On the come up.

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Good news! I found a job as a lawyer! I really enjoy the work, my boss is supportive and treats me with respect, and I have a 10-15 minute commute. Plus, now that we have a second income I can finally replace my car, buy tickets to fly out for Jaleesa’s fall wedding, and upgrade my wardrobe. The car thing is pretty urgent- I have just one working window, the A/C is out, the engine idles high, it starts up sluggishly…it could probably be repaired, but the repairs would certainly cost more than its current value. So things are pretty good. My one regret is that I didn’t negotiate better for my salary- I was so dumbstruck when I received the offer that I couldn’t think straight! But this is my first real job, I’m making enough for us to have some significant breathing room in our budget, and if I bring in a case I receive a healthy chunk of the fees. My boss has also said several times in the three weeks I’ve been working that he’s impressed with me, so come this time next year I should have ample ammunition to broach the subject of a raise. 

I know part of my unease comes from the fact that I’ve been worried about money virtually since I knew what it was. A part of me is terrified that I’ll never have an opportunity to make more money, so even the loss of a couple hundred dollars a month extra is going to tragically limit me down the line. Never mind that I’m in a profession with unlimited earning potential, or that my husband is a computer engineer working at a universally recognized company who will almost certainly be making  six figures within a decade. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I suffer from “poverty brain“- I’ve never gone hungry or been out on the street, but I knew growing up that we didn’t have a lot of money for extras. I suppose I suffered from a bit of cognitive dissonance. My parents are educated and cultured. They took us to the zoo, the ballet, gave us music lessons and SAT prep classes. I went to college on scholarship, so I had to scrimp and save money for my spring break trips that left me broke for the rest of the month. And after experiencing long term unemployment and having to uproot my life to live my in-laws, I know that the cost of living is not as cheap as you want it to be.

On the flip side, we don’t currently live an extravagant lifestyle, and I plan to keep it that way. I don’t want to end up like all the Baby Boomers who fell for the lie that the economy could expand ad infinitum and trapped themselves into bloated mortgages, too-big houses, a new car note every decade, and the other trappings of conspicuous consumption, and therefore can’t retire. I’m working on trying to pare down my wardrobe and buy only affordable, but quality pieces (no more Payless or Forever 21!) that I love and will wear regularly. I’m drawing up a new budget this weekend to make sure we don’t fritter away our second income stream on things that won’t appreciate.  But I know I also need to work on being thankful, present and faithful. This isn’t the first or the last opportunity that God has for me and I need to act like it.

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What they don’t teach you in law school

Every day when I wake up, I have to remind myself how blessed I am. Approximately 1/3 of the population has a college degree. There are about 1 million active, licensed attorneys and the US had a population of 316.1 million people as of 2013. I am part of an extremely elite profession that encompasses a mere 0.003% of the population. given that I am female and African-American, my status makes me somewhat exceptional.

So when I wake up and start applying for jobs on Craigslist in my bathrobe, thinking of those things reminds me that I’m not a failure.

I also make myself remember why I got into this line of work: to help people. I get a real sense of accomplishment when I can solve a problem for someone. But it’s not as easy all that. There’s rules of procedure, courtroom etiquette (aka trying not to piss off a nitpicky old judge), research, depositions, brief writing, motion pleading, etc, etc, etc. Most of which you only scratch the surface of in law school. Solo practice is hugely intimidating. Doubly so when you’re a minority and know that everything you do is scrutinized even more. Triply so when you’re new in town and don’t know the lay of the land. I went to a CLE today and everyone was saying you need to basically stalk the courthouse and pick up pro bono work (which ostensibly leads to paying case referrals if you do a good job), or just hand out business cards and pick up a random client. Sounds great in theory. But:

1. Malpractice suits are a real and present danger. Westlaw subscriptions are expensive. I have access to Fastcase through the bar association but it only lets me see Texas cases. Thus, I mostly stick to editing and drafting contracts because the law because the law tends to be easier to find and less variable across jurisdictions.

2. Who’s going to help me learn how to present a hearing, or conduct a trial? The procedural manuals tell you a lot, and so does courtroom observation. But it’s not the same as having someone to walk you through it and fill in the gaps. Clearly the judge isn’t going to do it, so…

3. Where I am supposed to meet my clients? I don’t have office space or money to rent it. I suppose we could conference at the courthouse but that raises issues with breaking privilege and confidentiality since it’s a public space. Same thing with a random coffeehouse.

I could go on….Let’s not even get into all the money I have to spend on gas and parking- I live 30 minutes away from the courthouse and there’s no such thing as free parking in Houston. Working for free costs more than just your time, contrary to what people believe.

I went to a seminar today for new lawyers and the privilege disgusted me at times. Then there was a very awkward session where a retired lawyer went on a rant about the lack of respect for authority- in my opinion, a dig at the national unrest stemming from Ferguson but I could be reading too far into it. When he started talking about professional attorney, he basically stared me (and my fluffy twist-out) down. It was pretty apparent because there were only four other attendees, all sitting to the left of me and more directly in his line of sight. It really rubbed me the wrong way. Why is it that natural hair is only professional when it’s braided or bunned and essentially, tamed? My hair grows out instead of down. What of it? And although you think I just rolled out of bed and achieved this afro, in point of fact I spend a few hours each week maintain it and several minutes every morning coaxing it into its current shape. The microaggressions are real out in these streets.

I don’t really have a point to this post. Except to say that there’s a lot they don’t teach you in law school. And life can be much more unfair than you thought. But there’s always hope. I’m going to make it, one way or another.