Heard back about a potential start date! Which is later than I had expected. (Way to write an ambiguous offer letter, U.S. government!) But that’s actually okay because it means I might actually – gasp – get a vacation between jobs? It looks like there will at least a month between my end date here and start date there – and okay, we’ll have to pack and move two apartments into one during that month – but it would be AWFULLY nice not to be working at the same time! I’m thinking it might just be worth it to pay for a month’s worth of COBRA, and actually relax for a wee bit? Maybe?
Over a variety of things. Usually late at night. Which is really just one of many signs from the universe that I should go to be earlier, but that would be far too sensible.
In any case, my current freakout centers on the job I’m supposed to start in the fall:
- When will I start? I don’t know. The background check appears to be ongoing. (I’ve been interviewed twice by the FBI; they had to come back the second time because they forgot to ask me four questions the first time – yes or no questions, mind you – and the questions must be asked face to face. The interviewers have been incredibly nice but I got the tiniest inkling of how someone could falsely confess under interrogation; I’d get asked about use of illegal drugs, or abuse of prescription drugs, and say, “No,” which is true, because I have lived a very sedate life. And yet there was a little voice in my head saying, I don’t THINK I’ve ever abused prescription drugs. I had that Vicodin when I got my gall bladder out – am I SURE I didn’t do anything I shouldn’t with that?) Also, I would imagine that if my job had vanished with the sequester I would have heard by now, but still, if one is looking to freak out, one can always find reasons…
- Where will we live? I don’t know that, either. LDH and I went to New Job Town for a long weekend, which we spent with a little sightseeing and a lot of just driving around to get a sense of where everything is. (We also drove past the building where I’ll work, repeatedly, which I enjoyed. I may have even said, “That’s where I’m going to work!” every time. Poor LDH.) We stayed at a casino hotel where everyone was incredibly nice, and we ate a bunch of good food. We also found neighborhoods that we liked. However, a lot of the neighborhoods we liked best were all single-family homes, which would be great if we were buying, but we’re not; and of course the ones closest to work/downtown that we liked were more expensive, and the neighborhoods with more modern apartments and more reasonable prices are much further out. So while we’re more informed, the trip didn’t provide any easy answers.
- What will LDH do? Also an unknown. He’s applied for a couple of jobs at the university in town, had an interview, but nothing has come through so far. I don’t know exactly how he’s job searching, in part because we don’t live in the same place right now, and in part because it’s not my place to nag him about what he’s doing and whether he’s applying for stuff. (I wouldn’t be the one doing the job; he has to decide what he is or isn’t willing/interested in doing.) He has said that if he doesn’t get anything, he will be a house-husband – cook, clean, shop, do laundry; I will have to do nothing but go off to work with a packed lunch each day, and come home to workout, watch tv, and knit. I’m sure he would do a lovely job (it’s not like I’m any good at housekeeping or cooking). But the closer we get to this scenario, the more it freaks me out: when I was figuring out possible career paths and whatnot, I never even considered being the sole bread-winner, and my salary isn’t bad but it’s not spectacular. Admittedly, it’s close to what LDH made all through me being in law school, when I wasn’t working, but I did borrow a wee bit more money than what I needed for tuition, to give us a cushion. I think New Job City has a lower COL than where LDH lives, but I don’t know that it’s enough lower to make up for that cushion (especially since moving is always expensive). And apart from the money, LDH has become well-known in relevant professional circles in his current city, and I worry about him moving to a new city with without getting a job, and not having anything work-like to do, and and and and arghhhhhh.
So, there you go. Change is good, but even good change is stressful. One of the government divisions where I interned during law school advertised for an entry-level lawyer just recently, and oh, it would be so nice just to move back to LDH city, work there doing the very straightforward work that job would entail (rather than the fairly unfamiliar and intimidating work of the new job, which is a whole other issue), living in the city that I love with a husband who’s also employed. But then, part of the reason LDH is so willing to move is that he would really like to leave his job, for a whole variety of reasons, and he doesn’t think he’d have a better chance of getting anything in his current city than he would getting something in our new city. (The irony is that since he knows he’s got an end date, I think the situation at work has improved in some ways, because he doesn’t care any more. But that’s a little unfair, as I know he also feels he’s just marking time till we move. Whenever that will be.)
