Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Retirement from the Law at 26: True Story.

A Canadian Lawyer, Chris Graham, won the law school jackpot. He scored a Big Law Job as a Corporate Lawyer.  For the first few months, his position was admirable:

Ever leave a meeting at 2 p.m. and read about it on the New York Timeswebsite before dinner? (To be fair, this is more likely to happen when a major investment bank has recently declared bankruptcy.) Ever worked pro bono for hedge funds? Savour that for a moment. Then savour the case of champagne that arrives in your office when the project is finished. “Thanks for all your effort.”
Need to get documents to a client on short notice? “No problem. We'll send the corporate helicopter.” Just for documents.
That's exactly what many lemmings dream of when they enroll in law school.  But they don't realize the collateral damage that it causes:
That spring I found and lost a beautiful woman, then spent the summer thinking about what she had showed me about time, which turned out to be my side of the bargain with the firm. I get serious work and a generous salary; it gets my time, whenever it wants, as much as it wants.  
Yes.  Big Firm Life, lack thereof, is a tumultuous one.  Mr. Graham explains it beautifully.  Once you scored the job, your life is no longer linear.  It begins to have as many up and downs as the U.S. economy.  Sometimes you're working late into the night, and showing back up at 7:00 a.m. to "finish a deal."  Other times, you're twiddling your thumbs--terrified that you're never going to find enough work  to meet your billable hour requirements.  The unpredictability is agonizing:
Think of a graph showing your hours worked each day for a year. The regression line is not especially high, but the standard deviation is outrageous. That's life as a corporate lawyer.
For some people (perhaps many, judging by the number of corporate lawyers in the world), this sort of arrangement is fine. Standard. Life would be boring if you always knew what was coming.
It took a year to realize this is not me. Reacting to changing circumstances is one thing; being told how to react, and when to react, is another. My graph was a cardiogram, all heart attacks and comas. 
So this Canadian did what so many lawyers wish they could do.  He quit and went back to college to get a different B.A.   He went to Oxford, actually.  He majored in History and Politics so that he could do what he tried and failed to do in his limited free time--read and write.  It's funny because so many law students choose this very same major and find that it doesn't lead to gainful employment.  Maybe it doesn't lead to gainful employment when you already have loans for college?  But Mr. Graham had an advantageous position.  He used his BigLaw salary to save up for the additional schooling.  I suspect that he didn't have loans from law school either.  So, he was free to pursue intellectual satisfaction.  I hope he reads this post and corrects me if I'm wrong.

So, he retired from BigLaw at 26.  Lucky Canuck.  Good luck and a big thank you to him for putting out a realistic portrayal of life in BigLaw.

1 comment:

  1. I studied history in undergrad. The first person to strongly advise me against law school was one of my first graduate student instructors. He was a PhD candidate in (I'm guessing) his middle forties. He did the biglaw thing in NYC, made a ton of money, and hated his existence.

    So he quit and went to graduate school for history - wrecking what many would consider a 'made' career to study postcolonial Indonesia. He could pay his own way through school, but still.

    I first met him circa 2007, and he had been in grad school for awhile already - this was well before the bubble burst. I listened to his advice and did not structure my undergrad around hopes of law school. I'm glad I did. I'm not making much money right now, but I don't think it would have made any difference given prevailing economic conditions.



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