I am really struggling to choose my first job. I wanted things to be simple. Do a handful of interviews; find two or three positions that I really liked, and let the chips fall where they fell. Obviously, these jobs would be “attorney” positions and they would pay well, provide a reasonable work-life balance, and require the most convenient of commutes.
So here I am, completely blessed. I was named a Presidential Management Fellows Finalist, and have two offers for placement (and maybe more coming!) at a federal agency. The placement will begin a two-year fellowship, and I will train to be a senior-ranking government manager in the next five years. Promotions and pay are solid for government work, if not as high as a private firm-type job, and the benefits are great.
But, I am torn. I really want to do legal work, but I do not want to sit in an office all day reviewing contracts. I want to make policy and craft legislative language, I want to offer opinions about how to accomplish programmatic goals and then provide the support and planning to put those plans in action. I want to look at the situation and make my own recommendations, too. So, I don’t want to be a government “attorney.” Government policy-making is somewhat bifurcated between “policy” people and “attorneys,” and the attorneys basically tell the policy people which of their ideas won’t work, say no to initiatives suggested by the policy people, and dot all of the i’s and cross all of the t’s in pre-prepared policy statements.
So, I don’t want to be just a government attorney. I want to do BOTH.
This is why PMF is so perfect for me, but also why it is so hard. I don’t want to stray too far from a legal position. I want to be able to transition into firm work or client counseling seamlessly (or as seamlessly as possible) and I’m not sure if I can do that from a job titled “Program Analyst” or “Management Analyst” instead of “Legal.” I think I can, but I just don’t know.
I have a fear of commitment here bigger than anything I ever felt about picking a law school, or choosing a husband, or cutting my hair. What if my first job out of law school does not sound “legal” enough and I forever limit my career options? What if I take a “legal” government job that is so boring that I can’t stay long-term, and I sacrifice the high earning potential without gaining the government benefits package and 10-year full student debt repayment option?
This is just so hard. And I know that i am so blessed, to be choosing between positions when others have no positions. I know that there are people who are homeless or struggling to make their mortgages or suffering through foreclosure. And I know that my “problem” is so small compared to what others deal with every day.
But it hurts. Turning down an offer hurts. And the fear, the feeling of impending doom, I think that is all in my head. I think it is a result of law school drama where everything you do feels like the end of the world: Will I make a journal? Will I be top ten percent? Will I get a Dean’s Fellowship? Will I get a clerkship? Will I be an editor for journal? Will I make Clinic? Will I have a good clinic partner? Will my clients like me? Will I ever find a job?
Is it really in my head? Do lawyers sit in high-and-mighty judgment ridiculing the “poor choices” made by their applicants every single day? Do they reject an interviewee because of a rumpled shirt, or a grammatical misstep, or a typo? Absolutely. And I just can’t stop thinking what those high-minded judger-types will say about my job, and how it will look on paper after the fact, and if I’ll ever be able to save the world.