Scattered thoughts on my 10-year Harvard Law School reunion this weekend.
First, some (paraphrased) observations made by classmates.
- “The 30-year reunion alums look relaxed and wealthy.” I like that glimpse into the future.
- “I’m disturbed by the amount of privilege in this room.” True. (Said by someone who has dedicated her career to public service.)
- “Harvard Law has produced a lot of lawyers.” (Said by someone who was not inclined to continue practicing law in a traditional sense.) From what I heard, I got the sense that these are the jobs that people have ten years out, roughly in order from most to least common: law firm partner or senior associate; academic; federal government; corporate in-house; policy / think tank; nonprofit / legal aid; non-law business; plus one solo practitioner and one early judge. Incidentally, at another HLS event several years ago that was focused on companies and nonprofits, the panelists unanimously agreed that if you want any real power or influence, not to mention money, you need to stop actively being a lawyer and move over to the business side.
My own observations:
- I think most people have sacrificed a lot more for their careers than I have. They have moved around for their jobs; I’ve stayed in one place and have rejected all attempts by recruiters to get me to relocate. They have made all sorts of childcare and household arrangements; I’ve adapted my career to accommodate my family. They have endured strenuous schedules with lots of travel and sleepless nights; I bailed out of biglaw after four and a half years and refused to consider opportunities where I would be expected to routinely work nights and weekends. This was a series of conscious decisions on my part. I have a vision for what I want my life to look like and I’ve molded my career around it, rather than going where my career takes me. But lately, I also feel like I want my life to be a bit bigger, and I haven’t yet figured out what that should look like. I don’t regret my choices, but I wonder if my classmates’ choices have led them to more exciting and unexpected places. Or maybe that depends more on chance or risk tolerance or ambition.
- My in-house job is a rare unicorn. I already suspected this, but talking to other in-house lawyers really made me appreciate it. I have a consistent and reasonable schedule and do substantive, interesting, challenging legal work in a company that respects lawyers and the law. I’m always learning and my work is not outsourced to law firms. I have the amount of responsibility that I want right now: I have access to anybody at the company, but I’m not the go-to person that the CEO calls when there is a problem. And I work for a private company so I rarely have to deal with the annoying corporate and securities issues that I spent so much time on in my law firm days. I’m not making partner money or Fortune 100 money but I am content.
- I’ve always had a limited imagination about my career. Law school broadened my horizons, but they’re still pretty narrow. Reunion made me think about more of the options that are out there. I talked to classmates who were doing original research, and writing influential articles, and being consulted on events that I read about in the newspaper, and collaborating with people I would never hope to meet. I find it hard to imagine myself in those positions. Even though these days I have credibility and a pedigree, I continue to struggle with feeling like nobody would want to listen to what I say. Everybody has narratives about themselves that they need to get over, and this is one of my worst.
- I like the people in my 1L section, but never bonded with them the way they bonded with each other. At the time, I thought it was because I was a few years older than most of my classmates and maybe didn’t fit into their social scene. Now I realize that I had a pretty established life outside of law school, while everybody else was dealing with huge transitions in their lives. I was married, owned a home in a nearby suburb where I had already lived for several years, and was involved in my local community. I heard several people this weekend describe law school as an ordeal that they had to lean on their friends to survive. I remember feeling like law school was a vacation from being a grown-up. Also, as I hopped on the bus back and forth between HLS and home this weekend, going from a reunion event to picking up my kid from a playdate, it felt very familiar. While everybody else was hanging out or studying in the library during law school, I was leaving at exactly 4 p.m. to pick up my baby from daycare.
Comment from Steve: “You only took one picture at reunion and it was of your dessert?? Actually, never mind, that makes sense.”
Also, not about reunion, but I remember feeling overwhelmed as a baby lawyer and wondering how I would ever learn enough to be competent. And then I remember thinking, “If I just keep showing up and doing my best for the next 10 years, by the time I’m 40 I’ll be a good lawyer.” And you know what? That was exactly right.