Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Bitch Is Back.

I returned to law school this January after my year-long hiatus, mainly because I had run out of options and excuses for not being in school. My job search in higher education administration had been fruitless, and I was frankly getting sick of sitting on my couch in my cold, dark apartment on my one or two days off from the cafĂ© I managed, searching for 'big girl' jobs, sending out resumes, reading rejection letters, crying, reaching out to former colleagues, baking, cleaning, crying, and self-medicating with reruns of Grey’s Anatomy and The Biggest Loser. 

After not having much success with finding an office job and blessed with the encouragement of my girlfriend and a friend in the business, I tried working on more creative endeavors, but I mostly felt drained and sad. Some days I didn’t even have time to turn on my computer, because my job didn't necessitate use of advanced technology and the effort of opening my laptop was too extreme by the time I got home.

My management position at the cafe allowed me to exercise creativity and develop business savvy, test out marketing experiments, and engage in a mentorship with an astute businesswoman. It taught me creative problem-solving, personnel management, and--most importantly--how to develop business infrastructure. My position was engaging, but not what I had planned on doing with my life. Although I consider it a small business, it was still a restaurant. In restaurants, you perform back-breaking labor every day. It doesn’t matter what your job is—you will inevitably be drawn into hauling boxes, unpacking boxes, delivering food, making food; you do whatever necessary to get the job done. Most mornings, my legs didn't work properly until after a hot shower loosened up the muscles in my back.  On top of the physicality, it’s socially and emotionally draining. Most small businesses don’t have a spread of responsibilities across many positions. There are only a couple of people juggling a never-ending task list. Success is tenuous at best: you hope that you hired the right people, that the customers keep coming back, that you ordered enough stock, that the books are balanced and profits are rolling in. There are no specialists or consultants, and every day you keep the doors open is a gamble. 

Every day I walked to work in the California sunshine, grateful to have a job. But, what did I go to college for if not to land a great job? I have a B.A. from a good school. I performed well at that school. I have worked since I was 14 and put myself through college. I have the soft skills that companies supposedly look for. I had a year and a half of law school under my belt. I tailored my resume. I had my resume professionally reviewed. I wrote unique cover letters for every job. I took two-hour long personality tests for companies. If I received a response, it was usually a rejection. For the two interviews I went on, I sent handwritten thank you notes. 

What was I doing wrong?

My friend came to San Francisco for her honeymoon about six months ago. She graduated with her Masters in Library Studies a couple of years ago and quickly found out that there were very few jobs out there. She worked for free for a while, and then got lucky with a consistent part-time job, which eventually turned into a full-time job, at a library about 45 minutes from her home. She works nights and weekends at her library, but is grateful because she has work. In a society where people like us and our friends—highly ranked in undergrad with real-life work experience or post-graduate degrees—keep getting laid off or are chronically underemployed, we feel cheated. That night at a swanky vegan bar we pretended to afford, my friend said the most spot-on analysis of higher education I’ve heard so far: "Those student loans were a promise that we would have a job once we got an education. The government and the schools all told us we would have jobs once we got out, that our education was an investment in ourselves. Now look at us. We can barely get by. They haven’t delivered, because there aren't enough jobs for us to fill. Our education was worthless.”

And with that conversation, along with my mounting debt, growing inability to pay my bills (namely my $118,000 student loan debt), and year without health insurance, I finally felt defeated.  Could I have done more? Probably. Of course. I could have been like the bulldogs I met in law school, the ones who go to every networking event and every mixer and every alumni meet-up. I could grit my teeth and put on my ill-fitting suit and be charming. But I just didn’t want to. (Here, I could go into an in-depth explanation of depression and self-defeating attitudes, but Hyperbole and a Half did such a good job, that I'm going to link it.

So I gave up on the life I was creating in California. I went back to New York.

As I passed through the full body scanner at SFO, sobbing uncontrollably after leaving my girlfriend pressed against the glass barricade between ticketing and security, the TSA officer hesitantly pulled me over to search my bags. "Is everything okay today, ma'am?" (They usually stop the emotionally unstable. It's just good policy.) As he picked through my belongings, I contemplated my decision. 

I was going back to New York to figure everything out, spend time with my growing family, and find a job OR go to a tier three law school where I had a standing scholarship. At best, it would be quality time with my family, as well as a lengthy vacation and an opportunity to really grab hold of something real. At worst, it would be a semi-permanent tenure in my mother's country home while working another gig and trying to figure my life out. 

After finding that my offensive cargo included Indian food with some liquid curry, the TSA guard let me go. By the time I turned around to look at my lady one last time, I only saw a glimpse of her bright red sneakers riding up the escalator. That was that. It was go time. I boarded the plane, and touched down in Westchester, where my mother greeted me with a huge smile and my first love Desdemona, my Volkswagen Beetle.

