Faking Law

If you’re unhappy practicing law, I’ll bet you’ve had this feeling before: You’re a total fake, a fraud at being a lawyer, and someday soon somebody is going to catch on.

Professional man holding up word "fake" on post it.

Feel like you’re walking around with a flashing Fake Lawyer sign?

I experienced that feeling, oh, pretty constantly my first few years of law practice, and fairly often from year 4 until I finally wised up and quit after 8 years of trying to be something I wasn’t. I remember a more experienced attorney and friend telling me that everyone feels that way the first few years. She meant well, I know she did.

But my friend was wrong, at least about me and law. When I finally, finally started doing something I had actual inherent abilities and genuine interest in, writing for a living, WOW. Suddenly I understood how people could work hard all day, every day and not feel like the walking dead by Thursday afternoon. It was because I didn’t have to fight myself and my inclinations every working hour of every day.

The Wrong Work = Constant Energy Drain

Particularly if you went straight from college to law school and are unhappy with law, you likely have no idea how much of your energy you put into fighting yourself simply to get your work done. It’s like having 2 or 3 jobs, really: The actual job, plus the one where you are fighting yourself. If you are really a fish out of water, like I was, working completely against my INFP type, that second job can feel like 2 jobs, too. (The third job is the one where you try to recover from the toxic law firm environment you most likely are working in.)

Here’s the real tip-off that you’re faking law: Inconsistent performance. Yes, you can do the work. Sometimes. When you can summon up the mental stamina, the stars are in proper alignment, you have had enough sleep/caffeine/time away from work/whatever. And the mix of what it takes to produce decent, let alone inspired work, is a moving target.

In other words, when your obsession with Angry Birds is more compelling than the deadline that you know you’re not going to meet if you don’t start working on that project within the next 8 hours, you’re faking law.

I bring this up because there was a very interesting set of questions posed in the comments to the Lizard Brain Attack post from a few weeks ago. One poster asked if I ever reached a point, after a few years, where I just wanted to ask “please God make this end.” Truly, when it comes to the actual work I do and have done, the answer is no, not at all.

Now I will say that there have been some ancillary things to the core of my post-law jobs that have driven me nuts. My first post-law job was fantastic, except for the toxic psycho-boss that went with it. But in hindsight actually I’m fairly grateful for that situation, because I could otherwise easily have stayed at that place and not gone on to work on two magazines, work that I really adored. And, the politics at another place in particular would have driven a Puritan to drink to excess.

But none of those drained me the way that law did. Not even close.

So how do you pick a direction to even try? I’ll cover that in my next post.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has now spent more time not practicing law than she did practicing it. She helps other attorneys who want to start down that same kind of path, to work they really enjoy and relish. She offers discounted sample sessions—get yours today by contacting Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com.

10 thoughts on “Faking Law

  1. Wow. I’ve been a military officer for four years, and almost everyday I’ve felt like I was faking it. I’m an INFP as well and despite documented “solid performance” I feel like it’s just a matter of time before my superiors catch on that I’m an imposter!

  2. I admire your ability to pull off a military career as an INFP. I can totally understand why you feel like an imposter, though. You’re kind of like a willow planted in the desert. When you find your place near more water, you’ll feel like you belong.

  3. Oh my God, your blog is a godsend! I am just wrapping up my 2L summer at the job from hell. It’s such a shame, because it’s a field of law I’m particularly passionate about. Anyway, I was just saying today how I feel like a fish out of water, like the life force is continuously being sucked out of me. I am SUCH an ENFJ! This blog is really helping me accept myself and appreciate my talents, even though they are treated as worthless at work. I have a fear of people saying, “she just couldn’t hack it.” I feel like such a failure, despite my best efforts. It hurts my pride to give up this line of work, but it’s not worth dying over, and a job like this will kill me. I already feel like everyday is a struggle just to survive, and I miss being an optimist. Sometimes I spend my lunch break talking to nearby shop clerks just because they are so friendly. Sometimes it’s the only smile I’ve seen in days. Sorry this is a long paragraph that doesn’t flow well and that there are no citations. Hahaha. God, it’s gonna take weeks to heal from the emotional and physical trauma. Anyway, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing here. It’s so good to know we’re not alone. I look forward to learning more about other ways to use my J.D.

  4. OH MY GOD! That is me exactly!!!!!!! And I thought it was just me. It is especially tough feeling like a fraud when judges and other attorneys tell you how professional you are and what a great job you do in hearings/trials/etc.

    I am FINALLY after feeling like this wasn’t a good fit for me (since my 2nd year of law school in 2004), working on moving into something else. The motivator? I’m now a one client firm, working as a contractor for a federal agency. That agency hasn’t paid for services in over 3 months. That agency is unable to tell me when or if the contract will be funded. Non-payment of invoices and running out of money are my motivator. At least I’m finally getting the message. I had more sick days, bouts of crippling depression and panic attacks in the past 7 years than I thought was humanly possible. Going against one’s nature and swimming upstream (when you aren’t a salmon) are bad for one’s physical and mental health.

    Ahhh, what a relief. I am so glad it’s not me. I will show this post to my father, who is very angry at my desire to not be a lawyer. THANK YOU!!!!!!

  5. I can’t thank you enough for this! I’m a 6th year at a large firm, and am in the process of setting up things to leave the profession. I’ve struggled with this decision for several years…you know, I went in to debt for this so I have to do it, and all that crap. I finally decided to follow my heart and go out and find something I love to do, but I still felt guilty about it. And I felt like I was just a ‘bad lawyer’. Thanks for affirming that it’s not that we’re bad lawyers, it’s just that we’re not meant to be doing this! And more importantly, for letting people like me know that we aren’t the only ones!!!

  6. You know, yesterday I had to explain to the five-attorney firm for which I currently work that a firm with 100 lawyers was a pretty small law firm in law firm world in the Bos-Wash corridor.

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