The nice thing about having December off was that it gave me some time to think about what I'd like to do with my life. Don't panic: I still mean to be a lawyer. But it was nice to have the space to reflect on what kind of lawyer I'd like to be. People would ask me this question point blank, and hearing what I would instinctively blurt out helped give me clarity on what it is that I want for myself.
Generally speaking, I want to continue to develop litigation skills, ideally in the area of technology and IP law, and preferably with an international component to my practice. There's nothing surprising about this; it's what I've always wanted to do. The difference is that I've decided I'm less willing to spend time pursuing opportunities that don't incorporate as many of those elements as possible.
In the meantime, while I find the right opportunity, I plan to contract. There's a part of me that could be very happy contracting indefinitely, weaving together a life where I work as hard as I can for a couple of months and then take a month off to go live in Europe and write... But I think it's too soon in my career to opt for such a path. For one thing, while the money for contracting can be good, I don't think contracting assignments are so easy to get as to make it a predictable way to earn a living. You can't just show up at an placement agency and announce you'd like a three-month assignment starting next Tuesday. Secondly, in some instances it apparently can be really awful work in really awful conditions. From what I gather it generally seems to be pretty good in California, where there's less competition for the work (thank you, impossible bar exam, for creating a smaller pool of licensed lawyers...) and the legal requirement to pay time-and-a-half for overtime makes long hours much more pleasant, but there's lots of stories of sweatshop environments at some major law firms in New York, where temporary attorneys are apparently treated as fungible and disposable. Maybe there's some hyperbole in these reports, and maybe these stories are the exception rather than the rule, but there seems to be enough truth to them to give one pause.
The biggest reason, however, for why settling in for a while as a contract attorney isn't a good plan for me at the moment is that you can get stuck doing it. There's no significant career progression from a contract attorney to anything else. It's not like a temp-to-hire situation: few people ever seem to go from contract attorney to regular associate.
Most contract work is also document review, which is not necessarily the most scintillating aspect to law practice. I actually don't mind it too much, but I may have been lucky in that all the document reviews I've done have actually been interesting. Still, no matter how enjoyable the reviews, I know it's not the only thing I want to be doing. I want more varied work, involving all aspects of litigation, and to have some sort of responsibility for a case -- not just a specific assigned task.
Whatever I do for a living, however, will require keeping an eye on the long view: making a difference. For the foreseeable future I'm glad to work for the sake of working, to continue to learn this trade and to make enough money to make the loans go away. But if there were to come a day when I looked back on my career and saw that I had done nothing to influence sensible policy, then no matter how brilliantly I'd litigated or how much money I'd earned along the way, I'd consider my career a failure. It's this fear that's partly behind the motivation to write, as no matter what I do during my day job I'll still have an avenue for making my voice heard.