It may (or may not) surprise you to learn that whilst a large number of people study law each year, a fairly small proportion of those people actually have careers in law. And an even smaller proportion actually end up as qualified solicitors or barristers, but it’s true. Using just my own experience, I would say only a quarter of my friends from university are still in legal careers. And the reasons for that vary.
Some decided at the end of their degree that actually this wasn’t the career for them; others have become disillusioned by the slow pace of their progression and the difficulties they have had trying to get their professional qualifications; more than one have been so unhappy in firms with toxic work culture that they’ve been prompted, not just to leave that firm, but to find a completely different career.
One of my friends, who is currently working in a legal firm and reevaluating some of his decisions asked me a question recently that made me think. He asked me “If you could start all over, and do it all again, would you still choose law?”
It reminded me of a similar incident I had not too long ago when I was at a job interview and I was asked if I went into law because I wanted to be a ‘champion of justice’. Both times I thought back to the idealistic 18 year old I was, and thought about the choices I made, and what I would tell myself, if I could go back.
And on reflection, the answer to both questions is yes. Yes, I was an idealist, and somewhat naive, and I had high hopes for myself and the things I could achieve, when I embarked on this career path. And I would make the same decision again, even if I knew that it wasn’t going to lead me to the solicitor advocate job with the CPS, working high profile cases and on track to be Director of Public Prosecutions, that I thought I wanted. Even knowing I’d end up where I am, working in local authority (which is seen as the ‘easy option’ by many lawyers) , in an area of law that very few people understand and largely exists ‘under the radar’ of most of the general population.
Now my friend, who knows I have had a difficult few years at work asked me why I would do that to myself all over again. Because there have been setbacks. I have been knocked back for promotions I felt I deserved, had sleepless nights with worry to the point I made myself ill. Even now I can only sleep through a combination of medication, meditation, aromatherapy, cat cuddles and sleep stories. I have come home broken hearted because I couldn’t do my best on a case, having spread myself too thin whilst some of those around me have visibly, and audibly, coasted. I have had friends in big firms tell me I am as busy and stressed as they are, but for half the pay and shrugged, and sighed. I have been stressed, frustrated and angry, I have thought about packing it all in and running a cafe somewhere…
But the truth is, I really like my job. There are absolutely elements of it that I would change, and boy am I working to try to make some of those changes happen, but, on the whole, I really like what I do.
So when the interviewer asked me “If you were an idealist but aren’t anymore, why have you stayed?” I paused for a moment, trying to think of a more thoughtful answer than “I’m a glutton for punishment and scared of change”. And I answered honestly. I told him I like to be challenged. Everyday I am solving a different puzzle where pieces don’t fit together unless you place them in just the right way. My work is like one big Japanese puzzle box. That keeps me interested.
And I cling to the happy stories, to the people who are having a happier, healthier life because of the work that I have helped make happen. I think of the social workers on the edge that I have comforted and supported so they can go out and help dozens of people who really need it.
That’s why I am here, doing what I do. It isn’t glamorous. I don’t live in a big house or drive a flash car. I’m not in the newspapers, I’m not receiving awards. But I help keep vital services sustainable, and some days I get to make a real, tangible difference to someone’s life. What I do, what we as a collective do, has value even if outsiders will never see it.
I don’t know what my friend will decide. I don’t know how I’ll feel a year from now, or 10 years from now. But right now, for the most part, I am comfortable with the decisions I have made.
🎼Non, je ne regrette rien 🎶
In case it isn’t obvious from the fact I still haven’t identified the authority I work for, the views expressed on this blog are my own opinion and not the opinion of that local authority