Trading in the Expense Account: Transitioning from Big Law to Public Interest: Year in Review

It’s been a pretty incredible year, hasn’t it? We started the year off talking about what it would take to make the move from Big Law to a public interest job and we’ve learned so much along the way! Planning is clearly the key to making any transition work, but especially when the transition is one in which you suddenly earn 75% less money. Although the money situation can be tricky, the psychological reward of doing work that you really believe in can take the edge off living frugally.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t have any fun while you’re doing public interest work. Even if you’re living alone or those roommates you settled for don’t turn into long-term friendships, there are so many different ways to get involved in the community. I genuinely enjoy working with other lawyers – actually, let me rephrase that – I genuinely enjoy getting to know other lawyers as people. I have been amazed by the multi-talented and eclectic mix of people that I have met ever since I started on this path. Everyone from accomplished musicians to AIDS researchers have chosen to go to law school and joined the J.D. ranks.

But, unfortunately, it seems that but for those of us who are committed advocates from day 1, the path is no less clear upon graduation as it was during orientation. I don’t know about you guys, but I went to law school more to escape the job that I had at the time (consulting) than with a clear idea of what I would do with a law degree. Given that I’ve had a new job every year since I graduated in 2010, it has taken some leaps of faith and rugged nerves to navigate the rough economic waters and my own discontent.

When I started writing about my transition from Big Law to public interest work, I could not have fathomed how many more transitions would be in my future. 2013 brought a lot of new things into my life which I am extremely thankful for, including a new perspective on work, life and the relationship between those things. More than anything, my fellowship gave me the time that I needed to slow down and think about where I wanted to go. There are a lot of great things about being lawyer, but I was missing the forest for the trees, and while my J.D. doesn’t define me, I believe that, whatever your experiences beforehand, having gone through law school will change the way you process information and view the world around you.

Wherever you are in life or in your career, I think one of the most important things you can do – whether you’re contemplating a transition or not – is to make time to assess whether where you are is where you want to be. Your path may not involve a big correction like changing jobs, but even a small change in perspective can change how you feel when you show up every day. And, really, that’s not only better for you and your personal happiness, but will help everyone around you. This holiday season, my gift to all of you is permission to take the time you need to think. And, I would encourage you to think “outside the box,” to consider the things that seemed impossible – the things you would do without debt, without location restrictions, without feeling guilty. Now, make 2014 the year to make it happen.

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