Chasing The Dream, But The Dream Has Changed – What Now?

It’s been years since I graduated from law school, clerked, worked a few “real” attorney jobs, and yet I find myself now sitting at my workstation, pondering my situation. The world stream is passing me by and sometimes I wonder if I’ve missed it completely or whether I’m simply fishing in the wrong pond.

Reflecting On Past and Present Goals But Facing Reality

I am generally an optimistic person so it’s pretty difficult to get me down, but sometimes it’s not easy working as a contract attorney. The temp lifestyle is lucrative and stress free, but the uneasy instability can be hard to handle sometimes. It’s great to preach faith and resiliency, but sometimes reality can be rather harsh and unfeeling. Yes, I am a contract attorney. I bounce from position to position collecting a pretty stellar paycheck from week to week. Projects range from weeks to months to even years, but at the end of it all, I am still on my own. I don’t have my own legal practice and I don’t have a growing client roll to build off from. But therein lies the quandary I am faced with. With 3 years of legal education and the subsequent degree and job experience to show for it, why is it that I haven’t continued to chase my dreams then? The answer is – my goals and dreams in life have changed.

I entered law school with delusions of legal grandeur with the equivalent sense of reality enjoyed by the ostrich that chooses to plug its head into the ground. Upon acceptance of admission, I was immediately cocooned and safe for the next 3 years from working expectations and the real world. My goal was to study hard in law school, get good grades, join a journal team or moot court, and graduate with a perfect lawyer job all lined up.

Reality did not finally set in until my third year and second semester of law school, when one day I looked around and realized that I was in the wrong place. No I was not lost, but I came to the understanding that the practice of law wasn’t the lucrative and exciting profession I had naively envisioned. Gazing at my modest pile of student loans I wondered, was 3 years of expensive legal schooling really worth it? Perhaps my life would have taken a better turn if I had walked a different path.

We Can’t Go Back But We Can Make Our Own Paths From Here On Out

Eventually, we all have to come to grips with reality and recognize the cards we’ve been dealt. Reality is reality, and things can only get better not worse if we’d only take the time to look at all of the positive skills and experiences we have accumulated since the beginning.

I know contract attorneys come from all backgrounds. Not all temps have come to such a realization that the traditional legal rat race isn’t really going to make them happy. Some, and in fact many are still striving for their original law school dreams. If you are one of those chasers, I encourage you to keep striving higher to meet them and not grow bitter with your temping situation. Contract work will cushion your financial transition and allow you to use the opportunity as a stepping stone to a situation better geared to suit your dreams.

As for myself, the goals and dreams I started law school with are no longer mine. I look at my life now and I have many things to be thankful for. My monthly bills are paid and I have an otherwise healthy and enjoyable life. I have the abundance of time and freedom to pursue my non-legal side businesses and investments. Contract attorney work pays very well and I am not even close to wanting. While I might be honed in the art, I know now that I was never cut out to be a legal hustler in the traditional sense. I have other side ventures that drive me now. Talking to other contract attorneys and listening to their stories about their real estate exploits, interior decorating businesses, and even presidential campaign team aspirations – their experiences are reminders that I am not alone.

12 Responses to “Chasing The Dream, But The Dream Has Changed – What Now?”

  1. Joseph Miller Says:

    Great post. You certainly are not alone.

  2. Read my mind Says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. Felt like you read my mind. Being an attorney hasn’t been everything I envisioned. I am now trying to branch out and discover what my true passions in life are. It’s good to know that I’m not alone.

  3. Jaded JD Says:

    If I hear one more person say: “…but you can do ANYTHING with a law degree!!”, I’m going to dramatically pull my arm way back and then punch them squarely in the mouth with all of my might….and if I ever see my baby’s momma Sallie Mae alone in an alley, she’s got one comin’ too- as many checks as I send HER ass.

    I remember being excited about my acceptance into law school- all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Now I’m certain that I would find more happiness and fulfillment living in a van down by the river.

    Oh, and have a nice day! 

  4. Temp Partner Says:

    You mean you didn’t graduate from law school with a 6 figure salary working 40 hours a week like all lawyers do?

  5. LC Says:

    You got a career in mind-reading, I will tell you that! Another great post and sooooo true!

  6. sweet as pie Says:

    you know, it’s none of those things that get me down. what I think is perhaps the most aggravating thing about being a CA is this: staff attorneys who have no management skills, are downright offensive, and would serve humanity better if unfortunately wound up under a bus. I’m not speaking of anyone in particular. especially not anyone at howrey. and most DEFINITELY no one running a mega-staffed, impending-production-date monster antitrust lawsuit.

    but I’m sure you all know the type. schoolyard bullies, essentially.

