June's Jurisdiction: Law After 30
I am in my mid-thirties and have a daughter in pre-school. I am constantly being told by others that I would make a really good lawyer, that I am highly analytical and have exceptional communication skills. In light of my age and the fact that I might have more children, I am reluctant to go to law school now. At the same time, I am frustrated by the lack of respect I now receive from others for not living up to my educational and career potential. If you had to do it all over again, would you have gone to law school, or would you have put family and children first? I am having a difficult time believing that one can "have it all."
Homemaker and Volunteer
Thanks for your email and your question. First, some observations:
"Others" say you would make a good lawyer and criticize you for not fulfilling your potential. Wow. Are you prepared to subordinate three years of your life, just to short-circuit those "others"? A law degree is not a substitute for self-respect. Are there any reasons why you personally want to become a lawyer? Being intelligent, analytical and organized could provide the foundation for any number of life pursuits. Why law?
So you will be in your late thirties when you finish law school- what difference does that make? Whether or not you go to law school, you will hopefully turn 39 some day. Will you then kick yourself for not having gone to law school? Will you then say, but I will be 42 if I go to law school now?
What is wrong with being pregnant while you are in law school? Law school is three years of highly structured, predictable time. You don't have to travel, you don't have to run around or engage in heavy lifting. Pregnancy is a natural biological state. If you are lucky and can time it right, the baby can even be born after exams. And the worst case scenario is that you take a leave from law school and get the degree one semester or one year later.
If becoming a lawyer is the goal, in and of itself, it can be a dangerous mistake. A law degree is a means to an end. What you do with the law degree is what matters. Think of law school as a trade school and the practice of law as a trade. From your discussion, you seem to think of a law degree more as the goal. If you don't have a goal beyond the degree, being able to say you are a lawyer is fairly meaningless (unless you go to a lot of cocktail parties and need to make conversation).
In rereading your email I am struck by an omission-- Economic Necessity. I haven't heard you say that you need to make a significant financial contribution to your family. If this is the case, it is hard to make any commitment as time-consuming as law school given the opportunity cost involved.
Now, to address your question: The dichotomy between going to law school versus putting children and family first doesn't ring true with me. I hope that I have always put my children and family first. While I no longer practice law, I commute to Manhattan 5 days a week and take my work fairly seriously. I stopped practicing law because I valued autonomy and wanted to experience a more personal and genuine connection with my clients, not because I wanted to stop working.
June Eichbaum is a partner at Heidrich & Struggles, New York. Ms. Eichbaum earned her B.A. in 1972 from the University of Pennsylvania, J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and LL.M. from New York University Law School.