Not So Deep Thoughts

Part V: Just Like Starting Over

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law degree

Posted by jkhutchins on May 17, 2010

It is more complicated having a law degree but not the bar than people think.  Yes, getting a law degree is an accomplishment.  It is not the easiest thing to get into law school.  Especially if you want to attend a reasonably respectable one.  And completing school is not minor either.  While some schools like mine make it difficult to actually flunk out, it is still not the easiest experience.  There is a lot of complicated material to process and students are left to flail on their own a lot of the time.  People quit out of sheer frustration.

I was not so pragmatic.

I had started school and I was going to finish it.  I was miserable, but I had already invested a lot in the student loans.  Plus, I had a plan.  I could be a legal librarian.  Emphasis on the librarian.  I would be a librarian with specialized knowledge.  I had already trained to be a librarian but never worked as one.  For a lot of complicated reasons, one of which was my lack of self-confidence.  I had run pipe in the temporary Seattle library and the UW law school library, but not been paid to do reference.  And I really wanted to.

So, I graduate.  I take the bar because I might as well, right?  I had an awful time with bar prep.  I had not taken most of the courses tested on the bar.  I had taken none of the business classes, having been given the idea in my first year that I sucked at Contracts.  I was also awful at Property.  I had no interest in criminal law, and torts wasn’t where I wanted to go.  Torts was a miserable branch of law where bad people did awful things to other people, who were frequently none too sympathetic either.  Now, constitutional law I liked.  But that is a relatively minor part of the bar, and covered under criminal law.  Criminal law was more about procedure, which had consistently put me to sleep.  I still can’t tell you exactly the process of a trial.  I know most of the steps, but I can’t give you dates or exact names.  My subjects in law school were intellectual property, international law, and the first amendment.  All of which are federal law.  They are not covered on the Washington state bar.

Bar prep was utterly miserable.  I was having to learn three years of law, and try to remember law I didn’t learn very well in the first place over the course of six weeks.  My sample essays kept getting more and more discouraging results.  I knew fairly early into the bar prep class I wasn’t going to pass.  My not very strong resolve to really try to study got weaker and weaker.  All the while, I was still with the boyfriend who I was having perpetual problems with.  But I can’t blame him.  My problems were much more fundamental than that.  Bar prep is incredibly hard.  It takes a lot of dedication and focus.  I did not want to be a lawyer and I hated the law.  I wasn’t willing to study 10 hours a day for 2 months, especially since I seemed destined to fail.  I had a bit of a nervous breakdown shortly after bar prep ended, and spent an entire day watching Shear Genius because I couldn’t face what I had to do.

So, unsurprisingly, I failed.  I didn’t find out right away, of course.  I had to wait for months first.  In the meantime, I can’t get any work anywhere because any employers want me to have the bar first.  I skipped the law library association conference because of the bar.  It was in Portland that year.  The AALL conference is where most of the hiring gets done.  It was my best bet, and I didn’t go.  I still applied for academic library jobs, but there wasn’t much to apply for.

So, I failed.  I was shattered, even though I expected it.  I was treated like the invalid I was for several weeks.  My parents kept a watch on me.  I felt like law school had broken me.  Which it kind of had.  It shattered my confidence and made me feel like a fraud.

I was encouraged to get a copy of my results to see if it was worth challenging them.  It wasn’t.  I had thoroughly failed both parts.  I wasn’t even close.  I had passed one or two sections, but that was more than counteracted by the ones I had gotten less than 50% on.  Which was roughly a third.

I was encouraged to take the bar again, even if not right away.  My dad told me he would pay for me to take bar prep again.  As it happened, the bar prep class I took had a guarantee, so I might not have even needed to spend the full 3k again.  But I hated to waste the money on something I couldn’t pass and probably wouldn’t even use.  I didn’t want to practice law.  Really, the only thing I wanted was to have the ability to write nasty letters.  Plus it might help sway a library to hire me.

I accepted that I was probably never going to be an esquire.  Until I was ready to put the effort in to really study for the bar, for at least two months, I would never pass.  And I did not want to isolate myself from my son for that long.  I was not willing to suspend my life long enough to get through the bar.  Especially since I appeared to have no aptitude.

So, here I am.  I have the JD but not the ability to do anything with it.  It’s a painful existence sometimes.  By law, I can not give any legal advice.  If I talk about the law at all, I have to make a disclaimer that I can’t give legal advice.  I can not.  It is very humiliating to have to qualify everything I spent 3 years and over $100,000 learning.  I can not get any legal work.  I can’t be hired as an attorney, which is fair, but I am overqualified to get work as a paralegal or legal secretary.  I’m just a failure.  And I have loans to pay off.  So I can’t take just any job.  I have a mortgage payment to make in student loans every month.  For now, I am getting help with that, but I want to pay it off myself.  I hate living with the asterisk, which is what the last of the bar really is.  I have the degree, but it isn’t really finished.  Yet I am unwilling to make effort to finish, which haunts me too.  I live like this, miserable, but I have the ability not to.

In the meantime, I try for meaningful work where my law degree isn’t such an embarrassment.  One where I made a different choice, not that I was to weak to succeed.

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