  7. Lucky One Says:

    sweet as pie, I’ve been fortunate enough to be on projects where the associates were super nice. Very thoughtful, caring, kind, genuine associates (staff attorneys). Too bad the staff attorneys you’ve worked with have been difficult to deal with. I have yet to experience that.

  8. Codegirl Says:

    What they don’t tell you in law school is that after you get the JD and are settled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt (at least) as well as three fewer years in the workforce, you might not get that cushy big firm job. However, the other options are a a job with small firm or the public sector that probably pays less than the job you left to go to law school or a well paying but soul-crushing code monkey position.

    Not only can you do anything with a law degree, you will most likely be forced to!

  9. GMoney Says:

    Thanks for posting this blog. I’m thinking about law school and taking the LSAT, but hearing what you had to say painted a picture for me. The harsh reality of life and pursuit of happiness.

    Maybe I will still go to law school, because I have a thirst for knowledge.

    Still soul searching.

  10. Minnesota Attorney Says:

    Your honesty is refreshing. I have also found that practicing law is not what I expected before law school. My impressions of legal life were based largely on the attorneys I heard about in the media, which is like having an impression of business based on CEOs in the news.

    The nice thing about a law degree is you have a strong resume and many avenues for your talents, whether your path lie inside or outside the legal profession.

  11. Jaded JD Says:

    GMoney-

    “A thirst for knowledge” is a really bad reason to go to law school; it’s almost as bad as mine: to gain stature/cache/feel important, etc.

    The key to knowledge is called a library card and it’s free.

    You go to law school as a pre-requisite to taking and passing the bar so that you can work as a lawyer. All other reasons are BS and will lead to extreme pain, despair and feelings of foolishness that you did not listen to reason.

    The only fulfillment is found in doing something you genuinely enjoy. If you are not sufficiently knowledgeable about what lawyers do, save yourself the debt. Oh, and you’re welcome.

  12. PA Lawyer Says:

    Greetings from PA. As many others here have commented, this felt like I was talking to a psychic! I see this blog is a couple of years old and I just happened to stumbled upon it, but it’s certainly applicable to my situation now.

    I graduated from law school in 2010 and passed the PA state bar later that same year, and I’ve had a variety of experiences since then. The market was terrible at the time and contract work was all that was available. Unlike quite a few of my classmates, I also didn’t have any connections. Fortunately, I was placed by an employment agency (which I would later develop a very good relationship with) at a short-term project and then right afterward a long-term project that lasted a little over a year and which dealt with a very interesting case.

    While still at the long-term project (by now over a year there), I was applying for “traditional” associate attorney positions and, after several interviews with different firms, I landed an associate position at a small law firm that was roughly an hour from home. Well, this position turned out to be an absolute nightmare. The environment was toxic, my boss was a miserable sociopath who just made everyone’s life hell, and the pay was actually significantly less than what I was making as a contract attorney. While I thought I wanted a job as an associate, this experience made me seriously question my desire to practice law. Ultimately, I was let go after about 5 months or so there (really a blessing in disguise), which touched off a period of successive temporary positions which is still ongoing.

    I actually re-joined the previous temp project I’d left for the associate position (it was still going strong), and did that for a few months until that wrapped up, before finding work as a title abstractor/independent contractor for a land service company in the increasing field of Oil & Gas Law. That enabled me to learn a new skill but it was still a stressful gig, and ultimately a number of abstractors, including some very skilled and experienced ones, were laid off for going too slow (it was a question of desiring quantity over quality as far as getting work done was concerned). There was also a project team leader who was falsifying progress reports regarding work that various abstractors were doing as I later discovered from some of my co-workers. But anyway, I was one of the casualties of this whole process and was also let go.

    After that, I worked a number of short-term contract assignments and was later placed by the same agency as before on another long-term assignment which lasted from April 2013 until January of this past year, and I’ve worked a number of shorter-term projects since then. Currently I’m in between assignments and it’s a bit frustrating but it’s the nature of the beast.

    As of now though, I feel that I’m at the point where I’ve realized that I’m not comfortable with the life of a contract attorney on account of the relentless instability associated with it. Flexibility of hours and the pay are both nice, but the uncertainty just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve also come to the realization where I feel that I’ll need to move to another city and possibly state in order to practice law in the traditional sense (on account of the oversaturated market here), or perhaps try my hand at a different career path.

    Without a doubt, it’s been a much rougher road than I could’ve ever imagined. I was also traditionally a more optimistic person but I’ve definitely lost a lot of that over the past couple of years on account of my recent work history and the kinds of personalities that I’ve encountered. Perhaps a different path or change of scenery would be the right remedy and I’m still trying to sort all of that out.

    It’s nice to read about people who are in the same boat as me though, knowing that I’m far from alone. Take care and write some more!


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