The hobbyist lawyers

Angie Robertson graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2010. She has experience with public interest law, family law, legal document review and sales.  When she is not reading or writing about law, she enjoys live music, exploring Chicago, watching roller-derby, and spending time with her husband and her dog.

Since childhood, I have always gone out of my way to be involved in plenty of activities. 4-H, band, dance, debate team, I was doing it all. If we had a chess team or “Mathletes,” I probably would have done that too. I did all right in school, but I was far more concerned about my activities. Being extremely busy gave me a sense of purpose, even though it was an impressively nerdy purpose. I hoped that my ability to multitask, work late into the evenings and try challenging things would lead to a thriving legal career one day.

Fast forward a dozen years or so, it turns out that the legal career is a childhood dream not yet realized. Unfortunately, I am not alone. Crowds of recent law school grads flock to this metropolis with the hopes of practicing law and, for the past few years, we’ve all been clamoring over the same limited job opportunities. Most of us are not independently wealthy and have to do either non-legal or semi-legal jobs, such as paralegal, financial advisor, administrative assistant, insurance sales, retail sales, waitress or document review. We do our best to remain relevant, which means we volunteer for legal hotlines, we volunteer to prepare wills for firefighters and police with Wills for Heroes on the weekends, we occasionally do simple divorces or fight parking tickets for friends, and some of us volunteer for a myriad of other legal service providers. We go to networking events for attorneys and non-attorneys, and we hedge when asked what we do for a living.

Our “lost” generation of attorneys, the ones who graduated in 2009 and after, can frequently analogize our day jobs to the time we were stuck in a less-than-challenging classroom. Practicing law, for us, is like all of those extracurricular activities we used to get so excited about when we were adolescent over-achievers-in-training. I may try explaining it like that at my next cocktail party. “I have a day job … but for fun, in my free time I really enjoy practicing law—for free!”

I take pride in my hobbyist legal practice in the same way that I took pride in jamming out Jethro Tull songs on my flute. I envy people who have made careers out of hobbies they love, like a surf shop owner, an artisan, or a professional Kardashian. But alas, I am not to the practice of law what Jethro Tull is to the very niche musical genre of 1970’s rock flute, at least not today. I have become extremely happy doing all of the diverse activities that constitute my professional life and my livelihood(s). But while all of these things work for my own personal fulfillment, they are not the coveted “3-5 years of litigation experience,” that Holy Grail prerequisite for so many of the sparsely-posted junior-level legal jobs.

In the years to come, I sincerely hope that hiring partners and maybe even some non-profit organizations or government agencies start considering hiring the legal hobbyists of our generation. We are a friendly, flexible, congenial group. What we lack in litigation experience, we make up for in work-ethic, humility, personality and sense of humor. This may be somewhat unlikely, and if it is, we may all be front-lining our own 2010’s niche rock bands, i.e. going solo. Or we may also fledge on as garage band-style, we-play-weddings-and-Bah Mitzvahs, i.e. hobbyist lawyers. There is no shame in that.

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