It’s been awhile since I wrote about lawyer life – and I was inspired to write this content this morning as I approach nearly a decade of the practice of law.
Just saying that is unreal – it’s hard to believe it’s been over a decade since I started law school and nearly a decade since I finished it. I remember being about to start 1L and having zero light at the end of the law school tunnel.
When I was thinking about going to law school (after years and years of being in denial), they told me that the LSAT was the single best predictor of how I would do in law school.
When I was at orientation in those days leading up to starting, they told me that I couldn’t be successful unless I did everything exactly right my 1L year.
When I was at any number of lectures or school-led social events or seminars, they told me that if I didn’t get the highest grades, make law review, or get an associate job first summer at a top firm, I wouldn’t succeed.
When I was in law school, they told me exams were the single best way of determining my chance at passing the bar and ultimately how good of a lawyer I would be.
With little exception, “they” were wrong.
I studied my butt of for the LSAT, I won’t lie. My boyfriend at the time was working for The Princeton Review and was able to buy us their study guides- which really taught you about HOW to take the tests. And I did really well on my first try. And got into every school I applied to, with scholarships. But they were wrong. The LSAT had no indication of how I would perform in law school.
I similarly worked HARD in law school. Unlike most of my peers, and expressly against rules of 1L, I had to work during my 1L year just to survive. It wasn’t a lot at first, but you can’t really be distracted by much else when you’re trying to learn the law. At least not as a full time day student.
I didn’t do well (by my standards) my first year. I lost my scholarship.
I didn’t have any interest in even trying to do the Write On competition to try to make Law Review. I didn’t even apply for any interviews with firms for a summer associate program. I wasn’t a great law student. I went on to graduate in the bottom half of my class. But they were wrong. How I did in law school had no indication of how I would do on the bar exam.
Because I rocked the bar exam, far exceeding the score that I needed to pass in both states that I took it. I was subsequently admitted in two more states and am a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.
It also was no indication of my ability to be a great lawyer. I’m an exceptional business lawyer, and excel in the in-house environment. I’m a disruptive thinker that is often brought into projects or complex commercial situations simply because I challenge the status quo and am a pro solutioner.
I am well known and respected in my area of legal expertise. I am on the speakers’ circuit regularly speaking on various topics relevant to my profession and our specific area of law. I’ve won awards from inside my company and out. By most standards, I’m a very good lawyer. They were wrong.
Why do I tell you this?
Not just because “they'” were wrong, they were – after all, I did fantastic on the LSAT, not great in law school, didn’t do law review or any other journal, definitely didn’t try for or land a summer associate role, crushed the bar exam, and am consistently among the highest performing attorneys across my global company. “They” can’t define one single way to success for everyone.
When I finally submitted to my destiny of pursuing a legal career, I was intentional about my choice to do it differently. I knew that I didn’t want to spend a single second of my life walking in or working for a law firm. That wasn’t what I liked and wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to work in business, and use my law degree to that end.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I entered law school in 2008, in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression and the worst legal job climate since the beginning of legal practice in the United States. There were way more lawyers than jobs. Following the path that “they” set out was more important than ever, because half of the people that you graduated with wouldn’t have jobs at all come graduation.
While I don’t want to say that didn’t matter to me, the pressure didn’t get to me. I thrive under pressure. I chose to start my career BEFORE finishing law school – I started working as an associate at an entertainment agency before finishing my first year of law school, and transitioned to a company supporting the Broadway theatres merchandising and concessions in my second year of law school. I would go on to rise to a Director of that organization before heading to a REIT following the bar exam, then a residential/commercial real estate management company, a worldwide distributor of electrical products, and ultimately at a global logistics company.
I knew my path would be different, and instead of shying away from what “they” said, I embraced it at every step of the way. Despite being on the bottom half of my graduating class at a time when at least 50% of people graduating didn’t have jobs, I wasn’t one of them. In fact, I delayed taking the bar exam so I could finish an international project sourcing polycarbonate plastic cups into Broadway’s theatres so you can enjoy a beverage while watching your favorite Broadway play or musical.
I tell you this because you can forge your path however you choose. You can succeed in following a different path than what “they” say. There isn’t a magical formula for success- just ask any professional musician, athlete, or movie star. Talent gets you a long way, so does work ethic, determination, focus, and luck. One semester’s of exams does not have to define your ability to practice law; your grit, your stamina, your resilience to persist in the face of difficult situations — that does. No single event defines your life.
Forget about what “they” may be telling you in your life and go out there and go for your dreams on your terms. I believe in you!
What are “they” telling you this year that you need to let go of? How to parent? What to do about your kid’s milestone achievements? How to dress to fit in? What car you need to drive? What you need to make (okay, buy!) for the PTA bake sale?
Let it go, friends. This is your year to write your story on your terms.