Cautionary Tale

Yesterday I was riding one of the Hatcher elevators with an undergrad who was helping a co-worker cart some ficuses somewhere (aren’t ficuses always either standing in a corner of an office or being carted somewhere?). The co-worker asked him what he was planning on doing after graduation. “Oh, I don’t know, go to law school, I guess,” he said. “I thought about going to grad school, but I’m not that interested in history. So I don’t know what else to do other than law school.”

I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and say, “Don’t do it!” But each of us has to walk his or her own path. I was making the same misguided decision at almost exactly his age. I’m not saying law school is a bad thing, if it’s what you know you want to pursue. But how many of us know anything like that at that age?

I sure didn’t. I got into a law school senior year, not my top choice but by no means a poor school (American University). I had flown out to Washington DC and had almost put a deposit down on a nice apartment in a beautiful brick building in Friendship Heights. And it turned out I hadn’t finished all of my undergrad credits on time. (Long story.) But the crushing doom of not being able to go to law school that September was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. It forced me to spend a long, hot, crappy LA summer looking at myself in the mirror and figuring out what I really wanted out of life (not that I figured it out, but at least I was compelled to think about it). It gave me the chance to come out to one of my best friends from college, and although we’re no longer friends, it was a major step on the road to self-acceptance. And it saved me tens of thousands of dollars and three years of almost certain misery and failure. Because I might have gotten a JD, I might have even been hired at a law firm, but I would not have become a successful lawyer. Not because I couldn’t hack it (although at the time I probably would have had a very hard time hacking it), but because my heart was not in the law. If your heart isn’t in it, it’s hard to succeed in a career as demanding as the law.