Recently I was in a meeting with several executives discussing FMLA. During the discussion, I informed those in the meeting about a fairly recent court case that was similar to what we were discussing. The response I received was, “You’re not a lawyer”.
This is true, I am not a lawyer, though my mother, rest her beautiful soul, had always wanted me to be a lawyer. She would tell me that my determination, my ability to build bridges, my lack of fear to open my mouth (aka my big mouth) and my internal need to maintain judicial balance would make me a perfect candidate for the job. She even said that she’d take a second mortgage on the house to send me to law school if need be.
I never disagreed with her, in fact I wholeheartedly thought it was my destiny. Unfortunately, it was always my fear of taking tests (LSAT and the Bar Exam, for example) that stopped me.
But my interest in the law never waned. Over the years, I have voraciously consumed everything I possibly can about employment law, particularly employment law in California because it is so complex and often diametrically opposed not only to federal law, but to itself. I have read books, blogs and court cases. I am learning to speak legalese. I am passionate about learning more every day and am trying to reach the point where I can consider myself an SME (subject matter expert).
I hope that this blog is proof of not only my passion, but also of my knowledge.
Yet that one simple sentence uttered in that one specific meeting made me feel as if all I’ve worked towards didn’t count – as if I didn’t count.
I realize I am not an attorney nor have I ever claimed to be one to my employer, to my audience or to my friends. I know when I have to contact an attorney for advice, which I will always do when necessary, particularly since I find that I learn something new whenever I do.
That being said, I don’t feel that one has to be a lawyer to know the law. And a big part of my job in HR requires that I advise and assist my employer in mitigating risk with the best of my knowledge and skills no matter what management ultimately decides to do. And that’s what I have to accept here even if I feel a bit disrespected about how quickly my opinion was discounted due to my lack of a J.D.
I do have to say, however, that this incident woke up the ghost and I’m thinking about law school again. Whether it’s the loving spirit of my mother encouraging me or a bit of “nya nya” to the situation above, I don’t know (though I prefer to think it’s the former). But I do know that it’s something I need to explore.
In fact, even before the above referenced incident, I had a brief discussion with my friend, Jason Schultz, whom I consider to be a wonderful attorney and a source of excellent information. I’m hoping and planning to speak with him further about pursuing law school despite the fact that I turned 40 recently and who the hell wants to hire a brand new attorney over the age of 40 (yes, I know the ADEA is on my side there, but still…).
I know it sounds silly, but it’s just something I have to do. I may even get over my fear of exams in order to do this.
I’d really love to hear your opinions about my going to law school, if you don’t mind.
10 Replies to “You’re Not A Lawyer”
One of the reasons I went back to get my degree was specifically so that I could go back to grad school for something like law (I actually think I’ll go with a teaching certificate first, but at least I have the option now).
My aunt went back to school and got her law degree around the age of forty — after raising five kids and divorcing her husband. She’s been practicing law for over twenty years now, and after moving from Alaska to Hawaii had to re-take bar in a state with one of the toughest exams decades after she’d completed law school.
So I say go for it. No time like the present!
I am not one to say that lawyers suck. Bad lawyers suck. A good lawyer can make change happen. I say go for it. You are the kind of lawyer I want to see out there. You said it yourself: you aren’t afraid of speaking the truth. Now just put some muscle behind it and go where it matters.
“I donâ€™t feel that one has to be a lawyer to know the law.”
SO true. I too have had the law school jones for many many years. I think about it many times each week. I actually got talked out of it by a friend who said, “Yeah, but do you want to wake up every morning and find you’re still a lawyer?” And he wasn’t kidding. The thing is, I don’t know if I want to be an attorney, but I’d really like to know the subject matter and be something else.
Tests are no big deal…they’re just a moment in your life. I say go for it.
Apples and oranges (I think) â€“ the convo with the execs was only timely because the possibility of a law degree was already floating around in your head.
Those execs didnâ€™t want to talk about that insight you provided and used their size 13 egos to make the remark appear illogical. It would of served everyone better if they simply asked you to expand on why you felt that way or what relevance it could possible play into the future of that company; past, present and future. In that arena you should have been an equal, however they appeared to have been posturing themselves â€“ sad for them.
Gads Iâ€™m sick of that mentality. Thereâ€™s a handful of Managers at my job I respect; the rest are over paid, dead wood and appear to possess one or more psychological disorders.
Oh wait; Iâ€™m not a psychologist/psychiatrist.
And Iâ€™m digressing, I apologize.
The part of your post that caught my eye is that you are excited about doing some new and or expanding your education and experience.
I donâ€™t know what kind of HR functions you do. The ones at my employ just try and keep the corporation from getting sued. But key to their roles and key to I think a Lawyerâ€™s skills are the tools to convince someone. Youâ€™ve got to be able to sell, inject a little theater, and without fear of crossing personal morals, screw someoneâ€™s head over. Iâ€™m not talking about eating small children, but you have got to willing to go for blood knowing (and hoping) the end will justify the means.
I did go back to your opening paragraph and in hindsight wonder if a comment like â€œYouâ€™re not a Lawyerâ€ is ripe for a spicy rebuttal â€“ I wonder if they were goating you?