Also, I really hope I like New Job City. I really like where I live now, and I really really love Law School City (LDH’s current city). New Job City felt a bit like where I live now, crossed with elements of California. But it gets really hot there. And sometimes this transplanted New Englander looks round at the mountains and deserts and so on and thinks, How the hell did I end up HERE??
So. Time to go to bed, to experience my regularly-scheduled freakout before I fall asleep.
First, thank you for the congratulations, everyone! I appreciate it!
Second, I had a really interesting comment from Historiann that I wanted to respond to in a little more detail, just to clarify what I meant in my last post. Historiann wrote:
Something you wrote about defense attorneys gave me pause. Specifically, this: "I saw someone write just recently that what they like about being a criminal defense lawyer is that it's very clear – they're not working to serve justice, they're working to serve their client." I would never want to hire an attorney who thinks like this, should I ever find myself in need of a criminal defense lawyer. My understanding from the defense lawyers I know is that they're very clear that they are indeed serving the cause of justice by providing a vigorous defense for their clients against the awesome powers of the state (which you note.) Maybe the attorney you quoted is burned out, or needs a vacation or something. I know it's a bummer having to defend people you believe are probably guilty, but the defense attorneys I know who do well are really committed to the idea that everyone needs and deserves the best defense possible, and that regardless of a client's guilt or innocence, their work serves the cause of justice.
(I run with a district court judge here in Weld Co., CO, and believe me: although she sometimes feels like she can help people and families, at least when on the family docket, I don't think she feels like she's serving the cause of justice so much as ensuring that the rules of the system are fairly and reasonably applied. That's really the best you can do, even as a judge.)
I think I represented the person I cited unfairly, by not expressing their idea clearly. The context was that they were talking about the different reactions they get from opposing counsel, when they take every advantage they can in litigation – and here I don't mean illegal/immoral advantages, just that where there is a strategic advantage, they (the defense attorney) are going to take it. It's not personal – it's just that the job is to serve their client. Apparently some prosecutors react as if it's personal or something.
The person I was citing would completely agree, I think, that providing a defense against the power of the state is serving justice. It's just that they fulfill that role by thinking only about their client and how best to advance the client's interests. And they don't have to really think about anything else.
However, prosecutors are in a different position. They have to think first about whether to bring charges, and what charges to bring. Then they think about what to do at trial actually to prove those charges. (I'm sure these two things are much more intertwined that that suggests – you're going to bring charges that you believe you can prove at trial – but they're still two sort of different processes.) Defense attorneys don't have to weigh the issues in that first step – they just have to respond to the charges.
So in that respect, I didn't mean to say that defense attorneys aren't serving the cause of justice – or that the person I cited remotely meant that they don't serve the cause of justice. It's just that defense attorneys don't have to think very much about what that is in the course of their work – they can focus solely on what will work best for the client. They don't have to ponder what best serves the cause of justice, because they know that is to fight for their client. In that respect, their work is really clear – arguably clearer than what a prosecutor has to do.
So yes, everyone deserves the best defense possible, and providing that serves the cause of justice. And I completely agree with this, as, I'm sure, the person I cited does too; I just didn't represent them especially well. (In part, because I think defense attorneys take that proposition so much for granted that it doesn't need to be expressed, so I elided it.)
That said, as much as defense work serves the cause of justice by ensuring the system works fairly, it requires a certain mindset to be able to put that principle into effect even when you're dealing with a defendant who you're quite sure has done a lot of nasty things. I think that work has to be done, and I have immense respect for people who do it. But I don't think it's for everyone. (The flip side is that prosecution also requires a certain mindset, to be willing to enforce laws even if you don't agree with them – unless, of course, you're in a senior enough position to set policy and determine you're not going to prosecute certain crimes, but your average prosecutor isn't in that position. Similarly, some defense attorneys won't take certain clients, but of course, if you're a PD, you don't have that luxury.)
Also, I agree that the role of judges is to make sure the rules of the system are fairly and reasonably applied, and that often, that's what serving justice entails. But that's still a little different from what prosecutors have to do – prosecutors take very seriously that their job is not to put people away but to ensure justice is done. Obviously part of that is following the rules. But exercising discretion about what charges to bring makes the role of prosecutors different from both defense counsel and judges. (See: "The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done." Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).) The prosecutors I know take that seriously. So that's where my emphasis on thinking about "serving justice" comes from.
