I stopped practicing law exactly five years ago, which is as long as I practiced it. I remember the day I decided to quit: I had walked into the office, and the secretary was crying. This was before the firm gave everyone a smart phone, so I hadn’t seen my email since the afternoon before, and she’d had some marital difficulties, so I went to my office to drop my stuff off and then send her a message to see if she needed to talk. When I logged on to my email, though, I saw why she was crying: one of the partners had died “after a long battle with cancer.” His cancer wasn’t news, but I didn’t know that he was so far gone. I wished I’d had the chance to say goodbye knowing what lay ahead.
But later, as I was preparing to leave the office, a paralegal walked in, nervous. “Andrew, I need to talk to someone. You know about how they said he died ‘after a long battle with cancer?’ It is technically true, but it wasn’t cancer that killed him. He asked his wife to go out for milk, and then he went in the back yard with a shotgun and shot himself in the head.”
The only thing I could think to say was, “The back yard?”
“So he wouldn’t leave a mess for her to clean up.”
“Oh.” A beat. “I really have to go.” I was already late for a panel discussion, and I snuck out of the office through the storage area and out the fire escape.
I spent the whole car ride thinking about how he had been practicing law for forty years, and how that was an entire life of work, eight times longer than I’d been practicing. He’d had financial difficulties after the crash of 2007, and had sold all of his portfolio and had sworn he would never invest another penny in any stock market so hadn’t seen the massive post-crash gains. He had a wife and an ex-wife and kids and a big house and cars and golf club memberships and at the end of his life all he had to look forward to was a shotgun in his back yard. I kept thinking about those last few moments when everything must have seemed to be closing in on him, when there was no future. I imagined pressure building up, and blackness, and I didn’t want that to be all I had to look forward to at the end of my life. My chest felt tight. I got to the panel discussion, and apparently someone had invited my ex-girlfriend to speak on it as well without telling me, which was like vomit frosting on a cow patty pie.
But that, almost exactly five years ago, was when I decided that practicing law wasn’t for me. The next day, I got an email from NPR asking if I’d ever consider leaving the practice of law to go into media. Then London, and traveling around the world, and a coding boot camp, and now Edinburgh.
It has been ten years since I graduated from law school. And since then…it’s strange to think of my trajectory since then, and the trajectory of my classmates. Before this year, I kept up with some of them on LinkedIn, and my feed was full of promotions, corporate counsel, junior partners, senior associates, and a few who have hung out their own shingle. The ones I was friends with on Facebook started taking pictures without a wedding ring, then with new boyfriends and girlfriends and kids. I followed one of my classmates on Instagram, but she posted a rant about how annoying it was that her firm was no longer paying for first class airfare and lounge access and how could they expect her to live this way.
And five years after that, I started another new job at a much larger company with phenomenally impressive teams, and I have immense amounts of respect for the knowledge of the people I work with. The culture seems to be great, and while there’s no Beer Friday like there was at my last job, it seems like it’s going to be a great place to be. I feel completely overwhelmed, but I also think: this is a good thing. If I wasn’t stretching myself, I would be bored.
September was good. We ran the Copenhagen half, a fast route, and took the opportunity to visit Alice’s cousin and her family. I had read a lot about the brilliant Copenhagen flea markets, and we got the chance to go to one in Helsingør; on our way out the door, I mentioned it to Hannah, Alice’s cousin. “Helsingør,” she said, but with a bit of an inflection; “and if you’ve read Shakespeare…” and she let it hang in the air. “Holy SHIT,” I said, “Elsinore!” We went, and my souvenir was an antique Danish sailing shackle, as strong as the ocean and smooth after I oiled it, which cost all of £2. Then we walked up the high street and got Danish pastries and turned the corner and there were the ramparts.
They weren’t the originals, the ones that Hamlet would have seen a ghost on, but it was still emotional for me. What had been just a town in which to go bargain hunting had become a chance to touch genius, to see something that, for years, had existed to me mostly on a page. I got to tell Alice the story, or the broad outlines of it, and found myself getting tripped up; “He thought his uncle was behind a tapestry, but it was his friend and girlfriend’s father…the same friend that left, and then later came back, and so at the end, right, they poison the sword, and the pearl that gets dropped in the goblet of wine, so his mom drinks it…but oh, there were the players!”
Something to re-read and savor.
The half marathon was good; 22,000 or so fit, healthy Scandinavians, all in black, all stylish, all tan. And we went to Tivoli Gardens, and the Design Museum, and gawked at beautiful chairs and ate overpriced cake and then came home.
When we were in Singapore, we met up with one of my classmates, Chris – one of the two people from law school I really respect. We were talking about what we’d been doing since graduation, and how we got to the point where we were drinking cocktails at the top of the Marina Bay Sands, and life, and he said something that stuck with me, he said: “I want to live a life less ordinary.”
“Fuck,” I thought. “He gets it. He totally, one hundred percent gets it.”
And right when I was thinking that, he said, “I mean, you understand that more than anyone,” and I consider it one of the greatest compliments anyone’s ever given me.
So thanks, Case School of Law, for an education and for creating an arbitrary point in time from which I can measure my progress, and for introducing me to Chris, and to helping put me on the path of what has turned out to be a very interesting life so far. And man, I’m looking forward to seeing where I am in 2028. I’m pretty sure it won’t be at my twenty year reunion.