Best of luck!
Exec: “You’re not a lawyer”
HR Wench: “Yeah? And you’re ugly.”
The exec’s statement was meant to intimidate and devalue your contribution. The same thing has happened to me. Communicating risk to an exec who has their head so far up their @ss they couldn’t find it with both hands is never easy. I try not to take these types of things personally but I often do. The only thing I have found that helps is when what I warn them about actually happens. Then I can do the “Told Ya So Dance”.
If you want your JD, girl you go out and GET it. I will cheer you on all the way!
Hey Lori. A really great post (despite my initial response on twitter)…
Unlike you, I’m not “professionally” qualified for what I do, but I’ve been passionate about it for the last 12 years of my life (designer / information architect / etc.). I studied Mechanical Engineering, never finished my degree, and looked back a few times only to find that it ultimately wasn’t for me. My real education started once I left University.
But just like you, I’ve thought about going back, so I could go on to graduate school, etc.
But the bottom line is I’ll never go back because it’s not something I’m intrinsically interested in. I’m not passionate about it. I’d rather work, and do what I love.
So I guess what I’d say is, do it for yourself. Not for the executives, but for yourself. Ultimately, that’s what’s going to get you through it.
Plus I guess you’d have to ask yourself if what you would do day-to-day as an Attorney is what you’d want to do. Guess that’s really a question only you can answer.
Well, that’s my thought, at least at this late hour. Best of luck.
It sounds like you’ve already got what it takes to be a great attorney. The fact that you’re interested and passionate about the law and you want to learn already puts you head and shoulders above most of the profession. The testing is challenging, but it’s nothing a person of average intelligence and conscientious effort can’t accomplish. I’d recommend getting copies of the PowerScore books to study for the LSAT (http://tinyurl.com/2gvc33, http://tinyurl.com/yq3ufo). You’ll be provided with more Bar-prep materials in law school than you’ll ever need. BarBri is probably the best. Keep in mind that most practicing attorneys couldn’t pass the Bar if they had to go back and do it again. You should treat it like training for a marathon. It’s not really a reflection of your ability to practice law so much as a rite of passage. Once I learned to attack the testing as it’s own project, instead of a giant obstacle to my goals, it was a lot less stressful.
It’s true that you don’t have to be a lawyer to know the law. However, as those condescending executives so rudely illustrated, law is a profession just like medicine, and even though you can know a lot about it without joining the profession, you’re risking that your knowledge and experience won’t be taken seriously when it really matters. Just think about how sweet it would have been if you could had been able to respond back: “As a matter of fact, I am a lawyer.” One of my best friends in law school was nearly fifty when she started. She hadn’t been in school for decades and was freaked out about the testing, too. However, she worked for an insurance company in their mitigation department, and one of the attorneys she frequently consulted with actually thought she was a lawyer before she even started school. She wanted the credentials to help her opportunities for advancement, and so management would stop dismissing her advice the same way they dismissed yours. There are lots of careers that can be aided by a law degree in that way. You don’t necessarily have to go into regular practice after finishing school.
I post this comment only because your blog, Lori, was the first feed after Postsecret in my RSS reader with new items (because I just added you), and so I had literally JUST seen this:
Going to law school later in life is a wonderful thing. I spent a dozen years in HR before I went to law school. Went at night while still in my HR career. One of the ultimate benefits of becoming a lawyer was exactly what you describe, and more – arrogant idiots – executives and lawyers alike who seek to diminish your value because you mention the law but are not a lawyer. Becoming a lawyer sure helped to get rid of that.
One of the real questions about going to law school is the reality (that no one ever thinks about) that wearing wing tip shoes and toiling as an associate in a big firm is not necessary to be a lawyer. Plenty of lawyers have gone to school later in life. Plenty have decided on alternative career paths within the law – in fact, of the top 10 graduates in my St. John’s Law School night class – including your’s truly – my recollection is that only ONE did the traditional law firm route. Many of us in the HR Law space do very fulfilling work with our legal and HR backgrounds – Instead of thinking as moving from one box to another (HR to lawyer) think about how a J.D. will help you grow in your HR career and what additional value you can add that is not traditional “litigation.” See, for example, my firm http://www.strategichrlawyer.com, see also my good friend Patty Perez at http://www.puenteinternational.com, and another good friend Jules Halpern at halpernemplaw.com. All seasoned attorneys and HR professionals.
If you think your age is problem, see my other good friend Pat Sokolich, http://www.sokolichfamilylaw.com/bio.html, though I won’t tell you her age, she is at a point when most people are thinking about retirement plans – and she graduated from law school only 12 years ago. She has successfully built a practice without going the traditional, often stifling route. Good luck and keep us posted.
Thanks for posting, Lori! I just started blogging and came across your post. I’m completing my MS in HR degree but am now toying with the idea of a law degree. I am set on starting a family soon so I probably won’t be thinking of law school until I’m about 40 as well! Please update on your status as I’m really interested to learn about your process of law school selection, whether or not you will be going full or part time, the standardized tests you’ll have to take (LSAT, Bar, etc) and any roadblocks you encounter. Good luck to you and I will be cheering you on, virtually of course!
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