When one makes the decision to quit law, where does she turn for support and advice? What about JD’s who are having trouble finding legal work in an endless sea of newly-minted attorneys? Where do they turn? The question of where to find a support system for such a unique problem is one I still struggle with on a daily basis, even though it has been over a year since I left my law career.
Last year after I quit my job, I did not tell my dad right away. He was going through a health crisis and I didn’t want to upset him. About a week after I put in my notice, the time came for him to have surgery and I went to visit him in the hospital. He asked me how my job was going and I told him I had given notice because I found something better. I hinted that it wasn’t entirely legal related, but that I was happy about my decision and excited about new possibilities. Rather than asking for more details on my new job, he just got this disappointed look on his face and said, “well at least you have your degree.” And that was that. I could tell he felt let down that he could no longer pass my business card along to his friends and brag about his daughter, the attorney. I had never felt more guilty. And then I felt angry that he had the power to make me feel that way.
In the hospital waiting room, my step-brother told me that my husband had mentioned my new job. Was I still an attorney, he asked with a furrowed brow. Well, if he meant was I still barred and licensed to practice law if I wanted, then yes. I don’t think that’s the answer he was looking for.
To put a little perspective on things, I have to tell you that I do not come from a family of overachievers. No one in my immediate family ever attended college, much less any kind of graduate program. I was the one assigned to legitimize everyone by finishing law school and becoming a professional.
My family and I have had our differences. After high school, I was completely estranged from them for about five years. During that time, I moved in with some friends, worked my way through night school at the local community college, and was accepted into a university, which was paid for with grants and loans. By the time I reunited with my family, I was applying to law schools, which thrilled my father to no end. Still, I never felt that close with him or my sisters. It just felt strange to be around them after such a long separation. It is true that you can’t go home again.
Since the two brief conversations I had with my dad and step-brother in the hospital last year, I have not spoken with anyone about my career. My husband and I have since moved across the country and started a new life, so it has been quite simple to not talk about the end of my legal career. My family assumes I am studying for the Bar and will begin practicing once I am admitted. I know I need to have the conversation with them to let them know on no uncertain terms that I am no longer going to practice law professionally. I just haven’t had the courage to initiate the conversation yet since the last time I tried, I felt rejected, guilty, and ashamed.
I know there are many JD’s out there who have been assigned the same role I was, to make the family proud. How have you found support while trying to find legal employment in such a bleak market? Are there any attorneys out there who have chosen not to practice whose families have been supportive? I would love to hear from you, since Thanksgiving is just around the corner…