(And the final caveat I meant to mention last time: not having occupied any of these roles yet, this is all as I understand it now, and certainly subject to change as I actually start to practice!)
So, anyone who reads here probably also either knows me on Facebook or follows me on Twitter or both, in which case, you know that earlier this week I got a job. (If this is news: hey, I got a job!) It's a permanent gig for after my current clerkship ends (which means that it starts about 9 months from now. Clearly I cannot avoid the academia-like practice of getting jobs months and months before they start), acquired through an elaborate drawn-out process partly described here. (It's Interview #1 job! the one I really really really wanted!) I'm very excited, LDH is excited, all is good.
But the funny thing is that for a long time, I would have said that I would never have taken this job. Partly that's because it's in a part of the country that gets really, really hot, where I said I'd never live. But partly that's because it involves criminal law, and I thought I didn't want to do criminal law. First, it seems like way too many people go to law school because they watched a lot of Law & Order and expect law to be dramatic moments in a courtroom, solving brutal (and yet entertaining) crimes, and I did not want to be that cliche. Second, the stakes in criminal law are REALLY high. I mean, sure, money (at stake in most civil litigation) is pretty important to most people, but in civil litigation no one goes to jail. Third, in case you hadn't noticed, our criminal justice system has a lot of problems. On the one hand, do I really want to help the government exercise its already considerable power to convict people who frequently have been dealt the crappiest of hands and have few legit life options? (see especially the WAR ON DRUGS!!!!) Shouldn't I be one of the people making sure the government can convict only if it can genuinely prove everything beyond a reasonable doubt, keeping the government honest? On the other hand, do I have the stomach to defend someone I know to be guilty? I saw someone write just recently that what they like about being a criminal defense lawyer is that it's very clear – they're not working to serve justice, they're working to serve their client. Can I do that, if I think those things conflict? Obviously that's not always the case. But what about when it is?
(To be clear: I think both prosecutors and defense attorneys perform incredibly important jobs. Without them the adversary system is impossible, etc. etc. They're just not easy jobs, neither of them.)
But you know, the thing is, since graduating and clerking, I've realizing: I find criminal cases way more interesting than civil cases. I mean, yes, the facts are often more dramatic in criminal cases than in civil (although a lot of times they're not: the fact of drug possession is not generally that exciting. The fact of illegal reentry is not generally that exciting. Violence is not, in and of itself, interesting). But it's more that I find criminal procedure really interesting, and the constitutional issues it implicates really interesting. (And civil procedure…not so much.)
So, long story short, I'm pretty sure I've said at some point that I would never work in criminal law. And that I would never live in this part of the world. Yet, here I go. And I'm thrilled. (And also a little terrified. But as LDH said, that's all the more reason to take the job.)
* * * * *
I was actually lucky enough to get some interviews for positions in other areas of law that also interest me, but are totally different from the job I've taken. So there's just that little nagging part of me that thinks, What if you'd really prefer doing X instead?? The thing is, it's kind of like wanting to be a historian and being equally interested in colonial Quebec and modern South Africa – you can't really do both; ultimately, you have to pick something. But I didn't have offers anywhere else – at least, not yet; and wasn't going hear back before this job needed an answer (which was pretty much right away); and this isn't really an opportunity you pass up. It's really just as well, because it prevented me from agonizing over what would be the best choice. (Presuming I would have even been lucky enough to have to choose.) But setting out a new path often entails a little regret about all the other paths you can't take at the same time.
OMGOMGOMG, I really really really REALLY want this job.
I can't really tell how it went. There's nothing I can think of that I wish I had answered differently (thankfully, there were no killer hypos involved). So they got a decent representation of me, and if I don't get the job, it's probably because I'm genuinely not a good fit, or other candidates are just better. However, I was a little out of practice interviewing, and I was nervous because I REALLY want this job. Hence, at least in the first (and most important?) part of the interview, I "um"-ed was wordier than I'd like.
I got some very positive reactions from some people (e.g. one guy called my writing "fantastic" – wish I could have recorded that for future reference!). But I've been doing this too long to read anything into that – nothing means anything until you get an offer. (Thank you, Ask A Manager, particularly posts like this - I mean, I knew this, but it's always helpful to see someone spell it out.) I may be a good candidate – but so are lots and lots and lots of other people.
