It’s been so long, I hardly know where to start. Where do I start? And how did I get from there to here?
Let’s start simply. I graduated from law school in 2011. Passed the bar exam on my second try, in 2012. I was awarded a graduate fellowship, which enabled me to work with one of my favorite professors, and which remains one of the high points of post-law-school life. I temped for a while, working for a solo practitioner in San Jose and a doc review firm in San Francisco. I sent out resumes, a dozen at a time. 2012 was a bad year to be a new lawyer. The profession had not yet recovered from the melting down of the economy in 2008. It will likely never recover to its pre-recession state.
While I continued job-hunting, a friend contacted me, asked if I was working, and told me he might be able to refer a potential client to me for work. I figured that it would be wrong for me to turn work away when I was so hungry for work and experience, so I agreed to meet with the potential client. They wanted to hire me, I wanted to represent them. I had a client, and they had a lot of work for me. Soon I had another client, and another, and another. For the most part, they couldn’t afford to pay me very much, but I signed them anyway. I was new, and hungry to work, and hungry to advocate for people who needed help. I took breach-of-contract cases. I took a civil rights case. I agreed to negotiate a contract between two partners winding down a business. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I managed to eke out enough to keep the bills paid. By the beginning of 2013, I had enough of a regular income to lease a tiny office space.
I am aware that I’m leaving out a lot of detail. I used to be the queen of detail and elegant turns of phrase. I am not that writer anymore. Maybe with time and practice, I will be. Or maybe I’m too worn down. Or too old. I no longer have the optimism of youth on my side.
At the beginning of 2014, my biggest client fired me. I had been representing them in two lawsuits and doing some transactional work for them. Suddenly more than 80% of my billables were gone. I never made up the difference in income. I still haven’t.
By May 2014, I was out of money. I borrowed a significant amount of money from a friend to keep afloat for two months. By the end of those two months, I still hadn’t recouped the business. I have only now just started to pay this friend back, in dollar amounts so small that it’s embarrassing.
It has been a year, and I’m still scrambling, still robbing Peter to pay Paul, still thanking the Fates that I am married to Lloyd, and that he has been able—after making some serious economies—to cover my share of the rent on our apartment. I hate putting him in this position. This was not supposed to happen.
There is so much more to talk about, dear friends: how a friend hired me to do some work for her in a field in which I’d had no experience, but she believed in me and she trusted me and she was willing to let me learn on the job. How I found that I loved the area of law in which my friend needed my help. How I spent half my working hours in the county law library, teaching myself substantive and procedural law. How my stepfather agreed to be my business consultant, showing me how to put together business plans and profit/loss sheets and marketing materials. How, if we’d had at least a year, our work would have paid off. How I ran out of steam—and credit—in April. How I became exhausted with trying to teach myself everything: substantive law, procedural law, business management, marketing, accounting. How isolated I had become. How terrible the effects of isolation are on me.
I’m back to sending out a few dozen resumes every week. And with each passing week, I worry, not just about how I’m going to keep my creditors happy for another month, but also about whether I’m even employable. I am a “young” lawyer, but I am not young. I am likely not the oldest noob in Silicon Valley, but I’ll be damned if that’s not how I feel.
I’ve also started baking again, after a two-year flirtation with Paleo eating, which is a long story in and of itself. I had forgotten how good it feels to be good at something. I may be an unemployable lawyer, I might have taken a catastrophically expensive risk that will never pay off, but I can still bake, and I am still good at it.
To be continued, of course.