From Lawyer to Wellness Professional
How a former corporate litigator left the grind of her private practice to become a wellness writer, Reiki Master, and yoga teacher trainee.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamt of being a lawyer. Maybe it was because I watched Legally Blonde too many times as a kid or the fact that I grew up idolizing Ally McBeal, but I always envisioned myself standing in a courtroom, winning the hearts and minds of juries everywhere.
Now when I say that I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up, I mean that I really wanted to be a lawyer. I spent my summers at law camp (not quite as nerdy as band camp, but definitely a close second), participated in mock trial competitions, was elected student body president, and went on to do a bunch of other goody-goody extracurricular activities that I won’t bore you with now (and, to be honest, are a little embarrassing nearly a decade later!).
Needless to say, I decided that I had to go to a college with a strong pre-law program. After a whirlwind college tour up and down the eastern seaboard, I found Franklin and Marshall College, a small and prestigious liberal arts college located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
While I tried all sorts of classes and clubs during my four years of college (and was even in a sorority…a fact that shocks most of my zen, yoga-enthusiast friends today), the constant in my life was always the law. I took pre-law classes, majored in Government and Political Science, and ran the Pre-Law Honor Society…all things that would help me get into law school someday.
My First Yoga Class
Somewhere in between a full course load and padding my resume for law school applications, I found yoga. It was my freshman year, and one of my friends had told me about a free yoga class that would be held in the school gym once per week. I’d always thought that people who did yoga were cool and figured, “oh hey, what the hell?” and signed up the next day.
I didn’t have a mat, had no clue what “down-dog” was, and didn’t know what to expect. I even showed up wearing denim shorts and a tube top (oh college fashion choices) because that’s how little I knew about yoga…
While my first class was tough, I walked out of the gym afterward feeling more relaxed than I’d felt in years. Maybe it was the over-worked schedule that had been my norm throughout high school or the lack of rest that so many college students suffer from, but that first yoga class really opened my eyes to the anxiety and stress I was living with on a daily basis.
I wish I could say that was the wake-up call I needed and that I started truly listening to my heart’s song after that first class but, that was back in 2009, and I had a whole lot more learning and living to do before I was really ready to embrace yoga in my life. I ended up going to a few more classes throughout those first-years of college, but the practice never really stuck.
Yoga and the LSAT
The first right of passage to becoming a lawyer is the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, for short. Like the SAT, the LSAT is a grueling, day-long exam that can make or break your chances of being accepted into law school and, like the over-achiever I was at the time, I was wasting no time in preparing to ace the thing.
I moved home to stay with my parents for the summer and developed a color-coded, expansive study schedule. I hired a private tutor, did hundreds of practice questions each week, and did more logic games than I care to admit. But about a month in, I was beat. I was emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted from studying so hard and started to worry that I was too burnt out to make it to the finish line, much less score high enough to get into law school.
I can’t tell you why or how the idea popped into my head, but late one night I thought about that first yoga class I attended during freshman year. I remembered the calm serenity and clarity that I felt walking home from class, the way my stress seemed to melt away…all things that seemed helpful for someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown studying for the LSAT. I Googled the closest yoga studio to my parent’s house and drove myself over there first thing in the morning.
Walking into Balancing Owl Yoga, my first, real-life yoga studio was almost like an out-of-body experience. The whole place looked, felt, and even smelled like calm, and I knew right then and there that I was onto something good. I signed up for an introductory, Level 1 class later that day…
Those first few classes were life-changing, shaking me to my core and challenging the lifestyle I thought I knew. I can still remember the first time I hopped back into chaturanga, the way I felt as I drifted away during Shavasana (Corpse Pose), and the excitement I felt when my teacher told me that I was ready to advance on to Level 2 classes. I spent the rest of the summer commuting between tutoring sessions and the yoga studio, slowly preparing my mind and body for the big day ahead.
When test day arrived, I grabbed a few of my equally-nervous friends and found a quiet corner of the exam building to meditate (something I would never have tried before what I now refer to as “The Summer of Yoga”). I walked into the testing room calm, confident, and ready to perform and, unsurprisingly, passed the test and started receiving acceptance letters in the mail from law schools across the country.
After a lot of soul-searching, I ended up accepting a scholarship and admission offer from Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts.
Although I had visited Boston a handful of times and always thought it was a neat city, I truly believe that I was drawn to attend law school here because of the strong legal influence in the city (it’s no coincidence that shows like Boston Legal and Ally McBeal are all set in Boston, or that one of the best law schools in the world is just a hop, skip, and a jump across the Charles River…).
If you have any friends or loved ones that are attorneys, then you’ve probably heard the horror stories about the first year of law school. While we in the legal field tend to have a flair for the dramatic at times, sadly, these tales about the first year of law school (also known as “1L”) are true. All I did for an entire year was read cases, briefcases, write papers, get cold-called in class, panic about getting cold-called in class, read more cases, study, and make course outlines.
In an effort to keep some sort of balance during this crazy time, I joined the Equinox gym down the street that offered yoga classes. I started attending yoga classes weekly and, over time, once again watched as the stress melted away. Each week, no matter what happened in class, I always knew that I could return to the studio room, my safe space, for a reprieve from the stress of law school.
The rest of my law school career is a blur of studying, writing, competitions, and exams, but the gist of it is that I graduated, with honors and a full-time job offer, in May of 2016.
