I didn’t grow up always wanting to be a lawyer. I studied business in undergrad, and after graduating in 1999 during the dot-com bubble, I went into IT consulting and spent my days traveling and programming. I knew I wasn’t meant to program forever, and after a year or so, I decided to leave consulting to explore work in politics and move to Washington, DC., but I was still seriously struggling with what direction my life should take and what I wanted to do for a living. It was a surprisingly unsettling time. I felt seriously adrift. People now call this the quarter-life crisis! I knew a little about what I didn’t want to do but far less about what I wanted to do.
Struggling to Find Direction
One of my best friends had just started law school and encouraged me to consider it during one of our many “what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life” conversations. And so, I decided to go to law school. Ok, it wasn’t quite that quick of a decision, but almost. I questioned the decision and talked about it a lot with my family and friends, but as embarrassing as it is to admit now, I didn’t do any real research or due diligence. In fact, I didn’t even have a real conversation about law school the 2 lawyers in my family. I don’t have a good explanation as to why I didn’t give actually practicing law more real thought or research. My friend was confident that I would enjoy the content of law school classes and from what I read about law school I agreed. That must mean that I would enjoy being a lawyer, right? (Please note my logical fallacy; one conclusion does not follow from the other.)
Off to the Races
So I began looking into law school and before I knew it I was in the middle of law school preparations – i.e. taking the LSAT, writing a personal statement, and deciding where to apply. It really is amazing how quickly you can get sucked into these things. I got invested in the process even before I really knew it was something I wanted. When people ask what you’re doing with your life, it is so much easier to say that you are going to law school than to admit to having no plan or no idea about what you want to be when you grow up. (Putting the cart before the horse.) Then, you get your LSAT results, you’re filling out law school applications, and before you know it you’re headed off for orientation!
My story didn’t go quite that smoothly, but most do. I wanted to attend the University of Texas in Austin (UT) because it’s a great school and a bargain at in-state tuition rates. I knew that I didn’t want to be a partner at a big law firm, and I was concerned about incurring student loans that I would have to pay back on a monthly basis for a long time. (Quality logic, finally.) In what seemed like only weeks into the process I was accepted at George Washington (GW), and I was thrilled to have such a good, albeit expensive ($$$$$), option to consider, but really I was waiting to hear back from UT.
Back to the Drawing Board, Kind Of…
I was disappointed to receive a small envelope from UT in the mail, but at first it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. They invited me to Austin for an interview (which if you don’t already know, is NOT at all common in the law school admissions process), but ultimately after a long wait, I was rejected. My grades and LSAT scores were right in line with the acceptance stats. I still had in-state residency, and I had set my hopes on UT law. Finding out that I didn’t get accepted was a tough blow. It wasn’t so much because I really wanted to be a Longhorn, but because in-state tuition at UT is such a bargain. I had built that level of tuition into my mental cost-benefit analysis of attending law school, and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go to law school at GW’s tuition rates. (Worth serious consideration. Sound logic.)
So I went back to the drawing board about law school and decided that I didn’t want it enough. Early in the throes of this confusion, I paid a small initial deposit to GW to hold my spot in their 2001 law school class. When the time came in to pay the second deposit, I let the deadline come and go without writing a check. I decided not to go to law school and even interviewed for a job back in Dallas.
And, the Wheels Come Off My Decision Making Process
I don’t remember exactly what triggered my panicky regret, but about mid-August I decided that I really regretted not paying that second deposit and letting the opportunity to go to law school pass me by. (Uncertainty about the future brings out the craziness in people.) By this point, future law students around the country had already secured student loans, and they were about to arrive on their new campuses to buy books and gear up for the first week of the first semester of their dreaded 1L year.
I remember wondering if I was already too late, but it wasn’t. So in a last ditch effort, I wrote a letter to UT saying that I would still love to be a student in their fall class if someone didn’t show up. Then on a break from work, I called the Director of Admissions at GW and told him that I regretted my earlier decision not to pay my deposit. If he would consider it, I said that I would love to be added to his deferral list for the next year’s class… Or, if someone didn’t show up and he had an empty spot, I would love to start law school in less than a week! To his credit, he asked me if I was sure. Apparently, I did a good job of assuring him that I was. He told me that he would call me back on Monday if he had a space for me to attend orientation on Wednesday. And, like that, I became a law student at GW and had an identity that I was comfortable with again.
Apparently, my letter to UT wasn’t particularly convincing since I never heard from them. After I made the decision to go to law school, I never looked back and threw myself into being a law student. Breaking the good news to my boss was not fun, and I ended up working part-time for the first month until they found a replacement.
Now With the Benefit of Hindsight
Deciding whether or not I should go to law school was both one of the toughest decisions I’ve made and also one of the easiest. I struggled with it over the course of months and then made my final decision almost on a whim…
As I started looking back at my decision making process, I’ve become very thankful that I’m as happy in my job as I am… I did very little investigation or research to determine whether I would enjoy being a lawyer. I spent a lot of time learning about law school – how to get in, where to go, and how to do well.
But, I never visited a law school before applying. I never stepped foot into a courtroom. I never had an in-depth conversation with a practicing lawyer about what they actually do on a daily basis. In retrospect, I let my insecurity about the lack of direction I felt in my life drive me into law school. At least in law school I would know what was expected of me for the next three years.