On the flip side, other interviewers were stone-faced or skeptical in tone – but I can't read much into that, either. The stone-faced ones were stone-faced from the start, but since no one made them interview me, I figure that has to be an approach to interviewing, rather than an assessment. And I think the skeptical/challenging one just wanted to see how I would handle it. (I actualy enjoyed those questions.)
So, I just have to wait and see. But I reeeeeeeeeeaallllly want this job…*
This, for the position I least want, went probably the best. It was one-on-one, but the interviewer was fairly intense, so I was able to maintain a good energy. (I usually interview better before a panel than one-on-one because there's more energy in the room; one of the worst interviews I've done was one-on-one with a woman who'd traveled literally 24 hours to get there, arrived about an hour before the interview, and couldn't ditch because no one else on the committee was able to even get there. The interviewer was perfectly nice but wow, the room was dead.) I was back in interview mode, and at some points it felt more like a conversation than an interview. (The interviewer was clearly listening really carefully and was really good at follow-up questions, which I appreciated. Interviewing is definitely a skill!)
But again, that doesn't guarantee anything. And this is the position I least want – although I think I'd be pretty good at it.**
Really not sure how this one went, in part because I think the position isn't quite as good a fit for me,*** and in part because the interviewers were fairly low-energy and following a canned script. The job goes in a different direction than what I really want to do, and I think that came through. I also got some "how have you handled situation x?" questions that I didn't have a lot of direct experience with (like, a question about handling poor supervisors. Well, I haven't been in a legal job long enough to have to deal with bad supervisors – the jobs end before anything is an issue. And in academia, you don't really HAVE supervisors). So I answered those questions the best I could, but felt like I was spouting cliches a bit.
* * * * *
Anyway. At least they're done, so now I can think about something else (until it's time to worry about hearing back from them, but I have a few weeks on that). It was kind of a whirlwind experience, entailing 12 hours out of 36 on a plane, plus more time on public transport – tiring, but also fun.
You know, though, I worry a little about what my attachment to job applications: they're semi-addicting because they provide an external measure of self-worth. You apply (which is at least a measurable accomplishment – a task completed). Then, if you get an interview, that's another achievement collected. When you interview, everyone is focused on you and nothing but you, and you spend a lot of time talking about yourself (and how amazing you are). Finally, if you get the job, that's another affirmation of your wonderfulness. I worry that collecting job offers is, in some ways, more exciting than actually doing the job I get – and I don't want to tie up my self-worth in getting other people's (employers') approval, rather than in my own assessment of whether I'm growing, learning, and doing a good job. Mind you, clerking – while wonderful – doesn't really give you anywhere to go; you do the same thing over and over again, and the job is by definition short-term. So it's hard not to focus on the next thing rather than what's in front of you. I look forward to having a permanent job, where I can formulate longer-term goals beyond "get another job."****
* Really really really amazingly cool work that's hard to break into. The people all seemed really great and I loved the atmosphere. I know this is secondary, but I loved the building and its immediate location in the city. The city itself has pluses and minuses – a good part of the year, the weather sucks rocks. But when the weather doesn't suck rocks, it's amazing. LDH loves the area. And the cost of living is low – everyone kept pointing out that you could have a decent life there on the salary. Plus, it's a permanent job.
** It's less desirable mostly because in some ways it's very similar to experience I already have (although this is why I think I'd do it well), and because it's temporary, and doesn't lead as directly into a permanent job as the other temporary job. Also, the location is kind of a wildcard.
*** It would be kind of taking a different direction – which could be really really interesting, I might love it – who knows? But I'm a bit hesitant, though it would probably be great experience. It's technically a term position, but it sounds like if they like you, they expect to hire you permanently. The city is amazing in many ways – a great place for legal work, lots and lots and LOTS of things going on. Also closer to my family. But way more expensive and congested, and its own share of crappy weather. And, though this shouldn't matter, the building where I would work was fairly drab.
**** And I just found out I have a phone interview with another place. Wheee!
Because, of course, the most important part of a job interview is what you wear, right?
Although it's kinda tempting to buy a new suit (which is of course actually a terrible idea, because buying suits is traumatic and expensive, and buying a suit only for an interview is a sign to the universe that it should not give me the job; although I'd kind of love a light gray one), I'm thinking my navy suit will do. But the blouse I usually wear under the navy suit is getting a wee bit drab and faded. So, enter the suitors from which I (hopefully) shall select:
And this shirt, the image of which the retailer will not let you copy (and let's ignore the way the model looks stoned out of her gourd, shall we?). According to the description, the background to the green floral one above is navy, and I think the background of the first one (most multi-colored) is closer to navy than the picture looks. So we'll see how these turn out.
