Talk to a surprising number of people who went to law school, and you’ll hear a remarkably similar story: There is a moment, usually in your second year (and often, precisely when you’re in the middle of an interview, convincing the interviewer—and yourself—just how passionate you are about the intricacies of contract law), that a creeping feeling begins to take hold.
All of a sudden, you realize that this pricey, hard, and tedious thing you got yourself into is not at all what you want to do for the rest of your life.
My eureka moment came in my second year when I realized that, although I began law school to save the world through international human rights law, I was going to have to plow my way through constitutional, contract, and torts law (and a million other yawn-inspiring courses) before I got to something even remotely relevant to my goal. In the end, I finished my degree and practiced as a public defender for three years, but all along, I knew I would eventually leave.
As I came to that decision, I asked myself a lot of the same questions you’re probably asking yourself: Was your sweat equity, financial devastation, and physical abuse (from the lack of sleep and amount of caffeine ingested) all in vain? Should you throw in the towel, deal with the disappointed parents, and face up to the loss of law school prestige?
My advice: If you’re still in school, stick it out. Suck it up and graduate, and then come up with a new game plan for your career. And if you’ve graduated? There is a life after law, and you can use everything you gained earning your Law school to get there. I’ve done it; my classmates have done it (from my class alone, I know of a singer, a comedian, and a fashion blogger); and here’s how you, too, can turn your law degree into a job you love.
1. Come to Terms with Your Decision
My earliest indication that I might be in the wrong field was when I seriously considered keeping my minimum wage retail job after law school graduation because I loved the fashion industry so much and law school so little. And even while I enjoyed my work and colleagues at the public defender’s office, I knew I had to be honest with myself; the strict practice of law was not where I wanted to be.
But knowing you want to leave is only half the battle—for most people, making peace with the decision to not practice law is the hardest part.
You’ll probably also think about all the time you invested in your degree. Yes, law school was long and hurt like hell—but whether you end up in a legal position or not, your degree (and those five long years) is still a selling point. In fact, in every single one of my post-law jobs, the fact that I had a law degree was an absolute plus.
One of the hardest things to come to grips with is losing the prestige that came along with the legal field. As a lawyer, you’re valued counsel to your clients, and let’s face it—just mention that you’re a trained attorney to anyone within earshot, and watch how the tone of the conversation changes. But as you consider making a career change, remember that the prestige is still there; completing law school and passing the bar are both huge accomplishments.
There are plenty of objections that you’ll have to face. But take it from me—none are so convincing that they should deter you from pursuing what you really love.
Unini Kate Chioma
To be continued next sunday