What should I do with my life post law school?
January 5, 2008 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Another chapter in the ongoing saga of "what should notjustfoxybrown do with her law degree since she really, really doesn't want to retake the bar exam but feels societal pressure to do so."

Please forgive the length of this question. Brevity was only my strong point when I was a reporter.

To recap previous chapters:
Graduated law school in Florida in 2004. Took and failed the bar exam...OK...Twice... (Sick the first time, living with a sick man the second time.) Worked in state government and public affairs for awhile before making the mistake of joining the family business here in Phoenix.

I'm ready to move on to something else and am currently on the finalist list for a job in regulatory compliance that will pay well, offer the chance to work for someone who seems like an awfully kind and funny man, learn a new skill and most importantly, have an actual life...or as close to an approximation as I can living in Phoenix. The latter is hard to do when your mom is your boss and can call you at any time.

I originally applied for the compliance job because it is mostly a 9 to 5 and would give me the opportunity to study for the bar after work. I'm told that it also offers a flex schedule and I could come in early and leave early if I so chose.

I would be studying for the bar only because I'm afraid that I'll never reach my full income potential without this license. I don't intend to practice ... but I might want to do something part-time...I'm still figuring that out.

Most of the jobs that I've applied for have been in public affairs/government relations because I seemed to enjoy that work most but I've found it damn near impossible to find such a job here in Phoenix ... and I really dislike D.C. so while that might be a logical choice, it won't work for me. I'd eventually like to live in L.A. and have applied for a couple of jobs there but honestly, I'd like to stay in Phoenix long enough to save money before making the L.A. leap.

I've struggled with the career issues for years (as well as with the curse of the noonday demon) and have always been pretty much saddened by the outcomes I've chosen. I think I'd be a fine attorney though I don't know whether I can muster the discipline and drive it would take to sit for this exam again.

I've had this thing hanging over my head for years now. There are so many other things I'd like to be doing with my life for the next six months (which is how much time my newly hired tutor said I would need to study for the Arizona Bar since I'm coming from out of state). I'd like to start singing again and working on my writing, improve my cooking skills, maybe make some new friends and get serious about looking for a long-term relationship...all things I'd have to put on hold while I studied for this damn test...again.

I earlier alluded to the societal pressure to resit but I think some of it is simply me feeling like a failure because I've not taken the traditional post-law school route. I was a non-traditional student and had a decade-long journalism career before starting my J.D. I've been pretty fortunate with the job market (although haven't had any bites from L.A.) I'd only be taking it to be licensed somewhere since I clearly don't want to stay in Arizona.

So the questions (and believe me there are many...just pick one you think you might be able to answser.):

1. What lucrative career path might I take without retaking this bar exam? It is only important that it be lucrative because I'm a single woman, late 30s, and I don't know how soon that will change (the single thing, not the age thing. That will change in June.)

2. I know there have been several posts about not tying your self-worth to your job ... and I'm trying really hard not to... but what's a good standard line I might give to people who say, "You went to law school? Why aren't you a lawyer?"

3. Will I regret choosing quality of life over slaving away at a firm? I don't think I will but money does indeed buy a certain amount of freedom.

Thanks for listening to the ramblings of a madwoman.
posted by notjustfoxybrown to Work & Money (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Be very wary of taking the AZ bar if there's a good chance you will be moving to CA, unless you only want the psychic satisfaction. Hard to waive into CA.

As to #2, I think it's sufficient to say that you decided you didn't want to practice law. Which sounds true, even if it's partly that you didn't want to practice because you didn't want to go through the headache of getting licensed.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 12:08 PM on January 5, 2008

I don't have a clear answer to #1, but there are plenty out there, as most of my law school buddies left private practice within 5-7 years of graduating from law school. Which leads to question number 2- there are lots of lawyers out there who aren't practicing law. An easy answer is "I found X more interesting than private practice."

As for number 3, the answer is a resounding no, you will not regret choosing quality of life over slaving away at a law firm. Trust me.

