Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Back to the Salt Mines

My vacation is over and I'm back, slogging away at my job.

What is it about employment that as soon as you return from a long weekend or a vacation it seems as if you've never been away? Malaise? I just know that it seems to be a settled rule of life that having money is great fun; making money is usually a pain in the rear end, even if you really enjoy what you do.

It isn't that I don't like being a lawyer, or more specifically, a prosecutor. Actually, it's a much better job than I ever would have thought myself capable of when I was in high school. My wife has a lot to do with me being here; I'd graduated with what was essentially a dual major in History and Government in 1977 and had a job for a while at a local bank. I was working in the collections end of things (and I do mean END; it is the crappy side of banking, believe me) on probationary status and got canned finally because I was too nice to those who owed the bank money. I was unemployed for a while, started working day jobs to make money to live on, then got a job with the State of Florida as a secretary in a unit that handled the bed spaces for the various psychiatric facilities run by the State. I did that for a while, then got on with another State Agency that was doing data entry for the old CETA program (a joint Federal/State grant-based mess). That job at least put a few beans on the table, but by then I was going steady with my girlfriend and she knew that at least ONE of us had to have a decent job if we were ever going to get married. One Thanksgiving she told me that she was thinking about going to the local law school, since her career in Special Education had been driving her slowly insane; I figured, "Gee, if she can do it, maybe I can!" and I promptly spent time at my increasingly dead-end-and-soon-to-be-cancelled-by-the-Reagan Administration job studying for the exam to test my ability to reason (which, considering my life choices during the preceeding couple of decades, was rather suspect). I got in and soon realized that my girlfriend wasn't following me into the hallowed halls of legal education; she'd attained her goal of getting me to aim a little higher.

I soon discovered that many of my fellow law school-attendees were in the same boat; having earned a perfectly good, but rather useless degree in college and unwilling to continue uttering the time-honored phrase, "Would you like fries with that, Sir?", we had set out to learn another language and another way of thinking. There's something to be said for legal training (besides the oft-quoted line from Shakespeare, and probably wrongly so by those who hate the legal profession,"First, let's kill all the lawyers"), as it does help you see the world in a different light. Instead of the chaos one sees in the news, you now see potential clients and new realms of practice.

I also discovered that law school was NOT like what I saw in the movie/TV show, "Paper Chase"; there was no Professor Kingsley around to torture the prospective JDs with sharp questioning in the Socratic method (at least most of the time), usually it was just one burned out lawyer from the private sector after another who'd gotten tired of paying malpractice insurance and chasing after clients, who'd figured out that teaching two or three classes a week, publishing a few times a year and getting a State Pension at the end of it all was, if not more lucrative than their prior professional life, at least a lot less stress-inducing. One professor would just come into class and babble about his having a skybox with season tickets for a professional football team because he'd done good legal work for them in years past. Another tortured my classmates and I by making us read Kafka short stories and assigning us to then somehow, someway, write a major paper worth a good portion of our grade, tying that tortured soul's ideas to Administrative Law (though, having practiced law now for twenty-one years, I'm finally beginning to see some of the parallels).

I got married at the end of my second year in law school and my wife and I moved into the married students' housing (aka "The Village"). I did an internship during my last year with the local prosecutor's office and enjoyed my semester there more than the previous two and a half years of school put together. I managed to graduate (NOT in the upper half of my class, mind you) and even more amazingly, managed to pass the Bar Exam the first time (which some in the upper half of the class DIDN'T). Then I tried to get a job with my newly minted sheepskin. I went to a Job Fair at an Annual Bar Meeting; no one sounded too interested in my qualifications. I interviewed at a Job Fair at the Law School; no one had any openings. I drove to a small town in Central Florida for what ended up being a fifteen-minute interview and no interest on the side of either party involved. I finally interviewed in the prosecutor's office in my Sun Coast hometown and was hired; a week later, in the midst of planning to move, I ran into one of the guys who'd supervised me as an intern in the local office at lunch and he told me they had an opening. I called, got the job ($500.00 less per year than the job I'd already been offered) and stayed.

After I passed the Bar Exam, I got put in our office's version of Siberia. Only one prosecutor worked in that area (with five secretaries) and the office was literally across the street in a storefront (because our main office didn't have the room for all the files at the time). I ended up moving offices four times after that until we all ended up at the new Courthouse, built in 1989. Our offices are already too small and I don't have one of the coveted window offices (coveted until you move into one and realize that the sun coming through the windows creates an oven-like atmosphere in your office), but I've been here a lot longer than most of the folks who've come through in the interim. I've outlived a few of them too.

It's not the greatest paying job in the world, but it's put enough beans on the table to raise two daughters and allow us to take a vacation every year. I'll have a full pension in six and a quarter years (an even better one, assuming the Big Elephant-types who run things in Florida these days don't wake up and kill the supplementary work-while-technically-still-retired program, in eleven and a quarter). Yes, I dream about winning the lottery and yes, I think that things could be better, but unless I wanted to chuck it all and go into my profession of the heart (Historian) and be willing to starve for the rest of my life until the partial pension kicks in (or I win the Lottery), I'll stay in the legal profession and put up with the pay, the whiners (victims and defendants), the political nature of things and the revolving door secretarial staff until I retire or, like a public defender friend of mine a couple of years back, they carry me out on my shield.

So, while I do complain and moan and groan, mostly to myself, occasionally to my dog and cat, other times to my wife, working in the figurative salt mines is preferable to shaking out the byproduct of the real thing on deep-fried spuds at the local burger-haus. Now, if I could only win the Lottery...

No comments: