Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Accepting What IS: Leaving Law Behind

In yesterday’s post, I started out writing about how being a lawyer had defined me for most of my adult life. In fact, in hindsight, it was a role I could fit into, much like the roles I took upon myself as Mormon priesthood holder, husband and father. I suppose when one is trying to escape from whom one essentially is (gay), such roles are very convenient. I didn’t need to define myself from the inside out; rather, I could let my roles define me from the outside in.

I also went into law for the same reason many have done so – because I couldn’t think of anything else to do and it was a profession. That may sound cynical, but it is a well-known fact – at least within the legal world – that many entered the profession for the same reason(s) I did. 

Of course, I felt I had an aptitude for it and I was interested in it, but I had periods of doubt all along the way. These started in my very first year of law school when I seriously considered leaving and getting a master’s degree in history. I had other periods of doubt during the course of the next 20+ years, but I stuck to it because it provided a means of supporting my family, and I was a heck of a lot better suited to it than other career paths I might have chosen.

And again, the same issues of roles and definitions continued to apply over the years. And then there was the status thing: being a lawyer (attorney) carried status.

That being said, during the years I worked here in Salt Lake, I never really felt a part of the legal or firm cultures, for many reasons. One was my Canadian legal education, which is very much based on English law and the (historic) English legal system. The case law we studied was different. The cultural values were different. The ethos was different. In Canada, the practice of law – at least when I started – truly was viewed as a profession, not a business. Even the nomenclature was different. In Canada, I was a "barrister and solicitor" or "lawyer" ("attorneys" were holders of powers of attorney). For years after being admitted to the Utah bar, and still today, I referred to myself as a "lawyer," not an "attorney.”

Yada, yada, yada.

Fast forward to 2011. I had come out in the fall of 2010, but I didn’t come out at work until the ax fell. In the end, I lost my job because I had never become a shareholder (and, in point of fact, no corporate associate attorney had become a shareholder in the firm since the early 1990's), because I filled a very specialized niche in the firm, and because the economy collapsed in the fall of 2008. In short, though the firm was very happy with my work, keeping me as essentially a staff attorney was no longer sustainable.

Since May of 2011, I have tried to locate another position and I have also tried to do contract work in the area of my expertise. Though I believe that if the economy were strong I could do well in the area of contract work, the economy hasn't been strong - particularly for transactional corporate attorneys. The unemployment rate among attorneys in Salt Lake City has been rumored to be around 40%. Anecdotal stories are plentiful of attorneys with many years’ experience not even being able to obtain jobs as paralegals, let alone as attorneys. 

And did I mention that I am 54? The bottom line is that the economy sucks, I’m over 50 years old, and I had no client base when I left Parsons. For those not familiar with today’s legal world, an experienced corporate/securities attorney of my vintage who has no clients to bring to a firm makes them, well, pretty much unemployable. But beyond that, anyone over 50 in this country is pretty much unemployable - period.

It took me a long time to finally come to the realization that, barring a miracle, my legal career is over. It has taken me even longer to overcome the shame of that. But I finally came to see the truth of a core Buddhist teaching: the failure to recognize and accept what IS, causes suffering. Or put another way, the gap between reality and wishing reality was different causes suffering. One may wish reality were different, but that doesn’t make it so.

But grasping that principle and putting it into practice are two different things. I have made progress. I have more progress to make. Particularly in the shame department. And in the area of rejecting efforts by some who refuse to accept, let alone see, reality and would like to see me accept the shame they would put upon me.

Which brings me back to yesterday’s post. I had started out writing about the need to embrace my life, rather than be ashamed of it, the need to tear down walls and dividers and to be who I am, without fear, without shame. I had intended to write about some of my experiences substitute teaching, which I began doing a few months ago. Instead, I ended up writing about leaving law behind. 

I guess I needed to do that.  Meanwhile, I'm off to teach 4th grade today.

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