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Why fleeing from the law was right for me

I fled from the law. It was the most difficult best decision of my life.

I had parents who were more ambitious than I was. They always seemed to think that whatever I was doing should lead to a successful career because what is the point of living if one does not have a stable job? So when I took up piano and it looked to them that I had enough musical talent to warrant investment, they signed me up with a teacher who was affiliated with our university’s music school and could get me into the program.

I was nine or ten years old. I trained with her once a week and practiced every day. Once or twice a year I’d go to campus and take tests and exams. It terrified me. But I went through it. I didn’t have a choice; I was reminded often enough that this music training was an investment in my career as a concert pianist or at the very least as a securely-employed music teacher.

I reached the seventh degree in that university’s music program. If memory serves it went all the way to nine. They’d accelerated my first few degrees (no wasting of time and money allowed) and I was 15 or 16 by the time I reached that seventh degree…. and promptly quit. I was so sick of playing for a career that it made me hate music. Fortunately this proved temporary.

I was a great source of disappointment. All this investment for naught. Never again would they pay for anything like that.

Fine. I took off the minute I reached the blessed age of legal maturity and tried my luck in business. It worked for a few years before it didn’t pretty bad. I was so broke that I resigned myself to moving back home for a few months, just so I could gather myself and figure out my next steps.

They suggested, rather strongly, that going back to school should be my next step. I should go to law school and become a lawyer. But by that point I’d only managed to get a high-school diploma, and not a particularly impressive one at that. That doesn’t get you into law school, does it?

Well, as it turns out, there was a back door. If you were a “mature” student who’d been out of school for at least two years, you could take this special test along with dozens of other people and try to become the one person they picked that year.

I got picked.

I went through law school (paid for it myself thanks to a high-paying bar job) in two and a half years instead of the customary four because I was afraid I might not have the patience to stay the course. Sometime in my second year, I applied for a job at a few law firms. The one I had my eye on was Stikeman Elliott in Montreal. They only took one or two students a year.

I applied, went through the two-interview process, and got the job. By now you should get the feeling that when I want something that’s hard to get, I usually manage to get it.

Which in a funny way can be a trap. For it usually lands me in desirable positions I personally have little desire for. I wanted to be a writer, not a lawyer. Which was considered unrealistic because you can’t possibly make a living that way. Or so my parents never tired of repeating.

I spent a few months agonizing over what to do. I was supposed to start that job in the fall of 1996, it was early summer and I had no idea why I’d go work at a law firm if I didn’t really care to be a lawyer.

I went to the office, unannounced, and asked to speak to the fellow who was responsible for me. I forget his name now, but I do remember the receptionist telling me he was trying to get home as it was the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. I was almost responsible for minor sacrilege. I was always kind of a scofflaw.

He sat down with me and I explained, trying to stop tears from erupting, that while I was grateful for the opportunity I didn’t really want to be a lawyer and it would be unfair to the firm not to tell them that now. There was still plenty of time to find a replacement for me, and I wouldn’t cause them to invest in someone who didn’t want to be there.

He was nice about it, and that was that.

I never looked back on my near-miss with the law, except to remind myself how grateful I was for avoiding it no matter how much less money I make writing.