I wish I could say I didn't know what I was getting into. I did sign up for law school in all ignorance, doing so like many undergraduates, because I wanted debates and an intellectual challenge. In my senior year at the University of Michigan, I thought the legal system worked like a great game to be won. I loved thinking on my feet and didn't mind doing some paperwork when I had to. I was like a kid who becomes a cop because he's seen a few episodes of Castle, or a trumpet player who enlists in the Army because he heard it has a band. I was aggressively ignorant of what I was getting into.
By midway through law school, I knew better. It didn't take long to learn that the practice is neither creative nor often interesting, and it certainly bears no relationship whatsoever to a complicated game. It's signing up to do homework 24/7. For people at small firms or in government service the job may change, but I had $120,000 in student loans to pay. When Biglaw made me an offer, I didn't see many options.
Three years later I decided to get out.
Leaving terrified me, but not for the usual reasons. I never worried that my fiancée and I would starve or need to steal nickels from vending machines to make rent. I felt like I had most of the practical side of things planned out, almost obsessively so in fact. I'd saved my money, found health insurance, made arrangements for my student loans and so on. All of the details that I could think to list I did, then listed them over and over again. The moving pieces were, as far as I could manage, taken care of.
I was scared of the stuff I couldn't put on a list. What would I do if I wasn't a lawyer? What would I be? I hadn't done anything else in so long that I had no idea what was even out there. Seven years in law school and practice, the better part of a decade, had prepared me for one thing and one thing only: to be an attorney at an American firm.