When I was a college senior, my roommate Beth had the chicken pox. Beth’s mom came to check on her, and she asked us a lot about our future plans. According to Beth’s mom, I said “I don’t know what I’m going to do but I will never be a lawyer.”
And then I was. A few years after college, I (like many others before and after me) went to law school because I didn’t know what else to do. I spent the next 15 years letting my legal career happen to me because I never took the time to think about what I really wanted to do
But I am now. And I’m finding that I’m glad I didn’t follow through on what I told Beth’s mom.
Over a year ago, I quit my corporate job—without another job—and found myself in the middle of a self-imposed, mid-career reboot. I’ve spent time questioning what parts of law I enjoy and whether I even want to be a lawyer.
This introspection has required more work than anticipated and feels uncomfortably self-indulgent. But it has given me a clearer idea of how and where I want to work. I want to find ways to build consensus and avoid fighting just to fight. I want to spark unexpected collaborations and find creative solutions to problems. I want to find ways to think critically and collaboratively about big issues.
Throughout my legal career, I’ve experienced severe episodes of imposter syndrome. Freelancing has freed me from that. Turns out, the imposter was the way I was practicing law, not that I was the imposter.
Last winter, I began working temporarily with my former colleague Sonia on a large case. On my first day of work, two things made me think I might enjoy working at her firm. First, the closet door says “Coat and Ego Check.” Enough said. Second, Sonia started our case strategy meeting by listing our client’s goals before we discussed our next legal steps. No fighting just to fight. I was sold.I have now turned that freelance position into a permanent part-time position, which gives me the flexibility to take other freelance projects and also allows me to focus on a new non-legal project. Working in this flexible way has made me like the law again and appreciate how wrong I was when making my never-a-lawyer proclamation to Beth’s mom.
Freelancing allows attorneys to focus on the parts of law that matter most to them. It creates a flexible working environment, which in turn helps build and retain a diverse legal workforce. And diversity of knowledge, thought, and experience ultimately leads to better legal solutions.
Amy Gernon lives in Northfield, Minnesota with her husband and four children. She is an attorney with the Sapientia Law Group in Minneapolis and a member of the ALT Group network. Amy and a few professor friends have created Brightsmith, an academically-inspired initiative that helps smart people think smarter together. To engage Amy, please contact email@example.com