The Supreme Court’s gay marriage hearings this week have me on the edge of my seat. It’s thrilling to hear that five justices might vote to overturn DOMA, and depressing to think that the Proposition 8 issue may be put on hold. I’m following Adam Liptak’s coverage and wishing fervently that I could see the action myself. Last week, I was engrossed by the Steubenville verdicts. I love the justice system, even when it doesn’t deserve the name. I’m a total justice geek. And I’m still so glad that I left my law practice.
One of the most common reasons people go to law school in the first place is because they want to do good in the world. It’s often not the only reason, but it ranks high on the list – especially, I’ve found, for people who started law school more than ten years ago. That love of justice can lead to serious disappointment in their career choice and, sometimes, depression. Lawyers can end up feeling far removed from the idea of justice, let alone its actual pursuit. Several of the ex-lawyers profiled in Life After Law told me what a shock it was to do well in school, get the cream of the job offer crop, and then find themselves stuck in an office all day trying to make a little more money for massive corporations and their shareholders. It felt like their success was measured by achieving profit, not justice. Some worked for failing investment banks, and knew that taxpayers would foot the massive bill for their arrogant clients. The problem was most acute in Big Law, but not exclusive to it.
If you’re thinking that this disappointment is rooted in a naive view of the legal profession, you’re partly right. I routinely advise people who are thinking about law school, or any new venture, to spend a lot of time exploring the daily realities of the job they think they want.
For people who are already in the trenches, however, the disconnect between justice and their own law practice can lead them to question their careers. After all, if well trained, well-compensated lawyers can’t effect justice, who can? Is it just the relatively few public interest law firms and legal service organizations? Their work is admirable, but they can only accommodate a tiny fraction of the lawyers who want to work there. They can’t pay Big Law salaries, so Big Loans might compel you to look elsewhere. What’s a justice-loving, law-practice-disliking person to do for work?
I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from you. How do you integrate your love of justice in your post-law life? If you’re not there yet, what are your plans?