For nearly three and a half years I worked in a legal aid office as a housing attorney. People would come into my office saturated with fear- of losing their homes, of being homeless, of being bad parents/wives/children- and my job was to assist them. To assure them that there were laws that protected them or programs to soften the blow. I stood up in court to defend them, to argue their cases and try to persuade the judge to side with us and let them remain housed. I fought terrible slum lords and their often jackass attorneys who condescendingly implied that I could not possibly know what I was doing because I was a young woman…until they realized I did. It was powerfully rewarding work to stand up for people who are so often bullied. But it came with concessions. It paid nearly nothing and burnout became a close friend.
But now, after I have relocated to Oakland to do much of the same work, I am realizing that perhaps there is a middle ground. This job does not come with the grating stress of the previous. But the pay scale is the same. I love my work, but hate that in some situations, I would qualify for the same programs as my clients. I have to believe there is a way to find meaningful work and make a little more than a liveable wage doing it. Last week I sat down to create a budget. And it was bleak. I, by no means, am complaining about being impoverished. For a single person I am doing fine. But I wouldn’t go further than that. And I’d like to do more than fine. I’d like to save and splurge and not wonder if my credit card bill will be repaid before I turn 40. But I’d also like to go home at the end of the day knowing that I helped lighten someone’s load a little. My clients rarely feel that anyone is fighting for them. I find so much honor in being the one to do it.
It’s sad the legal profession doesn’t offer more options. It seems my friends who make the big bucks are miserable and keep hours that would make your head spin. I am not miserable, and I realize that counts for something. I also know that inside of me is a woman who loves to write. Who believes that there may exist a way to use her words to help people. Whether that same woman can make a profession (and living) of it is anyone’s guess.
So I will bide my time. I will continue committing myself to this work and know that at some point in the future, a perfect opportunity will fall directly into my path and then, as always, the journey there will make perfect sense.