In my thirties, whenever I’d go to a party or otherwise meet new people, inevitably the subject of what I did for a living came up. So often when I revealed I was a lawyer, I’d end up hearing someone’s legal problems. Of course, I’d make the salutary joke: “Okay, I’ll listen (tapping at my imaginary wrist watch), but I’ll have to charge you.” Ha ha (sigh).
The dreaded question, “What do you do for a living?” became a drag, so I started answering, “I’m a bartender.” It came to me on the spot once, and then it stuck. Everyone who asked me what I did, I answered, “bartender.” Then the conversation moved on to something else. Rarely did anyone want to hear more, and I was fine with that.
I once had aspirations to be a bartender. I was 19 and working at a Mexican restaurant as a hostess, training to be a waitress. I was promised a shot at bar tending when I became of age and had enough experience waiting. Until I got “laid off.” My manager, a middle aged man (could have been 30 from my young perspective of what middle age was back then), and I butt heads on this one point. He hinted at first, but after I didn’t bite, then insisted that I wear make up; he thought I needed a less hippy, more sexy look as greeter and server, especially when I worked the bar.
Ten or more years later, one early morning when I found myself watching the sun rise outside the window of my 12th floor law office after pulling an all-nighter to meet deadline, I closed my gravelly eyes before heading home to change clothes. Heaven forbid I should be seen with the same suit from the day before. In the soothing warmth of closed lids bordering on seconds of sleep, I flashed on a flicker of fantasy: I’m giving up this hellish grind and going to bar tending school.
That thought–that I could always be what I pretended to be–gave me solace. Still does. When I grow up, I still want to be a fifty-something year old bartender. Is it too late?
Had I been able to choose what I did, which cases I would take, I might have loved the practice of law much more. There is a vast ocean of practice areas open to an attorney to use his or her honed skills of critical reasoning and legal knowledge from court room performer/litigator to public sector or non-profit donor to pure researcher/writer mole. I would have loved to have remained that last one.
When I first started earning money in law, I was a law clerk attending law school. At the first law office to hire me, I performed menial tasks like putting files together and collating large swaths of information for big cases into color coordinated indexes. My first case to organize was a personal injury case involving a young man, a big electric company worker, who fell into a transformer encasement and got electrocuted losing a foot, a hand and his penis.
The medical records, depositions of experts and parties, as well as the research was an enormous mass of paper that needed parsing, indexing and cross-referencing. That was my first job, and it was terribly trying as I only knew lovely painful struggles with the word before that as a literature student. This was dry, boring and taxing for the medical and legal terminology so foreign to me. Moreover, procedure is so much of the law. Knowing procedures that change daily everywhere from office to office, inside an office, among the various court clerk’s offices, courtrooms, and other attorney’s offices is an ongoing re-training: one of the reasons the practice of law is a practice. There is no way to ever get it nailed once and for all.