By Jordan Carter • October 19, 2015
I love being a lawyer.
This is a revelation. Frankly, I wasn't exactly sure how this whole lawyer gig would turn out. Law school is a steady march of foreboding warnings (1L they'll scare you to death, 2L they'll work you to death, 3L they'll bore you death! the legal community is tiny so don't screw up! it's not what you know, it's who you know! forget everything you've learned before because it's all new now!) One that I kept hearing: being a lawyer is nothing like being in law school! So I was worried that because I was someone who enjoyed law school, I would necessarily be someone who hated working. Add to that my historical disdain for the job grind -- it's not that I don't like working hard, but I just like many other things so much more -- and I was prepared to mourn my golden student years as I trudged into the drudgery of being a corporate drone. Goodbye month-long winter breaks and perpetual three day weekends, hello worker bee life.
What I have happily found is that being a worker bee is not worse than law school; in many ways, it's better, and in some, it's just different. A lot of the changes are unsurprising. There are the obvious perks of not being in law school anymore: no more soul-sucking curved exams. No more arbitrary pass/fail group assignments. Bye bye, marathon Bluebooking sessions. Paychecks. WEEKENDS! I also miss some parts of law school I expected to miss, like the generous schedule, the variety of classes, the people, the extracurriculars, and the casual environment where a mid-day nap was fully integrated into my life.
But what has been surprising to me is how much I actually enjoy the day-to-day lawyering that I have done. Let me say upfront: at a large firm, as a first year associate in a division that works on big money cases, I am necessarily limited in what I can do. I am not in the courtroom, I am not taking depositions, I am not meeting clients. For some people, that would be a real bummer, and they would aggressively hate everything I do. But for me, it's totally aligned with how I wanted my first few years to go. The training, mentoring, and infrastructure at my firm is outstanding, both formal and informal, and that was what I was looking for as I started my first real job. I get to spend every day learning little nuggets of information from people who are the best at what they do -- whether it's a partner, an associate, a staff attorney, an analyst, an administrative assistant, an HR person, an IT person, etc. No matter what the question is (how do I draft this motion? where can I find this information about the case? why are we filing this pleading? what's the next step in this litigation? how do you do this on Excel? where can I get a whiteboard? how do I track my time? how are we evaluated as associates? what's the firm's policy on diversity? how do I get involved in pro bono?) there is a specific person who knows the answer and is happy to give it to you. That's my ideal workplace, because lord knows I have a lot of questions, and it is my actual nightmare to scramble to figure something out on my own with a paying client relying on me to get it right the first time.
But just because I don't know how to do very much doesn't mean I can't do anything, and it doesn't mean I spend all day just asking questions (though that is a significant chunk of the day). I have learned quickly that the best approach in these early months is to say yes to everything, ask the necessary questions, and attack the task with common sense and a cheerful attitude. I can't cross examine a plaintiff suing for millions -- but I can research legal issues, I can analyze facts, I can draft motions and outlines, I can dig for answers, I can manage information, I can prep other people for their higher-level tasks, I can communicate with people to make sure things are getting done. Obviously, I get the tasks that a first year associate is meant to get and sometimes that's stuff no one else wants to do. But that's the beauty of being on a team: being able to contribute work at an appropriate level for where you're at in your career is not only useful for me as I learn all these new skills, it's also useful for the team as a whole and the firm as a whole. So I honestly don't care if it's a tedious project - I can do that well, and I can do it with a smile, and I can move the ball forward, even if it's really just a small nudge.
Beyond the actual work of the day, there's a ton of other First Lawyer Job discoveries I'm making. Like the freedom! I can come to work when I want to? I can work remotely? I can go to the doctor in the middle of the day without asking for permission? The autonomy is wild, and I didn't realize how much I love not being micromanaged until now. I'm also seeing firsthand the significance of firm culture. I know plenty of people are not into the squishy stuff, like jeans days and firm retreats and mid-day ice cream fundraisers. Some of my friends and basically all of my family would despise this environment, and I fully understand that for many people, work is for working and that should be separate from your personal life. But because I am a huge believer in team-building and morale and company culture and all that sparkly millennial LET'S BE BEST FRIENDS rhetoric, I am thrilled to be at a place that buys into all that jazz, too. I am committing a huge chunk of my life to a career (because despite my dream of being a professional television blogger, I have to have a normal job for now) -- my preference is to do that at a firm that invests as much in its employees as its employees invests in the firm. If that's drinking the koolaid, then sure, pour me another glass. At our happy hour, which I'll happily be attending.
Here is where I have to say, duh, being a lawyer is going to get harder. It's going to mean crushing stress, nonstop deadlines, boring tasks, clients getting mad, losing cases, making embarrassing mistakes in front of partners, sacrificing time spent with loved ones, and all that other gross work stuff that one would prefer to avoid. I know that it's a really hard profession, and working in a big firm imposes a particularly draining lifestyle that wears on you. But in this moment, when month one could have gone in a whole bunch of directions, it's easy for me to choose to look at this experience with wonder, gratitude, and enthusiasm. It's been a long journey to get here, and I'm relieved that I actually feel eager to go to work (once I roll out of bed, which still sucks because some things will never change) and happy to spend my days with the people I'm around. As someone who could have happily lived as a student for eternity, one month into being a lawyer, and I'm kind of loving this worker bee life.