There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. –Anais Nin
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a lawyer. Honestly, it wasn’t a profession I had even a remote interest in. I grew up thinking I wanted to be a therapist. I was interested in psychology and helping people, so it seemed like a good fit. During college, I lost my interest in being a therapist and ultimately decided to go to law school to build a career in human rights.
After law school, I got a job at a legal aid organization: a not-for-profit law firm serving low income people with civil (not criminal) legal issues. I started out as a Housing Attorney, representing tenants facing eviction. I then transitioned to being a Reentry Attorney, working with people with criminal records trying to overcome barriers to housing and employment.
While I was a housing attorney, I was in court at minimum three days a week for over two years. Every day, I put out a signup sheet, and any person in court for an eviction could sign up for free legal representation. I would screen anyone who signed up, making sure they were eligible for our services, and then I would find out what issues were going on, look for defenses, and represent them before the judge.
I got yelled at almost daily – mostly by landlords, but sometimes by other attorneys, clients, random people in the courtroom, court officers, or judges. It was pure chaos all the time. I was constantly caught in the middle of bitter disputes that often turned personal and ugly.
Every week I watched dozens of people go before a judge and find out they’d soon be homeless. People think it’s as simple as whether or not you pay rent, but it’s never that simple. There were always other factors going on. There were often legitimate reasons people withheld rent. I saw all kinds of desperate situations. In my mind, there was no right answer ever. The law is not fair, and it doesn’t bend to the way you think things should work out. Family after family got evicted and most likely became homeless.
One day after settling a particularly annoying case, the landlord followed me in her car, screaming out her window at me. Presumably she was angry with the outcome of the eviction, even though the tenant agreed to move out right away. People get very emotionally invested in these cases and take things extremely personally. For whatever reason, she turned all her anger toward me, and her words shot at me like daggers. I’m not even sure if I was all that bothered by what she said. It was more the heat of her anger that broke me.
As she hurled insults at me and called me a “stupid bitch,” I used all my strength to hold myself together and not respond in a way that I’d regret. I finally raised my voice back to her and told her that she needed to stop, and that she was being very inappropriate and offensive. Standing up for myself did not have any positive effect. She may have stopped yelling and driven off, but the sting of her hatred lingered, and I couldn’t shake it.
My depression and anxiety had already gotten pretty out of control at that point in my life. I’d been dealing with mental illness for years, and during my time as a lawyer my symptoms worsened dramatically. After this incident with the angry landlord, I ended up spiraling out of control, and my boyfriend forced me to check myself into the hospital because I was suicidal, and he no longer knew what to do to help.
There were a LOT of things that contributed to my depression, not just my career. I’m sure I’ll get to some of the other issues in other blog posts, but right now I’m going to focus only on why I’ve decided not to be a lawyer. It was incredibly rewarding and wonderful work in many ways, which is why I was completely stunned that it tore my soul apart until nothing was left.
After my stay at the hospital, I regained my footing slightly and hung on at my job for another year and a half. When I realized that I wasn’t getting any better and my depression and anxiety were too big for me to handle on my own, I quit my job and moved from Upstate New York to Southern California to live with my parents and start over. That’s where I’m at now… reevaluating what I’m going to do with my life.
I started seeing a therapist a few months ago, and she helped me understand why being a lawyer was such a bad fit for me. This began when she asked me if I knew my Myers-Briggs Personality Type. Being the psychology nerd that I am, I happened to know that my personality type is INFP. When I told her this, she seemed shocked. According to her, people with the INFP personality type don’t fit well within the legal profession. When she started telling me why, lights started flashing in my brain… No wonder I had been so miserable as an attorney, even though I was doing something meaningful to me.
I guess to explain this, I need to start by breaking things down. According to some psychologists, there are 16 personality types. They can be broken down into four categories: Extroversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. People tend to fall on one end of the spectrum or the other in each of these categories. My personality is Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving. For a full description or to take a test to find out your own personality, you can follow this link.
Basically, I prefer to focus on my own inner world rather than the world around me (introversion). I interpret and add meaning to the information I take in (intuition). When making decisions, I first look at people and special circumstances as opposed to logic and consistency (feeling). In dealing with the outside world, I like to stay open to new information and options rather than get things decided (perceiving). Many of these things are in direct opposition to the traits of an ideal lawyer.
No one cares about your own inner world when it comes to the law. Your focus has to stay on the world around you. Law is an extroverted profession. All that matters is what the law is and how it applies to the situation. While I see things in all shades of grey, the law is very black and white. You can only interpret and add meaning to a small extent. What you really have to look at are the facts in front of you. Individual circumstances don’t get to play much of a role in the law. Things either fit into categories, or they don’t. You can manipulate information to try to fit it in a category where it doesn’t belong, but that’s not going to get you far in front of a judge.
INFP personalities are “true idealists, always looking for the hint of good in even the worst of people and events, searching for ways to make things better… spread too thinly, they’ll run out of energy, and even become dejected and overwhelmed by all the bad in the world that they can’t fix.” Bingo. I chose a profession where I was often forced to see the worst in people and events, and I could rarely make things better. That didn’t change all that much when I switched to being a reentry attorney. My clients were always facing extremely difficult situations, and often there wasn’t much I could do to help. This completely ate away at my soul.
There were a LOT of factors aside from my Myers-Briggs personality that led me to the decision not to be a lawyer, but for some reason learning about this helped me to fully accept that I don’t want to be a lawyer. Working as a lawyer in any capacity is just not going to be good for my mental health. So, even though I spent the last 7 years dedicated to becoming and being a lawyer, I am now trying to find a new path for my life… My life going forward is full of completely blank pages, and that finally doesn’t terrify me.