In my last post (here), I was talking about working for an attorney named Marc. And how he was a mess of a guy – smart, screwed up, a sometimes good lawyer hanging with some rather questionable characters, only some of whom he defended in court, and with a fondness for the white powder. And how I had a big crush on him. Well, yeah, of course I did. I mean why would I want to have a crush on a normal fellow? Looking back, it’s probably a good thing that he didn’t know about it or feel similarly about me.
Anyway. I worked for him about two years and during that time I was going through a separation leading to a divorce, had a very small child, and decided that if I wasn’t immediately headed to law school I could, at the very least, become a paralegal. I entered the paralegal program at UC Irvine which was quite new and based on the one at UCLA, only it was in south Orange County. In my mind, UCI was a pretty poor relation to UCLA in many ways, but this was also 25 years ago, too. The program was fairly good and I graduated with honors. One of the big results of it was meeting the woman who was to become one of my closest friends to this day.
After I finished the program at UCI and had worked with Marc for two years I knew I had to move on – for one thing, I was tired of doing his research and writing and being paid to type. For another, he paid me a measly bonus at the holidays and the check bounced. That was not good. He wasn’t happy about my plans to leave, but he wasn’t going to stop me, either. Of course neither of us knew it would take nearly five months (and almost 30 job interviews) before I got my next job. Talk about a marathon. When I finally got my next job, I knew it was a good move. Instead of working for a one-person office in Orange County, I was in a big law firm in downtown Los Angeles. And as a paralegal, not as a secretary who was allowed to do some paralegal work on occasion, when it suited the boss.
Over the next 12-13 years, I worked first at this firm and, when it closed it doors, for another nationwide firm. I was lucky to work on high profile litigation matters and with famous (and infamous) lawyers. I even applied for and got admitted to law school. Which had always been the goal, right? I remember driving to Loyola Law School with my application package on the very last day they were taking applications, and then finding out just a few weeks later that I’d been accepted, much faster than I expected.
That summer I flew to New York to visit an old friend and during the trip she asked me why I was going to law school in the fall. After all, my son was about 4 years old and, even though he didn’t live with me full time, it was pretty clear that working more than full time and going to school four nights a week was going to be a grueling schedule and once you added in studying on the weekends, when was I going to see my kid? And certainly that was part of it, but I justified that I’d end up being happier and making a lot more money and that would make it okay. But what my friend was asking me was more profound – WHY was I going to law school? I’d answer that I wanted to make more money and she’d ask again. And I’d answer that I thought I’d be a good lawyer and she’d ask again. After a few days of this socratic dialogue, I was stumped. What was the right answer?
I’m not sure I ever figured out the right answer, because on the flight home, crying, I realized something was very wrong. School was starting in less than 2 weeks. I remember calling a work friend who besides being a paralegal, had also gotten her master’s in psychology. Blubbering, I managed to tell her I couldn’t figure it out, but I could not go to law school in two weeks. And I didn’t know why. Her words are still with me . . . “I think you need to talk to somebody and I have just the person” and proceeded to give me a phone number. I called and started therapy.
Now I wasn’t a complete therapy virgin. I’d gone when I was in high school (my mom wanted me fixed) and had done a bit of marriage counseling (well, really divorce counseling since that was the final result), but I’d never gone for myself, on my own except once or twice with a therapist who seemed afraid of me. This time it was different. I stuck around and ended up sticking for a long time. Although I didn’t know it then, I needed the time.
So I ended up not going to law school – I made the call to the school and gave my regrets and they gave my spot to someone else. Of course that person probably makes like a million dollars a year now. Oh well.
I continued to work as a paralegal, my son moved back in with me a few years later and I stayed with my therapy work. This pattern continued for a long time while I raised my son. Like I said, I needed to do some pretty deep work in therapy and it was harrowing at times. I had to dredge up my childhood trauma and really develop a stronger sense of myself. At work I had my ups and downs – I enjoyed the work, but it never felt like it challenged me enough, or maybe it challenged parts of me too much. The parts like being tremendously organized which I resisted a lot. I was always going back and forth on that one – and if a paralegal is anything, they had better be organized. So most of the time, I did a great job and some of the time I did a lousy job. And I had issues with authority and working with lawyers who were dismissive or patronizing of me. But the part I really liked was that it didn’t touch me emotionally – it was just intellectual and organizational work. That worked for a long time until it just didn’t anymore.
But what would I do? A few years after I’d gotten into law school, I had contacted the law school again but found out I’d have to re-take all the entrance exams and get higher scores to get in. Frankly, that was okay since I never really wanted to be a lawyer. I had no other marketable skills and I’ve always been pretty realistic about my own abilities. Of course every so often I’d complain about my work and just as often my therapist would listen and once in a great while she’d suggest I consider other careers. What she suggested and what I eventually became will be the subject of the next part of this story.