In upstate New York, the only jobs I found were as a server and as a networking writer acquiring clients for a company (stalking people on social media). Food handling and social media are how society defines me as a millenial. ("Would you like a selfie with that latte?") Granted, there are slim pickings in upstate New York, but I thought I could do better. People offered me receptionist jobs, and my aghast reaction bemused them: "Well, at least you'd make a stable salary and there are health benefits." I knew then how bad my situation was. 

There's a moment when you return to your hometown (read: grow up) when you realize that nobody is better or worse than the next person. There are no points of comparison--there are just different opportunities available to different people. 

As I bumped into people I grew up with and saw what paths they had taken, I felt impassioned to change my limp trajectory. Three years or more out of college, many of my friends were still working their high school jobs. Many of them were unemployed or only employed part-time. Some of them switched to trade work because it was more available. And here I was, serving them all beer and pasta because I had squandered a great opportunity. 

Now, I don't mean to imply that serving is not a worthy pursuit. Food and Beverage is a great industry and I highly enjoy working in it. But, when you have the education, the know-how, the passion, and the support to do something extraordinary and you don't, that's a problem. Going back to my hometown, where many of my peers are lucky to have jobs or find any kind of opportunity, was eye-opening. That I was able to grow up in a small rural town in upstate New York, get into a great university, put myself through college, get into a good law school, and move myself to one of the most magnificent cities in the world is evidence enough of the kind of opportunities I have been afforded. At crunch time, I choked. I can hinge that on a number of excuses, or I can just face the fact that I didn't focus my attention on what's important and just move on from there. 

So, I got myself back into my Tier 1 law school, took my hiatus in New York as just that, and flew back to San Francisco to the open arms of my lesbian lover and the prestigious law school that I had run away from. 

That being said, regardless of where I'm coming from or where I'm going to, the bitch is back for now. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

If You Can't See the Crazy Person...

There's this saying in New York:

If you can't see the crazy person on the bus, then it's you.

It's the same for the MUNI buses in San Francisco. I have the distinct pleasure of using the city buses fairly often at this point in my life. I have no choice because I've been run into poverty by the vulturous parking police (Did you know they charge you a fee on top of your parking ticket for processing? A fee on top of a fee. Way to go, San Francisco.) and the absolutely incompetent taxi drivers who roam the streets. (If I have to give you directions or tell you to pay attention because you're ignoring the car headed straight for my door, you need to find a new job.)

You all know how much I love the public transit system. The most disgusting people in the world ride the 19. No, really. Once I sat in between a mouth-to-mouth crack deal and, another time, across from a man picking his silver dollar-sized, bloody, oozing, open cheek sore. My favorite bus ride involved a crazy, homeless prostitute screaming at two women because they told her to stop harassing a girl who had Aspberger's. The pro kept saying she was going to break out her vaseline and the women told her to get off because they had their steel-toed boots on. It was a goldmine of ghetto. (And yes, this occurred in the Tenderloin, which is the ghetto of San Francisco.)

But, I digress.

When I climb the grime-caked steps to the most agonizing twenty minutes of my day, I glance around for an entirely empty seat. No neighbors. No loud music. The radius must be devoid of human life. I'd prefer to see a rodent than another human being. After I secure a deserted location, I sit, smiling to myself about my good fortune and hoping that it will continue through the rest of my ride.

Others board in a similar manner. No one actually wants to see, touch, smell (or taste for that matter) another being on their already dismal bus ride. Inevitably, single seats fill up first and those late to the party must make a conscious decision about which person looks: 1. the least crazy, 2. the least intimidating, 3. the most respectful, 4. the least talkative, 5. the thinnest and therefore most space-conscientious neighbor, and 6. the prettiest. Of course, these are my criteria. But let's be honest: who doesn't include most of these?

Fascinatingly, while no one wants to actually sit next to anyone, the last person to have an adjacent empty seat has effectively lost the working-class adults' dodgeball-team-picking equivalent. The last person sitting by him or herself on the bus is either crazy, demonstrating some sort of anti-social behavior, or is ugly. Like, abnormally ugly.

For a great while, that person was me. I realized something was amiss when I had taken the bus a number of times to and from my doctor and no one wanted to sit next to me. They'd rather stand, than situate themselves next to my warm thigh.

Something had to give. I went through my criteria, hoping to expose the flaw in my person or character:

First, I lost twenty pounds. This didn't help much, unfortunately. People still avoided me. Then, I started wearing make up exclusively for my bus rides. Fewer people avoided me. Every so often, a brave soul moseyed over to my area, and timidly sat down. A few men on the 19 asked for my number and sadly trudged off in disappointment after I told them I was with a woman.

Second, I stopped being overly friendly. No more talking to strangers about happenings in San Francisco. Don't speak unless spoken to and don't make eye contact. Making eye contact on the bus is the social equivalent of a high-five over a urinal.

Third, people aren't actually intimidated by me. As a defense mechanism, I started to butch it up a little bit more--dark clothing, military backpack, beat up Chucks. I became the person to sit next to if you didn't want to get robbed.

Still, no one sat next to me. Process of elimination: I was the crazy person. So, I withdrew from law school.

