Why I Left a Good Job for Law School

BY PIA OWENS

My parents are engineers. My brother is a doctor. Most of my friends are doctors, along with several engineers and a few rebels who went off to grad school to be research scientists.

I wanted to be a garbageman for a while: I liked the trucks. Then I wanted to be a teacher or a writer. By the time college rolled around, I had decided I would become a linguist. I loved words, and etymologies, and phonology and morphology, and reading, writing, and research in general. It sounded like the perfect career.

Maybe it was the disastrous linguistics seminar I took freshman year, or maybe it was my parents’ repeated warnings about the cardboard box I’d be living in after graduating with a useless degree. Somehow, I became convinced that using words for a living couldn’t be a real job. I turned to what I knew and became a software engineer.

I worked at companies large and small, on everything from web-based history classes for kids to parallel-processing database servers. The one common thread between all of my jobs was my lack of ambition. It’s not that I was a slacker; I did good work. But eventually, someone would decide it was time for my career to develop. I’d be matched up with a mentor, or my manager would take an interest. I would have to face the dreaded question: where did I want to be in five years? I racked my brain trying to come up with a career path that sounded good to me. I wasn’t that crazy about writing software. The actual problem-solving part was kind of fun, but the rest involved mucking around with computers, and if I were being honest with myself, I didn’t particularly care about computers. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be after another five years in the software industry, but I knew I didn’t want to be where I was, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I should consider other fields. It took me a few more years to come up with the idea of law school. (True to form, my engineer mother disapproved; this time she didn’t threaten me with cardboard boxes, but the words “crook” and “parasite” were bandied about. After hearing the magic word “Harvard,” however, she decided that law was a respectable calling after all.)

So I applied, got in, and spent my last few months of work counting the days until I could quit and start school. I thought I would feel liberated when I walked away from the office on my last day. I did, in a way, but I couldn’t help thinking about what I was walking away from: stability, certainty, a good salary and benefits, smart and talented coworkers, intellectually challenging work. I knew it was a luxury to be able to leave my job just because I wasn’t interested in it. As jobs go, it was a damn good one. Was it worth trading in for three years of debt and hard work, followed by a career that’s notorious for insane hours and high rates of alcoholism? Was I naive to think I could find career satisfaction at all?I don’t know the answers yet; but, judging from my first week, I’m glad I took the risk of going back to school. I spent six years being bored. A few months ago, my eyes would glaze over after ten minutes of discussion about network protocols. Now, I can happily spend hours arguing about William E. Story 2nd and how he forsook his life of sin for five thousand dollars. I’m not sure how I’ll feel in a few months, when I’m swamped with reading and stressing about exams; or in two years, when I’m a jaded 3L; or in five years, when I’m… something. But, for the first time in my life, I’m excited about what that something could be. And if this law thing doesn’t work out, there’s always the cardboard box.

Pia Owens, 1L, is from Watertown, MA.

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