(Unless, of course, I decide to wear my black suit. In which case I will need a whole different pool of blouses to choose from, and new black pumps to boot. And don't even get me started on the bag – the only reason I'm not stressing about that right now is because I haven't committed to blue/black suit yet.)
(This is, of course, all a diversion from actually preparing for the interview. I have totally forgotten how to do an interview, especially since my last interviews were with judges, and most judges just want to shoot the breeze and see what you're like. I have no idea what substantive questions I'm likely to get asked or how to answer them. But look, I can pick really cool tops to go with my suit! That'll get me hired, right?)
We have been in trial all week, and it's fascinating. (Yes, you'd think I'd have seen a trial from beginning to end before this, but I haven't. Especially not one where I have access to the behind-the-scenes bits.)
Anyway, I learned a few things about interrogation this week:
- Good cop/bad cop is totally a thing and it totally works.
- It's amazing how quickly an interview room can become this incredibly intimate space, filled with someone's life stories, where people who've never met talk about things you'd never raise with your closest friends.
- If I am ever arrested, even if I'm innocent as a lamb, I am NOT SAYING A DAMN THING TO LAW ENFORCEMENT. Ever. You shouldn't, either. Ask for your lawyer and shut your fool mouth.
- (Not meant as a moral judgment against people who do talk, or a slam on law enforcement. It's just I think it's so easy to want to set the police straight, to explain what things were REALLY like, you can get tripped up. Just be quiet.)
* * * * *
Also, totally un-trial-related: this stuff is, like, the most amazing product. It actually does leave color on my lips at the end of an 8-hour day filled eating messy stuff and drinking (as in liquids generally, not booze). I wish they had more neutral-y kind of colors, but that stain really really works.
* * * * *
And now I need to go to bed. Am so excited to break out the down comforter. It's 62 degrees! My window are open! I can sleep in fresh fresh air!
This is sort of heretical given that one of the prime benefits of academia is supposed to be "having summers off," but I have never been a big fan of summer. It's too hot, the clothes are too skimpy, I hate to sweat, I burn in the sun, and everything is so unstructured. As all academics know, you don't actually get summers "off" – you just get to use that time to try to accomplish all the things you don't have enough time to do during the school year. (Or, you're teaching, which is tough on both prof and students and sort of defeats the point of having summers "off.") Sure, the advent of fall makes clear how much you did/didn't accomplish, which can be depressing – but it's also the beginning of a new semester/school year, which feels fresh and exciting and full of potential, regardless of what did or didn't happen in the previous three months.
For all those reasons, I've always loved fall. It leads you to new things. The weather is GORGEOUS – cool nights, sunny days, blue skies, crisp air. After the summer glare, even the gray days are welcome. And leaves changing color is perhaps my favorite thing in the world. Sure, nothing compares to the fiery reds of New England maples, but golden aspens out west are pretty gorgeous, too. I love boots, I love sweaters, I love jackets, and I love the fun of rediscovering them again after putting them away for the summer. And the return of stews, warm cozy foods, apples and cider and pumpkin flavors, doesn't hurt either.
This year feels different, though. For the first time, this summer felt like the golden bubble of relaxation it's always billed as being – maybe because working 9-5 meant I was never overwhelmed with all this open time and the need to try to fill it productively. Long days and short nights make it feel like you have more free time off work, and everyone slows down just a little.
Now, the signs of fall approaching – shortening days, cooler evenings, brown creeping round the edges of leaves – feel like an ending rather than a beginning. And while usually something has to end for something else to begin, I tend to find endings inherently melacholy, even when positive. (For instance, I was sad after my dissertation defense, because even though I was thrilled to finish grad school, it meant grad school was over!) Leaves changing color look more like decay this year. (Of course, nothing's really changing color yet – it's just been so dry here, stuff is dying.)
It's not hard to figure out why this summer is different: I'm leaving Current City. On Thursday, we pick up a moving truck. That afternoon, a couple of guys I found through the internet will help us load the truck, and Friday bright and early we'll load the cats in their carriers and drive to Next City, where my next gig begins.