Miraculously, my bus luck started changing! After a couple of weeks, my eyes brightened with life. The dark circles under my eyes disappeared. 'Walking on Sunshine' played from my conservatively-volumed iPod. My soul rejoined my body because I wasn't excising it in an attempt to achieve the farce of the American Dream. I started to sit up straighter from not carrying law books anymore. I lost more weight. My hair shined. My teeth stopped yellowing from coffee. My mind stopped shorting from caffeine overload. My wallet grew fuller due to sobriety. I stopped questioning myself, my intelligence, and my future and I stopped letting other people do it on the daily.

All of a sudden, I wasn't the crazy, rocking law student on the bus. People started to sit next to me because I was normal.

This is what normalcy feels like: a stranger's warm thigh on a dirty bus headed to my low-paying, managerial job at a cafe in Russian Hill.

I promise to keep Tales of a Neurotic Law Student going. My next post will outline the reasons why I left.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Motivation to Start the New Semester :)

We're too expensive, too needy, too slow, too many. Why hire a lawyer when you can get your legal documents off of a faceless website with a high turnaround? Because we're quality customer service you can rely on, that's why! Uhh... Sure.

Courtesy of Above the Law. Just so you know what you're getting into :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It Gets Better at UC Hastings

It will get better. But you don't have to wait for the future to make a change in your life now. Make today better.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My Dirty Little Secret Which Everyone Knows About

I have a fantasy which came to fruition once I came to law school: I want to steal something. 

I mean, I really want to steal something.

You can ask anyone--I've never stolen anything in my life. One time, I told one of my besties to turn out her pockets at a CVS so she would stop shoplifting. I hate the idea of stealing. It's uncouth, disrespectful, and just plain mean. No one likes mean girls.

But ever since 1L, I've harbored this secret desire to steal something. You know, under the law it's quite easy to steal, so long as you find the appropriate ins and outs. Technically it's not illegal if you can establish ownership somehow. My favorite way to legally steal is through adverse possession.

I, J-Hizzle, will adversely possess a plot of land by the end of my lifetime. This is now on my bucket list.

The doctrine of adverse possession allows a squatter to assume title to a property so long as s/he has exercised use that is:
1. open and notorious
2. continuous
3. exclusive
4. adverse.

1. Brag to everyone in the community that you're using the property;
2. Mooch at length without interruption;
3. Chase other similarly-minded persons off your property;
4. Don't ask for permission or just openly disregard trespasser signs.

Adverse possession is the American equivalent of usurption. Challenge accepted.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Distribution of First-Year Associate Salaries

To supplement my last post, I include this link and graph for your perusal. This just confirms the falling entry level salary of first-year associates.

Distribution 2011:

Distribution 2009:

Thanks to J-Koo for the link source.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't Expect Bank When You Graduate

Lawyering is lucrative, right?

Well, new statistics from NALP--The Association for Legal Professionals indicates that the average starting salary for associates is $78,653, while the median comes in at a round $60,000. Apparently, this is a 35% decrease in starting associates' salaries. Thirty-Five Percent.

Now, maybe you are optimistic and are hoping that NALP skewed the statistics and included all of the broke, homeless law grads in its assessment.

Wrong. Those figures were yoinked from grads working full-time for at least a year.

We all know how much I love comparisons, so let me put this travesty in perspective for you:

The following jobs start at or pay out $80,000 a year or more (depending on location) and don't require seven years of schooling:

-Construction Managers
-Police Officers
-Fire Fighters
-Stock Brokers
-Marketing Managers
-Physician Assistants
-Entertainment Agents
-HS Physics Teachers
-Financial Analysts
-Computer Software Engineers
-Physical Therapists
-Health Service Managers

Yes, these careers all require particularized training and we all know that finding a job is never a guarantee. But what are we doing here, busting our booties at school and at work in the hopes of landing a job that will barely cover our student loan payments? Why don't we pick something equally stimulating, quicker to fruition, and just as lucrative?

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from entering or remaining in the field. Without a doubt, I'm going to keep going because this is an area that I really and truly love. I find it fascinating and I think we all have the potential to do really good work for society once we graduate. But, with the ABA and other lawyerly organizations putting out articles like this, it's a bit difficult not to feel disheartened!

The money-centric coverage of the law profession seems a bit overkill. Are they just trying to discourage people that are seeking bank post-graduation from applying to law school? Or is the field really, truly hurting right now? Has the coverage of the lawyer 'crisis' become as Type A as lawyers themselves?

My 1L class was brainwashed into believing that we would be lucky to secure any summer position, let alone receive a stipend for our efforts. Many of my peers naively accepted the first offer they received out of fear that they wouldn't get anything else. Many of those same individuals received far better offers shortly thereafter. Moreover, there were many more positions available than we were led to believe. Most everyone should have been able to secure some sort of summer employment (paid or unpaid) without bar.

Despite the frenzy of the profession, we just need to put ourselves out there. Opportunities may not present themselves, but they are still out there for our plucking. We will find jobs. As one of my friends Ameetball says, 'All we can do is keep calm and carry on.'