If you know that you eventually plan to move to LA, you might consider studying for the California bar exam instead. Two reasons: first, admission to the Arizona bar won't get you anywhere in California, as California doesn't grant reciprocity. (Don't let the pass rates freak you out- the low pass rates for California are highly correlated to the number of unaccredited law schools out here- graduates from ABA-accredited law schools do much better overall on the bar exam.) Second, the content of the California bar exam is mostly Federal common law, only a few subject areas test state-specific law. I'm unsure what Arizona tests on its bar exam but it seems a bit pointless to nail down the various elements of Arizona real property law (for example) if you don't actually intend to practice in Arizona.
posted by ambrosia at 12:14 PM on January 5, 2008

Lucrative career in L.A. for a law school grad? I'd say save some more, move there, study hard to pass the bar (hard but not at all impossible, don't allow previous failures to cripple your confidence) then try to get into entertainment law. Or divorce law. God knows there's demand in LA for that.

I don't think I will but money does indeed buy a certain amount of freedom.

The usual paradox: how many years of slavery before you make enough to buy your own freedom? To put it delicately, you're starting out late, and crazy work hours take a bigger toll on your bodies when you're nearing forty than when you're 25. You sound smart enought to figure that out. Good luck.
posted by matteo at 12:16 PM on January 5, 2008

Response by poster: OK. I appreciate you folks, really I do, but the question was what lucrative careers might I find without resitting for the bar exam. TIA.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:20 PM on January 5, 2008

Get an MLS, and become a law librarian. They are probably the best paid branch of the profession, and lawyers love their librarians.
posted by QIbHom at 12:51 PM on January 5, 2008

I don't have advice on other lucrative careers, but I will suggest that, since bar exams are not your strong point, you should investigate which state's license would allow you to waive into the most other states that you might be interested in living in. Don't want to have to do this a fourth time.
posted by Enroute at 12:56 PM on January 5, 2008

Response by poster: If I did take the bar, it would only be for the psychic satisfaction so I'm not much concerned with waiving in anywhere else.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:02 PM on January 5, 2008

1. Try law journalism--see if you can get a position as an "expert witness" or columnist of sorts for a paper or news outlet. It could be a great part-time thing and you could get syndication or--you know how that kind of thing works if you've been in journalism.

2. If people ask why you're not practicing law, laugh and say "why should I?". Practicing law isn't all that fun that someone should be wondering why you're not doing it! And it's none of their damn business.

3. You will never regret choosing quality of life, if that is what you are indeed choosing. Make sure it's a choice instead of running away from something. Right now it seems like you're running away from the bar exam, poverty, your career issues...I'd suggest some short term counseling to help you figure out what you really want to achieve (even if it's just more free time--that's an achievement too, you know).
posted by sondrialiac at 1:02 PM on January 5, 2008

Best answer: Just skimming down to the bottom of the page because I wanted to suggest law jounalism or some other facet of writing about law, and I see that sondraliac beat me to it. I don't know how lucrative it is or what opportunities exist, but you have a head start. In addition, you can consider not only law journalism as in writing about the courts or what-have-you, but also things like consumer-law issues (the newspaper I read has a columnist who writes on that). Eventually you could write books, be on television, who knows...

The other thing I wanted to suggest is that if you are interested in a government relations or public affairs job, consider moving to Sacramento or Austin. Both are state capitals of large states with huge bureaucracies, and there is a lot of work to be done. Sac would probably give you more of a leap up for you eventual goal of living in LA; Austin would probably be less expensive and (in this Texan's opinion) better on quality of life issues.

It's a lot to consider. Good luck to you!
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2008

I have a friend who didn't pass the bar twice, and went into urban planning and housing. She loves that kind of work, and when people asked her about the law or bar thing, she would just say, "Oh, I never went to law school to be a lawyer!" And she was so convincing, that would end any further inquiry. And in the end it was all true.

The regulatory job you applied for sounds like a great next step if you are interested in getting into government work. I might find a substantive government area I find interesting (housing/land use, energy, whatever), and look for work and projects that will develop an expertise. Bingo, a career. path. Your law school background will be a great asset.

And Sacramento and Austin are great suggestions. If you like either of those places, and have a government resume, you will have a job pretty much always. With pretty great benefits, at least for Sacramento.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:52 PM on January 5, 2008

PS If you ever come out to San Francisco, send me an email and I'll introduce you to my friend I reference above, and connect you with another woman I know who works in Sacramento on substantive work (the second woman didn't go to law school, but basically does lawyer work).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I did take the bar, it would only be for the psychic satisfaction so I'm not much concerned with waiving in anywhere else.

