Unemployment is at its highest in SA at the moment, and even worse for the youth. Graduate unemployment is at an alarming rate. For those who are fortunate enough to be employed, there are times when you reach a point and have to say “deuces” to your employer. This could be brought on by a myriad of reasons, but chief among them usually is “it’s time to move on” — to better things, to more money, or even to a completely new field. I recently made this decision.
Two years ago, eight months after leaving law school, I joined a commercial law firm. I had graduated with a law degree and, while it was not all sun and stuff like that, it was a move that had to be made. The choice of law firm was deliberate. I wanted to work for a small outfit, as there I would learn as much as I could in the shortest period. I was not chasing money, but I wanted to lay a solid foundation to a “great, long, illustrious” corporate career. Whether I would stay in practice post that period, I didn’t know, but I knew that, at that point, this was it for me. The experience was amazing. I was not only exposed to the technical aspects of legal practice, but also to the means and measures of running a legal business or any other growing small business. For this I am grateful to my boss, who hired me over thousands of other candidates.
Two years after starting my articles, they are over, and I have informed my bosses that I don’t wish to be retained as an associate. I am wondering if they wished to retain me, though. It was a hard decision to make, because while it is not a plain resignation, it is me saying, “I don’t wish to work here anymore.” My boss did not ask for reasons, but accepted and acknowledged my decision. And now, here it is. Why I am leaving my job and possibly why I am leaving legal practice.
Having worked since I was 18, I was not new to the world of work. I have fought with bosses and supervisors before and I have left jobs that didn’t fulfil me. That is not the reason here. In the two years of being at the medium-sized (financially) practice, I have had a clear and unobscured view of what it takes to run a business, from getting clients, to dealing with clients and ultimately providing clients with work they are happy with. I loved this aspect of my job and experience at work. On the inverse, I also saw the difficulty that comes with managing people and personalities. What I know for sure, it comes with the territory, a lesson in itself.
Every great leader ought to empower those he leads. I walk away from this law firm having been so empowered. The independent decision to leave is a sign of empowerment in itself. In this time I grew, faster that I have in any other job I have held before. Having to sit with CEOs, directors and other such bigwigs was an eye-opener in itself. Having to speak to them was an act of empowerment. Having to stand before crowds and sell the firm was a highlight. And this is one of the reasons I have decided to not only leave the firm, but leave (active) legal practice. I realise that while I worked hard to become a good lawyer, worked hard to become an attorney, I was either going to become a miserable one, or a bad one. And no one says yes to being bad, and no one will pay you for it either.
From a young age I have always been a communicator, speaking and writing. Yes, I was one of those kids who was told “you speak well for a black kid” and, sometimes, “your English is good for a kasi school kid”. When those phrases started making sense, I became better at my “talent”. These days, those words don’t matter. But everything I have done in life involves communicating, from selling household products and selling credit, to creating a website and advocating for human rights (what a task) and, now, providing legal advice. I have been writing and speaking for so long that it was second nature and I never thought it would be a career. Quite curious, I’m an advocate of “passion”.
I am writing this not to encourage anyone to leave their job and follow passion, it doesn’t pay the bills. I am writing this to share an experience, one experience. It took me two years to realise and learn what I want to do with myself. The scary part, I am jumping and I don’t have wings or a parachute. When my contract ends in two months, I will become unemployed and become a number.
But here’s the fun part, I am ready. Bye-bye law, hello something new.