This is the traditional season for everyone to spend money on things nobody really needs or wants. And I am no exception.
Last Friday I electronically transferred $289 from my bank account to that of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the State of Illinois, to maintain my license to practice law for the year 2011, although I have not practiced law in over 15 years and have no intention of doing so in the future. Some people remember Black Friday, to keep it holy; this is my own annual ritual.
It’s two annual rituals, really: paying the registration fee, and re-resolving never to again accept employment as an attorney, not that anyone’s offering.
I don’t know why I keep paying the fee, except that it was really hard to get the license the first time around. Getting a law degree was easy. Passing the bar exam wasn’t all that difficult. Filling out the attorney registration paperwork, though, was murder.
They wanted to know about everything that had ever happened to me. They stopped short of asking about my first kiss, but they did want information about every parking ticket I’d ever been issued — and who keeps track of that? They wanted proof that I’d registered with the Selective Service. They wanted character references, old teachers’ names, neighbors’ addresses, casual acquaintances’ Zodiac signs, descriptions of scars and birthmarks, a list of my 15 favorite movies, and a lock of hair. I’m exaggerating slightly.
It was a pain in the ass, is what I’m trying to get across. Odds are extremely slim that I’ll ever want to use this license again, but as long as the chance is even minimally above zero, it’s worth it to throw some dollars at the state and forget about it until next November.
It’s easy to explain why I’m not a practicing lawyer. It sucks. It’s a sucky job. It’s unpleasant and horrible and the hours are very long, each of them filled with bitter misery that compounds as the weeks stack up.
It’s harder to make the case for my decision to go to law school in the first place. All I can say is, at the time, it seemed like the thing to do. I had a nearly useless college degree and no job prospects. I was better at academics than anything else, and I was up for a challenge. Plus, three years seemed like a really long time. I figured I’d come up with something by graduation.
I enjoyed law school, for the most part. Except for Trial Advocacy. Horrible class. Of course, it was the one class that purported to simulate the actual practice of law as it is known in the wild.
After my team’s “mock trial,” the judge who presided over our little educational pantomime (a real judge) took us — the two pretend plaintiff’s attorneys and two pretend defense attorneys — to lunch (at TGIF, as I recall). At some point during the meal, he asked us what we saw ourselves being in five years.
I said I saw myself being an ex-lawyer.
Actually, I lasted about six months, between the day I was sworn in and the day I walked off my job as an associate at a personal injury litigation firm. And I never looked back.
But I keep paying the fee. Because you never know for sure what’s going to happen. And I definitely do not want to have to redo any of that paperwork ever again.
Plus, I can keep putting “Esquire” after my name. That’s not nothing.
I suspect that there is something to a title that suggests a middle-class nobility. An achievement of mind and effort. Even more noble that you don’t practice.
I also maintain my Illinois teacher’s certification… no title goes with that, though.