TW: domestic violence, assault, sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse
2018, like so many other years, has not been easy, but it has been big. I spent around 3 months in total off sick. I had my third operation in two years. I battled medically-induced depression, went into menopause twice, visited my homeland again, celebrated my second wedding anniversary and adopted two beautiful animals. Most dramatically, though, I learned when to quit. Literally.
I’ve worked in the same place, with one minor break, since January 2014. I started as a volunteer paralegal. In September that year I started as a part-time paid paralegal. In July 2015 I finished my Masters of Law and my BA (Hons) and went full time. In January 2016 I was promoted to a senior paralegal position and moved to a different section. In August that year I become a solicitor. I’ve never worked anywhere else as a lawyer. I met my husband there. I was instilled with a love of law there. And, in the final work week of 2018, I quit.
This wasn’t a totally spur-of-the-moment decision. A few months back I applied for a job elsewhere on something of a whim, and was moved into a merit pool. I didn’t really expect anything to come of it. However, the Friday just before that last week, I got a call offering me a position. Two days later, I accepted it.
It was an incredibly difficult decision in many ways. In my old job, I was a litigation lawyer. I was in court at least three days a week, and meeting with clients or preparing for cases the rest. Most days I would be appearing with less than an hour to prepare. I was helping extremely vulnerable people. I acted on behalf of domestic violence victims, the homeless and the mentally ill. I got to argue points of law with magistrates who seemed hell-bent on confusing me, and work with angry clients who were not too far from assaulting me. It was often incredibly rewarding, but, as I’m sure you can guess, extremely physically exhausting.
In addition to the time pressures that any legal job has – file this by 10am, send this letter out by 5pm, subpoena these documents by Wednesday – you also have a bunch of other unique stresses. There is the belly-churning stage-fright you get before appearing in front of a magistrate, the pressure not to embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues, client and court by stuffing up. There’s the emotional burden and vicarious trauma you take on by hearing stories of domestic violence – often involving serious physical and sexual assault, sometimes against children and animals – every day. There’s the standards you hold yourself too to be the best lawyer possible, standards that are drilled into you irrevocably in the hyper-competitive environment of law school.
There’s also a hefty dose of physical exhaustion. In addition to travel between the office and court (walking distance, in my case, so walking it is), there is an inordinate amount of running around involved in court work. You have to chase around after a seemingly endless stream of clients, registrars, associates, other lawyers and even your colleagues, none of whom are ever where you need them to be. There’s the inevitable last-minute change of courtroom because the lights aren’t working in courtroom 5, or because the magistrate that was hearing your application now has to do an emergency bail hearing instead. There’s the frantic jack-in-a-box hopping up and down that a lawyer needs to do in the courtroom to demonstrate respect for the court. All in all, combined with the mental and emotional stress, the job is incredibly exhausting, and I simply can’t do it any more.
I am extremely sad. I love litigation. I love the thrill of winning a point or getting a good outcome for a client. I like the challenge and the test to my skills. I love arguing (as my family will probably attest). Not only that, but I’m moving away from some truly fantastic colleagues whom I will desperately miss.
Moreover, it’s a huge change in mindset for me. Three years ago I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I wanted to be a family lawyer. I would do five years of practice, then get accredited as an Independent Children’s Lawyer, maybe even a mediator, and after ten years I would do my specialist accreditation in family law. Now I’m moving into a government organisation working in a policy role that has nothing to do with litigation, family law, or domestic violence. I’ve had to give up an entire future because my body was wearing out faster than I could replenish it. I’ve had to hugely re-evaluate where my life is heading and what I want to do.
In all honesty, now I don’t know. A lot hinges on 2019. I may hate this job and scramble back into litigation and work until it breaks me beyond repair (I hope I’ll have more sense than that). Alternatively, I may love it, and be happy to never go back. I may change career several more times, as my generation apparently does. Right now, I have no idea what the future holds. It’s scary, but I’m ready. I’ve got my positive brain engaged. This is a new opportunity to discover what else I’m good at and see if I love other things too. It’s a new workplace, next to a beautiful walking track and near to my sister. It’s also (I sincerely hope) a physically easier job, that will give my poor body the chance to heal that it so desperately needs, so that I can actually get back to building a career (whatever that looks like).
I’m proud of myself for taking this step. Yes, I quit. I gave up. Some might say I failed. Whatever. Sometimes, quitting is what you need to do. It was the right decision for my health, and hopefully for my family too. It was scary, but I had the courage to do it anyway. 2018 was a year for courage. 2019 is going to be a year for perseverance, as I stick to the scary decisions I have made and see them through to their end. I’m ready. I’m happy. Bring it on.
I hope your 2019 is full of hope, happiness, and beautiful surprises. I wish for strength, endurance, courage and beautiful, painless moments for all of you.