And I'm excited for that gig, I really am. If I imagine being able to wake up in the morning here in Current City, and, instead of taking the bus to current gig, drive over to the federal courthouse, I'm hugely excited. (Also slightly terrified, but eh.) It's just that I really love Current City. I never expected to live here – in fact, since moving out here, NLLDH and I periodically turn to each other and say, "How did we end up HERE?" – and I don't have any connections here or, really, reason to come back. It's kind of like a little fairy oasis that appeared in our lives at the right time, which will retreat again as we move on to other things. I could be wrong, of course – and I'd be very happy to come back here and settle here. But I don't have any reason I have to be here, and will be applying for jobs elswhere. NLLDH is also job searching, and he's looking at openings around the country.
(When I say I have no reason to come back – I do know very cool people from law school that I hope to stay in touch with. But I don't feel like I've put down roots here strong enough to pull me back in the future.)
Chances are Next City will not be the place I will settle to spend the rest of my life. And honestly, between the two of us, I don't know if we will ever settle in one place – what we want to do with our careers seems to keep getting in the way. No matter how I try, I can't quite seem to prioritize settling down over trying for certain career paths (and even if I did, NLLDH doesn't).
But I hope – I really hope – that maybe the next place, that will be where we stay. That I can keep this new sense of summer relaxation, but that fall can be favorite season again.
It’s weird because when I read about legal academics (that is, people working in legal academia), I find myself simultaneously envious, and uninterested.
I’m envious in that they’re doing, on one level, what I wanted to do for so long, and what I’d probably still be doing if a few things in my life had gone differently (and the academic job market wasn’t so terrible) – and, honestly, what part of me thinks I should still want to do. It’s hard to get out of the habit of measuring according to the academy’s yardsticks.
But I also have no interest in doing what they’re doing.
I think I will always have some fascination with academia as a profession; I have an awful lot of friends who are still academics, and I spent too much time in higher education (as student and prof) to walk away from it entirely. I also think that on some level I keep hoping I can reconcile my past and present, that I can make some kind of concrete use of all those academic years, that I can draw on the well of knowledge I spent so many years accumulating to water my current professional path (I know, these metaphors are labored). Basically, I want those years to COUNT. And the easiest way for them to count would be to figure out some way back into an academic life – particularly working in legal academia (I see no way, nor do I want, to work my way back to being a practicing medievalist. Whatever lingering regrets I deal with, that ship has sailed).
But you know what? I have almost no academic interest in law what. so. ever.
Yes, when I was a medievalist, I made heavy use of legal sources in my research. But that’s different – I wasn’t interested in the law, I was interested in the culture and society of the day, and legal sources were a convenient means of accessing that culture and society. I may have said this before, but my driving question as a historian, always, was: What would it have been like to live back then? And since class and gender are two of the biggest things shaping what it’s like for me to live right now, those were things I wanted to know about in the past. So the law, to the extent I learned about it, was purely a tool. (In fact, my understanding of medieval law as an overarching subject was fairly pathetic and late-acquired – you can figure out a lot of ways to use legal records without actually knowing very much about the law).
In contrast, when it comes to studying law, my driving question has been different (to the extent I even have one). It’s closer to: What effect does this have on people right now? What does this mean for Party X? And now that I’m out of school – not really in practice, but at least learning more about how the law works in certain corners of the real world – I find that I very much enjoy figuring out how the law applies to a particular given set of facts. Plop appellate briefs in front of me, I am happy to learn about the most obscure things you could imagine to figure out which party ends up in where.
For instance (and this isn’t at all obscure, it’s just the easiest example that comes to mind), I have had to learn quite a bit about prosecutorial misconduct (short explanation: many many many criminal defendants argue on appeal that the prosecutor made all kinds of dreadfully! improper! and prejudicial! arguments in their closing statement, which require reversal. And sometimes prosecutors actually do this. Pro tip: if you are prosecuting a case in the week or so after 9/11, you should not draw analogies between the defendant and Saddam Hussein. Also, in my state, at least, you can’t spend the closing argument talking about how the defendant (or their counsel/witnesses) “lied.” You can probably say they weren’t truthful, you can point out that every other witnesses’ testimony contradicted what the defendant said, but you can’t call them a liar). And I find it quite interesting to figure out whether a particular kind of prosecutorial statement in a given case counts as misconduct sufficient for reversal. (For the record: it almost never does. But you know, it could happen).
