Please Stop Asking About My "Plan"

Not an Elle Columns, Lawyer, Not an Elle 10 Comments

The farther I get into law school, the harder it gets to avoid the reality that, at some point, my education will end. And at that point the real world will begin. The real world will of course include bar prep, the bar exam, and some type of employment: unemployment, funemployment, part-time employment, under-employment, non-legal employment, or the elusive and mystical fulltime legal employment.

As that finish line inches ominously closer, I find myself in more and more conversations with friends and family and random strangers about what I’m going to do next. They ask what I want to do when I graduate, what kind of law I want to practice, what my plan is.  Seven months ago, I didn’t know how to answer their questions. I still don’t.

My friends from undergrad ask, their parents ask, family friends ask, the dentist asks, the nurses at the doctor’s office ask, the barista handing me a caramel latte asked. A woman I’ve never seen before in my life asked while I was at Walgreens having my picture taken for the bar exam admission form.

I appreciate their interest, their attempts at making conversation about something so relevant and important to my life. I don’t appreciate how their interest forces me to acknowledge something I’d rather ignore: that I don’t have a plan, can’t have a plan, until I have a job. And that whole getting a job thing is a little tricky right now. If at first you don’t succeed, apply, apply, and apply again?

You’d think that in the last 3 years, at some point, I’d have developed some answer for this, some way to handle it with poise and grace and may even a smile. Nope. I have two responses, and neither of them comes out well.

The first goes like this:

Them: “What kind of law do you want to practice?”
Me:  “Why? Do you have a job for me?” with what I hope is a charming, congenial smile.

It often comes out a little too eager, and more often than that, falls flat.

The second is actually somehow worse, a joke that always comes out just a little too harsh, a little too forced, with no one left listening when I try to explain it later. It goes like this:

Them: “What kind of law do you want to practice?”
Me: “Whatever someone will pay me for!” followed by a forced smile and even more forced laughter.

Followed by a pause that’s just long enough to register as awkward, but not long enough for me to mention employment statistics or the legal market in general. Not that I’d ever succeed at casually mentioning those things anyway.

I’m not saying we’re the first class in history to have a market like this. I’m not trying to suggest that the legal field is uniquely affected and afflicted by the economy. I’m aware that in 2013, more than ever before, we have the internet and electronic communication and all kinds of things that make networking and job searching easier than ever.

All I’m really saying is, when it comes to talking about my post-grad “plan” with anyone not in the legal field, I find it hard to be realistic and honest without sounding jaded or cynical or desperate. And I find it even harder to fake enthusiastic optimism. And I don’t know what to do about any of it.

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  • Evan Smith

    Most likely, the type of law you end up practicing will find you. I have gone from law clerk to commercial litigation to product liability and defense to family and criminal law over 18 years – and the circumstances of my life have dictated my practice. I also believe you only get really decent at it after about 10 years – now I feel old.

  • Second Year Associate

    I didn’t have a plan. It wouldn’t have mattered if I did. Like you, I was willing to practice whatever law was in demand enough to land me a job. So, after a law school experience geared almost exclusively toward transactional law with a focus on healthcare, and utterly devoid of any meaningful litigation training or experience, I smiled and said, “Sure! I love litigating!”

    And now, here I sit, two years in, miserable, and constantly on the lookout for a non-legal (or at least non-litigation) job that won’t cut my current pay by more than $15K.

    If time travel ever becomes a thing, I’m going back to 2007 and burning the LSAT application. That’s my plan.

  • Jeff Hupert

    I ‘m 64. Been a lawyer for about 35 years. Last stretch helping run a small, general practice fitm. While I ‘vealways done some kind of commercial litigation , I have had to reinvent myself several times.
    I have five general pearls of wisdom to pass on:
    1) while hard work and brains help a lot, what is most important factor is luck
    2) you will be happier if you can think of it as profession as well as a business
    3) I’m still not sure I want to be a lawyer at at al. May never be. In the meantime I have reasonable levels of power money and self satifaction.. If sometime better comes along, then
    we”ll.see. Getting some pleasure fom what you do is important. Expecting anything to come out perfect is delusion.
    4) patience and keeping focused is important
    5) and in words of my late father -“always have a plan, but never be afraid to change. It.

    • Evan smith

      Those are true pearls. I am 48, been practicing 18 years and have gone from large firm partner to small mid coast Maine family lawyer and cannot find a way to make a decent buck – but part of that is Maine

    • Jihwan

      Older dudes who have been in the practice this long probably remember how women literally couldnt wait to peel off their panties when they found out you were a lawyer (or a law student) and gave you the best Hump and BJs in your office or car if they thought they had a shot at being “the wife of a lawyer”. No longer! Now, the cuter women won’t give you a second look, and the ugly ones need to be wined and dined before they’ll F@@@ck or give you a halfway decent BJ.

      • Jeff Hupert

        Jihwan, I’m afraid some other old fart has been pulling your leg about “the good old days”.

        My memory seems intact for the moment and I suspect that such a paradise is about the last thing I would forget. I was married at the time, but a lot of my law school and lawyer friends were not. And that’s not exactly what i rememeber. While lawyers were certainly more respected in the general community then than now, and it certainly did not hurt to be a law student or lawyer, sex appeal was not tied to profession as much as you think it was. Maybe that’s less true today. Also, when I was in law school, I had never heard of AIDS and only very vaguely of Herpes. I suspect that may have affected a lot of people.

        I really can’t comment directly on the current situation, but the younger lawyers I know seem to do ok. If you have any female buddies, it might be wise to ask for comments and/or constructive criticism of your own approach. My only tip is to offer to go down on them first, and to learn to be really good at doing just that. It may or may not get you cuter girls, but the ones you do get will be more enthusiastic, if not more technically competent as well. And your reputation may spread.

        • Joel

          Guys, never offer to go down on a woman until doing a smell test with your finger. I made that mistake only once but still remember the rank odor wafting out before I even got within a foot of her pussy, but it was too late. I feel like barfing just thinking of that stank, and that was over 10 years ago. The fact that I later got to screw the daylights out of her was no consolation for getting that stink all over my face and tongue. Words to the wise. Make her shower and hose her down with a water jet device BEFORE attacking the crack, or you’ll be eating out some other douche’s Stanky jism.

          • Jeff Hupert

            Joel. You raise a good point, but if this is more than a very rare problem for you, I suspect you have a problem related to “sexual target selection” in general. But hey, different strokes, etc. I would only note that an offer to shower together can lead to fun (although perhaps not practical in the men’s room of a club or the back seat of a car), as well as pre-empting the problem you raise.

            Anyway, I’m an old and stodgy guy, and really not in a position to offer advice on anything remotely current (after 1900 or so) (although some things may not change). So I’m going to butt out of this discussion. Have fun. Good luck. May the Force be with you all (of both -or all- genders). Etc.

  • Not Big on Small Talk

    The last paragraph of your piece appears to contain a sincere, concise response to inquirers.

  • Fly fishing lawyer

    During my first year, a practicing attorney spoke to our class on these situations. I’ve used his advice and find everyone can relate to it. “They say whatever pays your bills can get real interesting.” The reactions it gets sums up the character of the person inquiring. Don’t let the bastards get you down. Good luck.