I was a member of a state's bar for several years, not practicing law, and having the law license did not provide me with any satisfaction. Nor does it fend off the inevitable questions about why you are not practicing law. Especially since you are not planning to stay in Arizona, I think you'd be a bit foolish to take the Arizona bar exam simply to assuage your self-doubt, because I think you will find it won't provide the satisfaction you expect.

If you have no intention of practicing law, and it is not a requirement of a job you want, it is a waste of time and money to take a bar exam.

Will I regret choosing quality of life over slaving away at a firm? I don't think I will but money does indeed buy a certain amount of freedom.

Your priorities sound very scrambled, from your question. You want to work on your writing, your cooking, your singing, and you dread practicing law. It sounds to me like law school was the wrong choice for you, and now that you have earned the law degree, you are tormented by your failure to move forward with a law career.

I think you should forgive yourself for going to law school, and find a job that really interests you, whatever that is---and it doesn't sound like law is it. For someone as uncommitted to a law career as you are, and who already struggles with depression, law will not be lucrative. Law is most lucrative for people who (a) are willing to give up any semblance of a normal life and work really long hours, or who (b) have found a very narrow niche that is lucrative and that they enjoy ... but you'll have to spend time in the trenches before you find that niche.
posted by jayder at 3:00 PM on January 5, 2008

Response by poster: I think you should forgive yourself for going to law school

Wow, Jayder. I didn't get this from two months of counseling ...at a much greater expense that posting here. Thank you.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 3:22 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I meant "than" posting here.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 3:23 PM on January 5, 2008

"You went to law school? Why aren't you a lawyer?"

I always use "I decided I'd rather have a life." Most people seem to get that one.
posted by dilettante at 4:00 PM on January 5, 2008

Take the job, screw the bar! Sitting for the bar is a psychic injury, not a psychic satisfaction, even if you pass.
posted by footnote at 4:06 PM on January 5, 2008

I have at least one friend who never even took the bar - he was a lobbyist before law school and he's a lobbyist now. He lights his cigars with jacksons and wipes his backside with hamiltons.

The franklins, I think he spends on women.

Now, if you want a soul or a personal life, this may not be the best career choice. But it can be lucrative, and the law school is useful, and the lack of a bar admission doesn't matter.

(Oh, yeah... you can always run for office.)
posted by mikewas at 5:41 PM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

What I wonder is, if you had passed the bar, would you enjoy being an attorney? You say "I think I'd be a fine attorney" and hold out the possibility of doing it part-time. I could see being frustrated and thinking "why try again anyway?" or "it might've been nice, but it's not worth this much trouble," and if that's what's really going on, I'd consider whether you want to really dig in and prove to yourself that you can. Can you imagine a future world in which you had passed, and see if you like it better than the future world in which you didn't bother trying?

I know two environmental advocates (the closest I can get to "public relations / government relations") who have gone to law school but not passed a bar, and still their legal education helps them get jobs and keeps their salaries up higher than non-JDs. OTOH, of the environmental advocates I know who are the highest paid and highest ranked, one has a Ph.D. and the other practiced law for several years and still goes to court from time to time (though she has a stable of litigators she can call upon to do most of the actual work) (if I understand correctly).

It sounds like you're not excited at all about this compliance job + studying for the bar + saving up money combination. Why not move as soon as possible and get started building the life you really want? It takes a while for your social life to recover from a move, the dating options will be bigger in LA, and being in the place you want to work will help you get jobs.

In a competitive job market (eg, LA), there are so many qualified applicants floating around that a lot of good jobs don't even get advertised. (My job, for one. I'm in SF.) Those few positions that do get advertised draw all the LA job-seekers plus job-seekers from DC and other places all around the country. The organization will be sorting through those 80(?) resumes for six people they want to interview. Plus, public relations / government relations sounds like the kind of business where it matters who you know, where half the qualification is having good relationships with particular people or media outlets.

So, I think if you're serious about getting a good job in LA, you may want to plan that you will need to live there and pay your dues for six months to a year while you meet people and let people get to know you. I don't know your field, but if you were in the enviro field, I'd say this would require a (probably unpaid) daytime internship (3 days/week?) or some serious (after work) volunteerism. You could then think about what you'd combine with the dues-paying. Working at a coffeehouse? (in which case, why spend a lot of time saving up?) or potentially studying for the bar (in which case, yeah, save up enough that you wouldn't have to work more than part-time). I might be way off, though, since I don't know the public relations field. In any case, good luck!
posted by salvia at 12:41 PM on January 6, 2008

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