Why I Became a Lawyer, Instead of Becoming a Bird

By Jess – Just another lawyer who wants to help people.

bird - jess

From my earliest memory, my biggest fear was to not be able to be all the things I wanted to be because there wasn’t enough time in a lifetime.

I wanted to be a bird for most of preschool. And everyone had to be fine with that. According to my preschool log book kept by the teachers, that I was reading a couple of years ago, my teacher once told me that I couldn’t possibly be a bird and I apparently told her that I couldn’t not be one.

It was the first sign that I was heading towards a career in the law. While 2 year old me may not have realized that I could not physically be an actual bird, 2 year old me was willing to fight for what I believed was possible. Being told it wasn’t possible made me want it even more.

When I worked out, some time just before primary school that I might not be able to become a bird, I looked for an alternative and discovered that I could instead, become a pilot. I have pursued this passion for flying, not as a career but as an interest and a hobby. One day, I hope to be able to be fully qualified to fly myself whenever I choose, just like my preschool self predicted all those years ago.

Of course, interests change, people grow up. When I was 12, my uncle died from a drug and alcohol overdose. He died intestate, in the middle of a divorce. He left behind my cousin, a one year old baby girl. I was old enough to understand that the legal side of his death was forcing cracks to appear in our family. Threats from lawyers were arriving every day, demands for property we did not have were being thrust under our noses and worst of all, it seemed there was nothing we could do. It was only later, when I had been studying law for a while, that I realized we could have done something, but grief and anger had clouded my parent’s thoughts through that time. They did not want to do anything. Dad just wanted his brother back, and that was never going to happen so nothing else mattered.

When I was in my HSC year, I decided that law was a good course to aim for. Not because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but because it had one of the highest marks to get in to and I knew that I would need motivation to be the best I could be. I figured if I got the marks for law, I would have the marks for anything I wanted.

I was still struggling with all the things I wanted to do, including flying and working with animals. Studying legal studies through the HSC, I had a teacher who I got along very well with. We just clicked. He always encouraged me to explore career options because he felt that I was smart enough to be everything I wanted to be.

He gave me a book at the end of year 12. I came first in the course, which would normally mean a cash prize, but instead he got me the Dr Seuss book “Oh the Places You Will Go”. He told me that I would make an excellent lawyer. He told me my quirky personality, and passion for life, would keep me sane in a job like that, and that I could really help people. And so it was, on his advice that I applied, got into, and enrolled in, a law degree.

In my fourth year at university, I was enjoying my degrees (I had tacked on a journalism degree to make it a double for good measure). I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to be a lawyer, but I knew I was on the right track.

One evening, in March of 2012 I went over to my best friend’s house. We listened to dubstep music, played video games and threw glow sticks at each other. We drank vodka out of water pistols and had a conversation about where our lives were heading. He told me that he didn’t think it mattered what I did, because I would be good at it regardless. I could be a great pilot. And an excellent journalist, and a very good lifeguard, and still be practising law.

I always kept coming back to wanting to help people to never be in the situation our family had been in many years before after the death of my uncle. I wanted to help people navigate the complexities of a system I was getting to know well.

Two days after that night, my best friend jumped off a cliff. They found him in the early afternoon, lying there in the sun as though he was having a pleasant afternoon nap. I don’t know why he did that and I guess I never will. What I do know, is that instead of making me doubt myself, or making me want to wallow in all the memories of him I could muster, it had the opposite effect. It made me want even more out of my own life. It made me more passionate about helping people through problems. It made me more passionate about flying people away from them. It made me more determined to make every single minute of every single day count for something.

My life, could never be all about the law. I have too many loves, but my career can be for the moment. The events that have led to this choice, in the big scheme of the world, were not that big at all. Tragedy is part of every day. Perhaps the stereotype of “wanting to help people” is a romantic notion. Perhaps I will follow a new career path some day. But for now, this is where I need to be and of that, I am as sure as I was the day I told my preschool teacher that I would have to become a bird.

This short story won third place in our Unpacking a Lawyer writing competition.