Why I quit my high-pressure job as a lawyer to stay home and teach English online
Updated: Jul 28, 2019
Sixteen years ago I entered law school as a twenty-one year old excited to make a difference in the world and eager to learn all I could about the law. My father had been a lawyer, a great lawyer in fact, working on cases for companies like Chrysler and Whirlpool. As a child I remember the excitement of going to his office on a weekend. We would drive into the city or if we were lucky get to take some sort of public transportation like the trolley or train. We would enter a building that seemed to reach the sky and take an elevator up to the top. When the doors opened we would be greeted by overly ornate and flaunting decor that screamed success. I would sit on the floor of his corner office overlooking Philadelphia and watch the cars and people that seemed like ants walking down below as he searched through huge legal books and files stacked knee high around his office. He was smart and seemed to enjoy his work immensely. I wanted that, or at least I thought I wanted that.
I walked into law school that first day, nervous but excited. I was fully prepared for my experience to be similar to what I had seen in the movies, professors drilling students on seemingly minute aspects of the law, students engaging in dramatic debates over politics and current events. All in all my experience seemed to be less about the law and more about degrading individual students that didn't worship their professors feet. The very first class I had, a professor tormented me about colored pens out on my desk, full out berating me about my pen choice and his belief that this was why women were not successful lawyers. I probably should have ran out of the classroom and never looked back right then. It would have saved me $75,000 in tuition.
Despite the uninspiring three years I spent in law school, I finished. This was it, I thought. Now I would be able to go out in the world and help. I had gone to undergraduate school to be a special education teacher and taught for a year before entering law school. My goal in going to law school had been to help families get the services their students needed. Although money wasn't my goal in becoming a lawyer, I quickly learned that those who needed the help couldn't afford to pay me anything let alone an amount I could survive off of. So I began doing divorces and bankruptcies because they paid enough for me to get by and allowed me to still help families negotiate with the school system. I spent ten years working full time as a lawyer, before realizing I was miserable.
What I found over those ten years was that my perception of being a lawyer when I was that young child sitting on the floor of a grandiose office was far from the realities lawyers face on a daily basis. The information and logistics we were taught in law school had little bearing on the actual practice of law out in the real world. In the real world, clients were never happy, the law was never fair or just, and the legal professionals you encountered were depressed and angry.
Clients wanted to argue about a 1987 TV set for months during a divorce despite your frequent advice to let it go. Then argue and never pay your bill when they finally got said TV set because it cost more to get than it would have cost to buy a brand new TV. Parents would argue over minute aspects of child custody agreement and then fail to pick up their kids for visitation because they were too busy with their new girlfriend.
People would come into my office for a bankruptcy and I would soon learn this was their 3 or 4th bankruptcy, like clockwork every 8 years with no plans to change or adjust their financial situation or spending habits.
Parents wanted to argue with the school that their child deserved to have swimming lessons or expensive summer camps paid for by the school to help improve their child's social skills, but didn't want to be bothered with bringing their child to the free community resources targeting the same skills. Schools argued that they shouldn't have to provide a student with a simple weighted lap pad that would help their sensory needs and allow them to stay in the regular classroom for longer periods of time.
And even worse then the impossible to please clients was the courthouse employees and legal professionals I encountered. If you thought high-school cliques were bad you have never experienced the legal community. Courthouse employees had to be constantly schmoozed and complimented to get simple requests fulfilled, if you didn't your life would be miserable. Waiting in the clerks line I would often see people trying to ask basic questions, unable to afford a lawyer and confused about the process, they would be barked at and spoken to like they were second class citizens. Only to be followed by a big shot attorney who would walk up and be given whatever information they needed, their court dates changed to something more convenient for them, and have their paperwork processed at lighting speed.
Fellow attorneys were just as rude and cliquey to each other. I would take on a new client and immediately check to see who the lawyer was on the other side. More often then not, I would see that name and lament about the long drawn out case I knew I was about to enter into. They had no interest in actually helping the clients solve their problems and resolve the case, only in dragging it out and working up their clients in order to expand their bills. Cases never seemed to be resolved in a fair or just manner. Sometimes I won when I shouldn't have based on the case and the arguments presented, this was especially true when it was an out of town attorney that wasn't known by the Judges or Magistrates. Other times I lost when I should have won, usually when the attorney on the other side was more well known to the Judge or Magistrate. It was frustrating and against everything that it seemed I had gone to law-school for.
After years of trudging through my career as a lawyer I decided to take a step back. At the very least I needed to find something else to bring back my joy. That was when I came across a Facebook post for teaching English online to kids in China. It was something I could do before work or in the evenings since they were in a different time zone. I figured what the heck and applied. Within a week I was teaching. I would get up at 5am and teach kids who were happy to be there. I would interact with Chinese parents who were grateful and thankful that I was there teaching their child English. Each month I was teaching more and more and taking on less and less clients. When I logged off the computer in the morning there was no sense of dread or stress that stayed with me throughout the day. I was able to make my own schedule and not be at the mercy of the court’s docket. If I wanted to take off a week to spend time with my family on vacation, there were no clients calling me or emailing me with wild requests and demands.
Over the past three years I have had the opportunity to work for several online ESL companies in various capacities; teacher, trainer, interviewer, workshop coach, brand ambassador and more. I am now able to balance my time between two great companies Gogokid and Vipkid, maximizing my income. I teach students and train other teachers anywhere from 30–50 hours a week on my own schedule. In addition to my income teaching and training for these companies I have been able to develop a brand, through referring and product development. I have helped hundreds of new teachers get hired and start teaching English online through my YouTube channel, websites, and other social media outlets. Over the last three years I have been able to go from this being a part time job, bringing in some extra cash each month, to something that is able to support me and my now 5 children, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 3 goats, 2 sheep, 2 turkeys, 10 ducks and numerous chickens on our own small farm.
I stopped taking legal clients a year ago and have almost wound down all the remaining cases that were ongoing. I can’t say that there is anything I miss about the legal world. I am eternally grateful to those clients and fellow legal professionals I have met who were genuine, honest, and dedicated to solving problems and working towards solutions. I have encountered many in the legal community who have had similar thoughts and experiences, some have also made the decision to move on to better things and others are still in the trenches fighting the good fight. For me, I have found that I didn't need the tall building in a bustling city to reach my goals and find my happy place. I can roll out of my bed and over to my computer in the corner of my room and fulfill my dreams.