I recently went back to my first Ex-Lawyers Club post, dated October 11, 2009.
Life has changed a lot since October 11, 2009.
In fact, I must come clean about this: I returned to the law in January of 2011, whereas the rest of the founding members of The Ex-Lawyers Club have remained staunchly Ex.
Does that make me no longer an Ex-Lawyer? Do I have any right to continue to collect the stories of Ex-Lawyers under the banner of The Ex-Lawyers Club? Why am I such a happy lawyer now? Why was I so unhappy with the law then? I’ve been thinking about all of the above for the last year or so.
When I decided to return to the law after several years doing the New York writing/publishing thing, I talked to a lot of attorneys from the firm I’d left in 2008, including some of the partners. They had long been some of my greatest supporters and are just wonderful people all around. When I told them I was thinking about taking up lawyering again, they all said this: “But you were so unhappy, Vivian. Don’t you remember?” I did.
But in the last several years, I had missed the law. At first, I thought it was the way you miss someone you’ve broken up with. Of course, you still think about that person and care about them, but you’re relieved that relationship is over. This feeling of missing the law wasn’t something that ever went away. And I must add (because I’d be making a material omission here if I didn’t) that I missed the steady paycheck. Being a writer is a hand-to-mouth kind of existence, which is no fun!
So, in 2011, I went back. And now, I am a thoroughly happy lawyer with the federal government. I’m as surprised as you are, especially when I look back on that October 2009 post about the genesis of The Ex-Lawyers Club.
So, what gives?
Well, when I started working as a lawyer again in 2011, I returned with an armful of projects that I wasn’t willing to just give up. I had my education nonprofit 4th and 1, which I’d launched with founder and Ex-Lawyer Daron Roberts. I continued on as an editor for SMITH Mag in New York. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to give up writing just because I now had a legal career to foster. Also, as a practical matter, just because I was returning to the law didn’t mean I could flake out on this book project I had committed to at SMITH Mag. I mean, the book was due out with Harper in 2012, and that obligation wasn’t going to go away on account of my little career change.
In 2011, I was determined to hide from my coworkers the fact that I had all these other projects going on. I didn’t want any of them to think I wasn’t fully committed to my legal career. But then, during that first welcome lunch on day one, my coworkers started asking me questions, and I found myself talking nonstop about my education nonprofit, 4th and 1. Once I get started talking about this nonprofit, it’s hard to stop. I just get so excited about it. At the end of that lunch, I felt like I’d totally blown it. I was still coming off like an Ex-Lawyer! I had to come off as a Lawyer-Lawyer, or else they might find me out!
But then, a funny thing happened. A couple days in at my new law job, I was meeting with an attorney, Nikki. She was going to give me an orientation about the legal research tools at my disposal. I went over to her desk and what did I see but a Post-It note stuck to her computer with a quote from SMITH Mag editor-in-chief Larry. I was so astonished that I said, “How do you know Larry?” And Nikki told me she doesn’t, but she’d heard this guy Larry talk on NPR and really liked this thing he’d said, so she wrote it down on a Post-It. Of course, I had to tell her a couple funny anecdotes about Larry right then and there. I was pretty excited that she was into my magazine, even though in the back of my mind I was thinking here I go again about my life outside the law.
As I became friends with more of my fellow attorneys at my new job, I eventually just gave up the (exhausting) ruse that all I think about day in and day out is the law. I even decorated my office with a photo of my students from 4th and 1 and a SMITH Mag sticker. And I’ve discovered, to my surprise, that I actually enjoy my work as a lawyer. Ironically, I work more hours as a federal government attorney than I ever did at the firm. And yeah, that’s without billables! I recently noticed that after a hard day’s work of practicing law, I’m not completely worn out and dead to the world like I used to be. Instead, I often feel the way one does after a good, hard workout. Yep. I’m as surprised as you are!
So what gives? I’ve pondered this for a bit, and here’s what I think happened:
The second time around, I’ve brought all of myself to lawyering, not just the pieces of me that I think exudes who and what a lawyer should be. Instead of striving to be a better lawyer, I’m working each day on becoming a better person. And you know what? No one in my office has questioned my commitment to my caseload.
So, now back to this pressing question: What to do about The Ex-Lawyers Club?
On January 17, 2011 when my story on Corwin Levi posted, I was actually starting my first day at my first legal position since 2008. As I watched the hits to the Levi story come in from my law office, I felt distinctly that I was pulling the wool over my readers’ eyes. Not a good feeling.
So do I have any right to be posting these interviews? Was I misrepresenting myself to the Ex-Lawyer community by continuing to put up these stories? Should the site be shut down?
After about a year of silence and uncertainty about what to do with The Ex-Lawyers Club, I wrote a new Ex-Lawyers Club post about my friend David Wertime, who had left his firm job to start Tea Leaf Nation with a couple of friends. The reason I wrote the story was simple. I was really inspired by what Dave was doing, and I hoped that the Ex-Lawyer community would be, too. I felt that new stories shouldn’t stop getting posted on account of my career change.
So yes, readers, you’ve now got a lawyer at the helm of The Ex-Lawyers Club. Maybe for some of you, this matters a lot. As always, I’m happy to hear your comments. But in my view, at the end of the day, these posts on The Ex-Lawyers Club aren’t about me (with the exclusion of this one!). The stories are about you. I just happen to be the person writing them down.
Lawyer & Founding Member of The Ex-Lawyers Club