When I was fifteen years old, I decided to become a lawyer. Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch---when I was fifteen, my parents informed me that I should become a lawyer because “If you’re going to argue all day, you might as well get paid for it.” To my ears, it was the first reasonable thing they had said in a solid two years. And I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to do anything more than argue. I felt a strong and constant need to vocalize my discontent with approximately everything.
In college, being a lawyer continued to seem like a good idea. A pretentious boyfriend made it sound very elite, which comported with the certain knowledge I possessed (from television) that all lawyers are intellectual and rich and important. This all sounded fantastic to someone who was not particularly any of the above. Even if I wasn’t intellectual, I was smart and had an only child’s habit of getting what I wanted.
As soon as the law school acceptance letters started rolling in, I had my future life perfectly imagined.
In all vignettes below: hair is twice as long, voluminous, and shiny. Suit made by a designer I haven’t year heard of, but would have by then. No, suit custom made by a secret designer only celebrities have heard of. Very high heels that are somehow comfortable.
Future life scene #1:
A wood-paneled courtroom. Hushed tension. Twelve jurors leaning forward, wide-eyed. I am standing before them all, arm sympathetically stretched toward a handsome brunette man sitting at a table.
Liz: ...and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the finally piece of proof that definitively proves what you already know to be true, deep down in your hearts - this man is absolutely innocent.
Handsome Brunette Man: [nods sadly, serious look in his eyes]
Judge: Jurors, you must now deliberate.
The jury looks at each other, each nodding with conviction.
Jury foreman: That’s okay, your honor, we all already agree. Our verdict is: NOT GUILTY.
The courtroom erupts in cheers! A sour-faced prosecutor angrily grabs his ugly briefcase.
HBM: Liz, you’ve saved my life! How can I thank you?
Liz: [With a wink] How about you let me take you to a celebratory dinner?
Future life scene #2:
Liz, standing amidst a bunch of be-suited businessmen.
Liz: And that’s when I said to him, haven’t you ever been to Taipei before?
The entire group laughs raucously.
Businessman 1: [wheezing] That’s the funniest story I’ve ever heard!
Businessman 2: I don’t think we need to hear any more. Liz: we want you to handle ALL of our cases from now on.
Suddenly there is champagne:
Businessman 3: Let’s toast!
Liz: [In Mandarin] To knowing your way around a courtroom: and Asia!
Everyone laughs uproariously again while clinking glasses.
Future Life Scene #3:
Liz: ... and that's the main takeaway your viewers should take away from this piece of legislation.
Anchor: Thanks SO much, Liz. As always, it's been a complete pleasure having you on our show. Ladies and gentlemen, renowned legal scholar and philanthropist, Liz.
My real life does not look like that.
Real scene from my actual life #1:
Liz, in a wrinkled dress shirt, pants, and black flats that are showing wear is hunched over in a desk chair, staring at a computer. The desk is covered in piles of paper. There is a dirty plate on top of one pile with the crumbs of a poptart. Fifteen empty cans of Diet Dr. Pepper also festoon the area. A plant is dead.
Liz is slowly clicking a mouse, once every few seconds or so, without changing position.
Real scene from my actual life #2:
Liz is sitting at an airport. Behind her, a woman is loudly complaining to a Visa representative on the phone about a problem with her credit card. A toddler runs through the terminal, stops abruptly, and starts screaming as his mother rushes over. Two women sit down next to Liz and one starts loudly teaching the older one how to use an enormous smartphone, or so it seems because they are speaking Chinese. A watch starts beeping and no one turns it off. The mother removes the toddler to be near other toddlers, but his screaming sets them off as well.
Liz: [muttering] Why can’t I get wifi here?
Airline agent : Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you headed to Phoenix, we want to announce that there’s been another delay. We do have a pilot now, but due to weather concerns en route we’ll be delayed another hour. Thank you for your patience!
Real scene from my actual life #3:
Liz is finally on the plane in a tiny seat. She pulls out her laptop to try to work on the small tray table. she then awkwardly reaches below it to try to get a manila file folder with a stack of papers in it.
The guy in front of her leans his seat back so far he hits her in the knees and pushes her laptop half shut.
The flight attendant comes by and dumps a glass of water on her arm.
Flight attendant [trilling]: Oops, sorry!
The same toddler starts screaming.
The differences between my imagined glamorous life as a lawyer and my actual life as a lawyer are, shall we say, rather stark. I’ve only ever met one client in person. Not my client, the client of a partner older than my dad. The client of a partner who then shuttled me away after I just awkwardly said, “Hello.” I haven’t been in a courtroom since I started working.
What I have done is gained several repetitive stress injuries. I have also spent long days reading literally thousand of documents until my brain can’t remember why I’m reading them. The big ol’ salary that looked so enticing to College Liz is consumed by paying for the law degree that earned it, as well as an absurd dry cleaning bill because it is important that all of my work clothes be both crappy and non-machine-washable.
It's enough to make you think that the TV shows about lawyers aren't accurate, somehow. Dear career-impressionable teenaged readers: consider yourself forewarned.