By Jordan Carter • September 02, 2015•Writers in Residence
In the beginning, I was completely clueless. Over the six semesters of law school, I went from confused to terrified to overwhelmed to stressed to capable to comfortable to confident. Though I definitely wrote about some dark days -- like the 1L suckfest and my old friend, anxiety -- on the whole, I started to feel entitled to dole out advice and opinions, sometimes solicited, oftentimes not. As I moved through the hurricane, I got real preachy about the lessons and the wisdom I'd gained, and I think I had some valuable things to say. But I'm a big believer in authenticity, and so in the interest of being real, I think it's important not to just to share the post-storm advice, the carefully packaged lessons and reflections you can make with the value of hindsight and the relief of being on the other side. I believe in being honest with the messy stuff on the front end -- the fear, the uncertainty, the questions, the complete lack of insight and experience. And, y'all, that's where I am right now.
I'm starting my first real life lawyer job next week. I'm going to be a first year associate at a fairly big law firm. It didn't feel real until I bought a couch at the furniture store and the woman asked me my employer, position, and income level and I ACTUALLY HAD A REAL ANSWER that wasn't "Student With Mounting Debt." When people ask me if I'm ready to start my job, it triggers my patented rambling word vomit, which has become something of a signature trait of mine. A concise answer would be, "Yes, I'm looking forward to starting!" But ever the eloquent speaker, what generally comes out is, "Uhh yeah I'm really excited, but nervous... I don't know what to expect... but I love the people... but I don't know how to be a lawyer... *awkward chuckle*.... I loved being a summer there.... I just have so many questions... we'll see... HA isn't it weird that anyone trusts me to do something important... I think it'll be a great adventure... hope I like it... okay what's new with you?!"
I spent two full summers at my firm. In another field, two summers of interning might be akin to actually working five months at your employer, but being a summer associate is not real life. It's just not. It's basically an extended interview + first date combo, replete with long lunches, happy hours, a couple of projects here and there, and activities about which you'd say to your friends "oh that sounds awesome, we should totally do that!" but wouldn't actually act on until someone else is planning and paying for them (people my age don't have their lives together enough to go to a cooking class on their own). If it sounds like a dream job, it is. I loved every day of it -- the only downside is now that the shiny summer honeymoon wooing stage is over, I'm a simple worker bee who has to settle into real day to day life. While that's totally how it should be, and I am more than happy to pull a Drake and start at the bottom, it means I'm not sure how real life is going to work.
And that means I'm left with questions. Many, many, MANY questions. When I run into a classmate who has already started working, I feel immediately compelled to blurt out, "So what do you DO all day!?!" Because I. Don't. Know. Three years of law school and I still don't quite know what lawyers actually spend their 40 - a billion hours a week doing. Sure, I know how to write some things, how to search the internet for an answer, how to ask some deposition questions, how to object (well, let's be real, how to object in a simulated, zero stakes environment where the teacher still leads us along). But what do you do when you truly can't find the answer? Or when the answer is unequivocally not what your partner wants to hear? For that matter, how do you know exactly what the partner wants? How many hours should I be working? How many questions can you ask your supervisor before you're just an idiot? How do you find a mentor? What if your client is incredibly pissed? How do you bring in business for the firm? This is just a sample of the ferris wheel of questions circling through my mind on any given day. I feel like law school taught me a whole bunch of discrete tasks, like going to a basketball camp where you do intensive drills repeatedly and become decent at shooting from one particular spot and maybe you win a ribbon at the end because it's 2015 and Everyone Can Be Winners and you feel like okay, maybe I can play basketball. But now it's game time and I'm definitely going to vomit before the clock starts.
My logical mind knows the answers to these questions will come. I know it will be fine. Of course it will be fine. Everyone starts as a first year lawyer and the vast majority don't end up on Above the Law. I am trying with all my might to treat this as an adventure, embrace the uncertainty, and just do the best I can. It's okay not to know everything and to be nervous. After all, the uncomfortable space is where all the good living happens. And in a year or two, I'm sure I will feel entitled to give out Grandmother Willow wisdom all over again because if there's one role I relish, it's bossy older sister. But if I am being honest, right now I'm just a tiny, clueless bird who built a comfortable nest but is now mid-air after taking a leap of faith into the wide world. I am starting at the beginning all over again.