Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I got a fair enough e-mail from someone in response to the post two below about the law-firm-or-not decision:

"I read your blog once in a while and it seems that in every post you always talk about going for your dreams and not putting them on hold just for immediate financial security. Is it at all possible that you place such a strong emphasis on your dreams of writing because you already have financial security in the form of a book deal? In all honesty, even though you say you went to your firm last year already looking for something better, if you hadn’t gotten a book deal, would you have called your firm back to try to revive the offer; would you have interviewed at other firms; would you at least be working 9-5 as a contract atty doing document review? I just feel like when people say ‘go for your dreams’, its only because their dream happened to work out in a fairly riskless environment [i.e. while in school] and they don’t want to look at the fact that it’s a one and a million shot and sometimes others need to be realistic.

As an aside, would you ever consider addressing how your loved ones reacted when you told them you wouldn’t be a practicing attorney? I know many law students whose families [regardless of whether they are paying for law school or not] would practically disown their kids if they told them that after an Ivy League undergrad & law school degree they were going to pursue something as risky as writing, art, or music [I’m exaggerating about disowning the kids but you get the point I’m sure]."

Here's my response, without really thinking about whether I'm saying too much or this makes a different point than I'm hoping it does, or whether I'm saying something stupid or naive, because I kind of want to get to sleep early. So, I'll delete this in the morning if it's a bad answer, but:

Fair point, and something I think about before I write stuff like that -- and I do feel like I try to put in the appropriate caveats but I'm also reluctant to write about the book deal much just because it feels uncomfortable to -- but, no, I wasn't going back to the firm. I turned down my offer the last day of the summer, when they gave us the offers -- and at that point I had no idea that I would end up with a book deal, or what I was going to do at all -- but I knew the firm wasn't where I wanted to be, and it wasn't the life I wanted to have, and so I turned it down with not much of a plan except to seek out whatever creative opportunities I was going to be able to find. Before the Times piece in December put things in motion with the book deal, my plan really was to go out to Los Angeles and try to get a job answering someone's phones or doing something entry-level, and hope that I could impress the right people and quickly find something worthwhile -- but I had nothing solid, and no interest at all in calling the firm back and trying to revive the offer, I didn't interview anywhere else, and I wasn't looking for contract work. I felt like my best path to financial security may have been the firm -- but that wasn't my only path to financial security at all -- there are jobs out there, I wasn't going to starve, and I was going to be able to find something to pay the bills even if it was tutoring or whatever -- but financial security wasn't tops on my list of considerations. When I went to work for a software company after graduation from college, I was influenced too much by the money -- I assumed that if they wanted to pay me a good salary, they must know what they're doing and I'd find out soon enough, and the money meant it was the right choice. It wasn't a mistake for me to take the job, but it was a badly-made decision, and I wasn't going to make that same choice again -- I really did tell myself I wasn't taking a job that from the first day I'd be looking to leave. I agree with you that the people saying to go after your dreams are a self-selected group of people whose dreams have been achieved or kind of achieved or whatever -- but all I meant to say in the post is that I just think you need to live with your decision. If you can live with turning the one in a million (and I think odds are better than that) into zero, then fine. Frankly, I think part of it is trusting whatever your passions are -- if you really think you have what it takes to be a [whatever], then maybe there is an element of leap-of-faith, and trusting that it'll work out. And if it doesn't? Look, I felt like the law firms weren't going anywhere. If I ended up 18 months, 2 years out of law school, feeling like the writing was never going to happen, then I could always go get a job at a firm -- maybe that's not true, but some firm somewhere would hire me. So what was I really losing? Just the temporary security. Maybe. But to trade that for a chance to find better than a law firm was worth it. I understand people having to make choices for money when they don't want to. The situation of a law student graduating from a top school with law school debt and choices of big lucrative firm job and less lucrative other job is a different situation from a homeless guy on the street or a guy with 3 kids and no college degree. There are lots of reasons to work for a firm, and I totally realize that. But it doesn't mean it's not a choice that actually has alternatives -- alternatives that may or may not make sense in any given situation, but, still, it's a decision.

To answer the second part, I feel fortunate that my family didn't put any pressure on me at all (and don't completely understand parents who do). They don't even really know why I went to law school to begin with -- it was my risk aversion, not theirs, that led me to law school. My mom teaches in the New York City public school system, and my stepdad worked at a wastewater plant and then did computer helpdesk stuff -- they were fine with me trying to be a writer without the law degree, and it was me who decided I wanted to have it just in case. So they were cool with whatever I ended up wanting to do, and just wanted me to figure out something that would satisfy me. I can't imagine there are *really* well-intentioned parents out there who are not satisfied enough with the law degree and need more from their children -- even though I know there are, and, what can I say. Hopefully, if they're good decisions, your parents either understand or they let you screw your life up. It's not like my plan was to go sell crack behind the bowling alley. I think they trusted me enough to realize I could figure out a good plan. Which was and is a nice feeling to have.