I’m a first generation lawyer. I’m a second generation college graduate on one side of my family, and the first lawyer on both sides. I say this because, by and large, the legal profession is still an elitist profession. Your earning power and therefore worth (to some people) is based on your pedigree. Were you on law review? Did you do a judicial clerkship? How highly ranked is your law school? You practically need a class just to figure out how to get into law school. After all, the law is an old profession which means it was founded by wealthy, land owning white men. I, a black woman with dark skin and natural hair, do not at all fit the traditional mold of what an attorney is.
Becoming a lawyer involves a background check before law school and after graduating to take the bar, astronomical tuition, an ethics exam, an expensive bar prep course, and 2-4 day bar exam. Then you finally get to be a lawyer. Being an attorney is expensive, though. You have to get continuing education credits (sure there are free ones, but it will take you the whole year to get your credits because they’re usually only 1 or 2 hours and you need somewhere between 10 and 20). Then there are the annual state licensing fees. Then there are the bar association dues, which don’t buy you anything but networking with other lawyers except every bar association event has a damn cover charge. Let’s not forget the wardrobe, because you can’t look like a lawyer in a $40 suit from Ross.
My husband, a third generation college graduate and computer engineer, is slightly more advanced in his family legacy but similarly situated in his career. Silicon Valley is new but it came with all the old problems. Fortunately, money does solve some problems. We just disembarked from our home buying journey and it was been interesting to say the least. We could have bought a home that was $25-50k less and 15-20 minutes closer to both our jobs. But it came at the expense of living in a food desert that houses the worst school district in the area. The practical choice was clear but I still felt conflicted about making it.
I say all that to make it clear that while we are doing well, and are set to possibly end up a little better off than our parents, we are not wealthy. I don’t feel so secure in my position that I can afford to try and be the good influence of the neighborhood. I’m not ready to save the hood by living in it. The risk of buying a home that depreciates in value, of my child going to a school where they can’t be challenged because 70% of the students are not performing at grade level, of not being able to put my kids in dance or sports because the closest teams are an hour away–I can’t take that chance.
Theoretically I would love to give back–to do more community service, mentor with the Boys and Girls Club, all that good stuff. But I just don’t feel like I have enough time. Since I work in legal aid (which is half social work, half lawyering) I feel like I do community service 40 hours a week. While it’s more fulfilling than private practice, it’s much more emotionally draining because most of my clients’ problems can’t be solved by legal intervention. My brother is a bit, shall we say, militant in his political views. I”m a comprimers because I’m just honest about the fact that I like the creature comforts of capitalism. I’m not ready to burn it all down and live in a hut just to prove a point. Where is the balance between working for the cause and enjoying your life? I can’t afford to quit my job and be an activist full time. When I’m not at work I want to recharge and enjoy my husband, my friends, and some good books
What is the answer? I have no idea. All I can do is try to navigate the double consciousness of being a self-aware Black person in the [orange-haired President] era with a modicum of grace.