But I don’t have any particular desire to research prosecutorial misconduct.
I can still generate research questions when necessary. In theory, me-the-historian thinks it could be quite interesting to look at changing rules re: prosecutorial misconduct over the decades (can you say things now you used not to be able to say, or vice versa? why? this could be especially fascinating around race/gender). Or it might be kind of interesting to compare state law about this and see what regional differences exist (if any). (I have no idea if there are any regional differences or if they would in fact be of any interest at all. I’m just talking out my ass here.) Speaking more legally, I can imagine a law review article analyzing a particular kind of doctrine about prosecutorial misconduct and arguing why that legal doctrine is completely wrong (omg, prosecutors should totally be able to compare their defendants to Saddam Hussein!0!0!011!! free speech prosecutorial discretion yada yada!* or, omg, prosecutors get to say absolutely all kinds of terrible things about defendants and it’s completely unfair!!! here’s what they should do instead!!!).
But I don’t especially want to do any of these things. (Which is good, because I’m not going to build a legal academic career talking about prosecutorial misconduct. It’s just the bad example I came up with off the top of my head.) And, honestly, I am not interested in academic study of almost any legal stuff.
There are, maybe, two exceptions. And if it were my job to come up with academic interests about the law, I’d probably find them. But I’m not interested enough to come home at the end of a day filled with research and writing about the law and spend any time on these subjects, rather than exercising, or knitting, or vegging out in front of the TV.
[This is sort of a long drawn-out post justifying things I don’t need to justify. No one is telling me, You know, you really should write legal scholarship! (Seriously – no one.) I suppose it’s motivated by the kind of academic hangover alluded to above, where you feel guilty that you don’t care about all the things you used to have a professional interest in caring desperately about.]
*Those are terrible arguments for being able to compare your defendant to Saddam Hussein. Just so you know.
So, I am part of some conversations elsewhere online about transitioning from academic to non-academic jobs. (I feel like I cheated, in that I went back to school rather than trying to convince employers directly that the valuable skills I learned during my Ph.D. make me suited to do something other than teach, publish, or go back to school. But it is what it is, and I take part in these conversations nonetheless.) And recently these conversations have reminded me that although the transition out of the ivory tower is hard, once you're actually out, it's kind of amazing how quickly you can forget your former life.
(Disclaimer: This is just my own experience, not offered as anything universal. My own transition wasn't that bad – just expensive – but there are some good reasons for that. Leaving my last tenure-track job was fairly miserable, as not getting your contract renewed after third-year review sucks, frankly. But although leaving that job was both necessary to and a catalyst for leaving academia, I didn't actually change careers until later. Also, since I went back to school, my first introduction to this new career took place under very familiar academic structures and culture. It wasn't like I got dropped into a law firm and had to learn both the substance and the culture of the law at the same time. Finally, I had had my shot at academia – I worked as a full-time professor for nine years, and while I enjoyed it and left more because I couldn't find another academic job than because I flat out decided academia didn't work for me, I could walk away thinking, "Well, been there, done that." Not entirely – I never got tenure – but I knew what I was walking away from from long experience. I think the toughest transition is for people who wanted academic jobs but never got one. Not that deciding academia doesn't work for you and you need to find something else isn't hard, but in a different way. In any case. I digress. The point I was trying to make is that I can't really speak to the experience of all former academics (or aspiring academics), since I recognize my own experience wasn't really that terrible and not necessarily representative of anyone else's.)
So, as I was saying: it's amazing how quickly academia recedes into the background. I mean, in some ways, not – the fact that I'm so much older than most (though not all) entry level lawyers makes it hard to forget that I'm different, that I've done all these other things before going to law school. But then, there are tons of people in law school who did other stuff previously. They, too, have developed all kinds of skills and abilities that stood them in good stead in school and now in their careers; so in that respect, we're not all that different. I just took more time than a lot of them.
But when I was applying to law schools I talked once with a former medievalist who became a lawyer, and she said you really quickly forget about academia, and she was totally, completely right.
(For me, this is generally an excellent thing. I have always been good at making a clean break and walking away from things that didn't work; I'm congenitally averse to regrets. Academia was cool; I had that experience; now I'm doing other stuff. And as I've said before, I don't miss academia. I miss the familiarity, and knowing what the hell I was doing, and not being the low-person-on-the-totem-pole, but I don't miss the actual work.)
