“What are you going to do when you graduate?”
“What type of law do you want to practice?”
“What do you want to do?”
“Where do you want to live?”
I dread these questions and their innumerable variations. Why? Because I don’t have the answers. Frankly, I hardly have any ideas. I simply don’t know.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I could tell you what I don’t want to do (med-mal, tax law). I could tell you what I’ve already done (public interest, student legal aid, prosecution, judicial clerkship). I could tell you what legal fields I assume currently have sufficient work (foreclosure, bankruptcy, family, government). I could even tell you what geographic legal markets are growing (Texas, London). But I can’t tell you what’s next, where I want to go, what I want to do. Because at this point, it’s largely an issue of practicality, and minimally an issue of desire.
Here’s what I do know:
- I want to get through 3L.
- I want to graduate. Which is almost an accomplishment in and of itself, given that in 2011 alone, almost 7,000 law students attrition-ed out, 1367 after 2L and another 221 during 3L. Of course, the ABA doesn’t provide a total number of enrolled students to give the number of those lost to attrition any valuable meaning.
- Then I want to get through the ceremony and all of its accompanying logistics. Dinners? Hotels? Family driving hours to see me on stage for a few minutes? Coordinating and balancing family time? I can feel my anxiety level rising already.
- After graduating, I want to get through bar prep. Grueling. Already not looking forward to that experience.
- After bar prep, I want to take and pass the bar. Again, no small feat. For my school and my state, averaged over the last four years, the average bar pass rate for first time test takers is 90.3% for the school and 87.82% for the state. I know I’m not in the bottom 10% or 13% of my class. But that doesn’t guarantee I’ll pass the first time.
And after all that, a year from now, I’ll probably just be relieved to have a job. Check out Law School Transparency if you haven’t already. Fifty-five percent employment for the class of 2011? Cripes. It may be time to dust off the old high school résumé and highlight all of my clothing retail and food service experience.
Try condensing all of that into a polite, socially acceptable 30 second or less sound bite, especially for someone not in the legal field. It’s almost impossible. And even when I am successful, the persistent press on with, “Well, ideally, what would you do?” or “If money wasn’t an issue . . . .” And that never fails to cue an exasperated sigh from me, which I attempt, badly, to contain. Ideally, it doesn’t matter. Reality does. Money is an issue, and not just because this is America and it buys happiness.
So my reaction now is usually a concerted effort at a fake smile, followed by, “oh, I’m not so sure yet,” or “I’m trying to gain experience in a variety of places so I can answer that next time you ask,” both followed by a slightly forced, “ha.”
Even though I know a lot. I know I don’t lack ambition. I know I don’t lack direction or drive. But this isn’t a final exam essay question. It’s just a conversation. I don’t get points for rule dumping or policy explanations. So I take the easy way out.
If nothing else, it’s helping me get slightly better at faking appropriate social interaction. Or something. I don’t know.