That Time I Gave the Bird to the Traditional Legal Model

I never wanted to be a lawyer.

I never wanted to be one because I didn’t look or act like the lawyers I saw. I don’t like to wear suits. I don’t believe acting aggressively towards someone is a strategy. I’m not willing to sabotage the next guy to get ahead. I’m not theatrical or combative. I don’t want to work 90 hours a week. I don’t want to know the rules so I can do just enough not to break them.

Frankly, I’m not an asshole. And for better or worse (and understandably), lawyers are seen as assholes.

Several years ago when I was working as in the tech space, I sat in an empty office one night after everyone left and felt a heavy weight. I didn’t want to be a project manager anymore, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. The only job description I’d ever identified with was ‘helping people’, but that doesn’t exactly come up on jobs.com. Having worked in a tech company, I turned to the place I always did to find answers: Google.

I can’t remember exactly what I searched, but it was something like “what career is right for me?” and I eventually landed on an assessment survey. After selecting between several pairs of characteristics, it would recommend the best jobs for me. Sure, I thought, couldn’t hurt.

Of all the small, in-the-moment decisions I have ever made in my life, clicking “Start” on that career assessment changed my life more than any other.

My results said I should be either a social worker or a lawyer. In essence, both professions were in the business of helping people by solving problems. Because I had always wanted to own my own business, being a lawyer seemed the better fit of the two. Plus, as much as social worker are saints, I couldn’t bear the thought of working for $35,000 a year for the rest of my life.

So, I put aside my notions about lawyers and researched law schools. I took the LSAT. Applied to the school that had a part-time program. Got accepted. Went to class at night after working all day. Grinded away for four, long years. Moved to a new state. Took the bar and passed. And six years after taking a career assessment on a whim, I became a lawyer.

I still didn’t look or act like most lawyers I know. Throughout law school and even in the professional community, it was hard not buying into the idea that I had to change to be successful. Successful lawyers went to big firms and wore suits and worked an insane amount of hours. They were sharks, happy to eat the next person alive. Not only did I not fit that mold, I didn’t like the folks who did.

Whether it was confidence, rebellion, or just naivety, I pushed back against that mold. There had to be another way. Not all lawyers were like this, right? I could define what success meant to me, even if it looked nothing like my colleagues.

So I did. I opened my own practice right out of law school. I charged fees I could actually afford. I never wear a suit unless I’m going to court. I’m nice to people and work collaboratively to solve problems. I work four days a week. I spend time with my family. I run in the middle of the day if I want to. Do I make as much in salary as the folks downtown in the fancy offices? Probably not. But am I successful? Absolutely.

If I do nothing else, I hope others will see my journey and realize that they have a choice. Lawyers don’t have to look or act the same. They don’t have to take the same path. We need diversity. We need folks who think outside the box and who challenge the status quo. We need you to be who you are because that’s the best lawyer.

There isn’t just one way to be a lawyer. It’s time to break the mold.