I've met a lot of people and learned a lot of things about law and about things way beyond it.  I have left a mark, though that is much less important to me than it was years ago, since I now have a much more well defined mark on the world through my children.  So the question the becomes whether I am now headed for a new challenge, or whether the real challenge is to find new purpose in the place I'm in now...

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