And I have changed. It's a cliche that law school makes you think like a lawyer, but it does. NLLDH laughs at me when I see liability everywhere (for instance, we visited his family and bought our niece a donut with a paper sports team logo on it; he and she were wondering if it was edible, and I said, "It has to be edible, because if it wasn't, they'd have to warn buyers it's not edible, or else they'd be liable for any injuries from eating it." This, to me, has become a perfectly normal reaction, but NLLDH thought it was hysterical). I can't read academic work in the humanities anymore – I want it to work the way legal scholarship works, and I get impatient with the long sentences and long chapters and lack of headings. (When I started law school, I disdained headings as the refuge of the lazy – I believed you should be able to signal transitions in the text without needing headings. I have now come to believe headings are so very helpful!) I have a different perspective on higher ed. I don't agree with my academic friends' perspectives as much as I used to (I respect them, but don't always agree with them). Partly, I've gained a new field of expertise that informs the way I look at things, and partly, going back to school reminded me what it's like to be a student, and broke my automatic sympathy with the faculty perspective. (And partly, I just don't care about all of it anymore.)
Perhaps the last part of the academic identity that I let go of was the idea of myself as a writer. Now, I have always considered myself a writer, since I started writing what was really probably fanfiction around 4th grade or so (if you can write fanfiction about Nancy Drew and the like). The cool thing about being an academic was that it meant I legitimately wrote for a living. Sure, a lot of that writing was syllabi and student assignments, but still, there was actual published writing in there.
During law school, I carved out an identity as "good writer." I won a prize for being the top student in my legal writing section. I "wrote on" to law review. During 2L and 3L, I wrote a seminar paper or the equivalent in every semester (in my law school, seminars were small, writing-focused classes, and you had to take one before you graduated; I took two official seminars and two de facto seminars. To give you some perspective, something like 90 students in my class of ~165 took their seminar in their final semester). In one of those classes I received the top grade awarded. (Yes, law school tells you these things, and you care. It's kind of sick.) Of course, that means I didn't get the top grade in three of them, so I'm not claiming I was brilliant, but still. Profs told me my exams were well-written and I got one of my top grades (and probably near-top grade in that class) in an exam where the prof explicitly told us she was going to grade on quality of writing. (And I got one of my lowest grades on an exam for a prof who, I later figured out, did not care at all about quality of writing and valued only high volume of correct info.)
And throughout law school, I always kind of assumed that I would continue to write scholarly stuff. Eventually, once I'd learned enough law to have something to say about it. I knew I wouldn't continue to write medieval history. I loved it when I did it (very occasionally I suffer a pang that I won't work on the next project I'd identified for myself, which was going to be a study of social climbers. I mean, seriously, wouldn't that have been cool?), but I have always said that I wouldn't be an independent scholar, and that if I wasn't a history professor, I wouldn't keep writing history. (Not knocking independent scholars – just what works for me.) But I thought I would continue to write scholarly stuff, and I sort of kept a mental notebook of stuff I'd be interested in writing about.
And you know what? That notebook is largely blank, and sitting, undisturbed and dusty, abandoned on some mental back cupboard.
I find myself almost entirely uninterested in writing any more. There are a lot of reasons for this – right now, at work, I do nothing but research and write, and when I get home at the end of the day I'm just. not. interested; I've actually reclaimed my non-work life and developed hobbies that I love, and I want to spend my spare time on them; and I find myself kind of conflicted about legal scholarship and the purpose it serves. (I could say more about this but won't right now or this post will never end.) The only thing I'm really interested in writing about (at least for now) is unionization of contingent faculty – and I'm not interested enough to spend any of my spare time on it when it's not my job to do so.
Initially, it was hard to give up the idea of being a writer. But I feel less and less conflicted about it as time goes by. I watch NLLDH carve out time to do research and write papers, and be tired all the time. I offer to edit drafts for him, and find myself completely irritated by giving my time to such work (even though I offered. Never claimed consistency).
I may well find myself in a place in the future where writing becomes appealing again. I don't know what kind of writing that would be, but it's possible. Right now, it's more of a relief than a disappointment to let the label "writer" go, slipping into the ether with the rest of my academic identity.