You thought I'd completely stopped writing about law, didn't you? I've been surrounded by lawyers, lately, and so of course I've been thinking about the profession. While I was in Maine after Thanksgiving a former colleague of mine took me out to lunch, and after a nice interval of gossip and small talk, he entreated me to come back to the profession. It was unexpected, and flattering, and half-tempting. There are things about it that I miss. I miss bankruptcy. I miss some of the nimble thinking that it required of me. I miss it the way I occasionally miss Bikram yoga -- it was a practice that made me strong and flexible in a certain way that nothing else can.
Then I got down here and immediately went to two cocktail parties for lawyers. I was trying to identify strictly as a coach and a visitor from out of town, but I was outed by NBT and friends as an ex-lawyer. As has happened before, a couple of lawyers expressed envy at that. "If it weren't for my loans, that's what I'd be doing...." Is it really? I wonder about the people who tell me that. What are they really saying? Other times, lawyers have said, "I wish I had something else I loved as much as you love sailing. Because I don't really love what I'm doing, but I don't have anything else I'd love, and the pay is good, and so I'll just stay in this for the time being until I figure out what I really want to do." Among other things, the background chatter was about motions, and hours, and time in court, and practice areas. I didn't miss it.
But the day before yesterday NBT and I were talking about a research question he's working on for a summary judgment motion. And it reminded me of the process of hunting for caselaw, formulating a query, identifying with precision what your question is. NBT enjoys his practice, and I remembered how fun it can be to figure something out and to articulate it clearly and persuasively. It's a particular kind of pleasure.
And then yesterday, my musician friend admitted he's been thinking about law school and asked me for my take. It's really fun, I said. But don't go into debt for it. We talked about creativity and risk, money and stability, competition and prestige, freedom and second careers. He and I went to college together, and we talked about how many of our classmates have become lawyers and bankers and doctors, and are so far along on their paths in these professions. We talked about how it feels to be different than those peers, and the times we doubt ourselves.
When I was out to lunch in Maine with the bankruptcy lawyer friend of mine, I said that I was pretty sure I wouldn't go back to practicing. The ways I could imagine going back all depended very heavily on who I would work with. I care a lot about my mentors and my peers. I would want to apprentice with someone I respected and liked, and in my home state there's a list of about five people who I would approach if I wanted to get back into the profession. When I left the practice and wrote down what "wild success" meant to me it included the ability to have the time and freedom to take on new projects or goals that interested me. The practice of law rarely leaves you that kind of autonomy. I've become very used to a flexible life, open days, time on boats and outdoors, trips and room for relationships. I've discovered that I care about mentoring and helping other people get good at things, even more than I care about being good at things myself. Being a clerk is probably the only way I'd really consider going back into the law. And even then, I can't imagine going back to a life where I was indoors all day.