Throughout those tumultuous three years, yoga always remained a part of my life, albeit as more of an acquaintance than a close friend. I would dabble in classes or attend a workshop here and there, but I still hadn’t found a consistent yoga practice…yet.
Yoga and the Bar Exam
Remember when I said that studying for the LSAT and living through my first year of law school was tough? Well, all of that is child’s play compared to the Bar Exam. Like the driven, competitive person that I am, I made the possibly insane choice to take not one, but two bar exams during the summer immediately after graduation. I’d be taking the Massachusetts Bar Exam (since I just accepted a job offer in Boston) as well as the New York Bar Exam…one of the hardest exams in the country.
It’s been over a year, and I can honestly tell you that I still feel a pit in my stomach when I look back on the summer I spent studying for the bar exam. I was cooped up in my apartment or the library for not hours, but days on end, I must have done thousands of multiple choice questions, and I spent the bulk of two months thinking that I was, after all, not good enough to be a lawyer.
That’s the thing about the Bar…it shakes your confidence in ways that you can’t even imagine. This, for someone who dreamt of being a lawyer for the better part of a decade, was understandably a lot to take in. I started experiencing severe anxiety and depression, suffered from panic attacks on a daily basis, and had a hard time waking up in the morning to face yet another day of studying. In the midst of a mental crisis, I sought help from a local therapist and began taking anti-anxiety medication.
As I trudged through the last month of studying, my therapist suggested that I return to my yoga practice. I didn’t need to set any expectations, and I didn’t even need to go to a formal yoga class, all I had to do was roll out my mat, plop down into child’s pose, and shut off my brain for a few minutes.
Thinking of this as critical advice from a medical professional (which, to be fair, it probably was at the time), I closed my books and gave myself permission to practice yoga for half an hour in my apartment.
WOW. All of a sudden I felt safe again, like whatever happened on that test, I was whole, and it would be alright in the end. I won’t lie and say that the next few weeks were suddenly a breeze and fool you into thinking that I took two bar exams without a care in the world. To the contrary, the final weeks and days leading up to that last week in July made me scream, cry, worry, and lose sleep on a daily basis. If anything, yoga and meditation simply helped me survive that period of my life, even if I did literally hobble to the finish line (in a series of truly unfortunate events, I sprained my ankle and managed to injure a toenail less than 24 hours before the final exam day…ouch).
In the end, I passed. That’s right, I passed the Massachusetts and New York bar exams on my first attempt (something that even my own law school advised against attempting). The day had finally come…all of those years of preparation, studying, and dreaming had come to fruition…I was a lawyer.
Life as a Litigator
Once I took my oath, I was ready to hit the ground running as a real-life, honest-to-goodness, lawyer. I chose the highly competitive field of corporate litigation, where I’d be advocating for large companies across the country in multi-million dollar lawsuits. The work sounded exciting, the firm I chose was well-established in the Boston legal community, and I honestly felt like I had achieved everything I’d ever wanted.
Looking back on it now, of course, something was bound to go wrong. I’ve since learned that the universe (and life, for that matter) are rarely picture-perfect and it’s in those times of change where true beauty is actually found. Nevertheless, I entered my first year as an associate attorney with a closet-full of new suits confident that I would become the lawyer I’d always dreamt I would be.
As it turned out, life as a first year associate was not at all what I thought it would be. My days were broken into tenth’s of an hour for billing purposes, my work was constantly criticized, and I was navigating complex, firm politics for the first time in my life.
Unlike law school, everyone I met in the legal profession seemed to have an angle, a sort of mask that they would wear whenever practicing law. I, on the other hand, couldn’t master this skill. I struggled to the point of tears when I had to advocate for someone or something that I knew in my heart was wrong, and had a hard time fitting into a culture that is defined by some seriously unhealthy habits: long hours, peer-to-peer competition, minimal work-life balance, excessive drinking, and lots of cruel, office gossip.
What started out as a lifelong dream quickly turned into a nightmare, and I had no idea what to do. I had spent my entire life working towards becoming a lawyer and didn’t know if I was equipped to do anything else. Could I really have been that wrong about myself all this time?
Unsure of my next move professionally, I decided to escape the entire thing by diving back into yoga. Unlike my previous encounters with yoga, this time I ran full speed ahead with a daily practice at another local yoga studio in Boston. I started attending classes before work, after work, and on the weekends, bought an entire wardrobe of new yoga clothes, and purchased props to practice at home…something, anything, to escape the life that I’d mistakenly created for myself.
Yoga Sparks a Change
While I initially started flocking to yoga classes as a way to escape my life as a litigator, it wasn’t long before the same practice made me come face to face, finally, with my biggest fear: maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer after all.
This thought, even in its infancy, was powerful and lasting. I couldn’t ignore the extreme unhappiness and stress that I’d built for myself all this time any longer, and my yoga practice would make sure of it.
Instead of pushing my thoughts away as I had in the past, I started meditating on the idea of not being a traditional lawyer anymore. Slowly, over the course of a few months, I began accepting this idea more and more. Maybe I would work in public interest and use my legal skills to support causes I truly believed in…maybe I would be a public defender…maybe I would renounce all of my possessions and move to Europe…I clearly had no clue where this path would take me, but I knew so strongly on a body-level that I couldn’t stay in this toxic environment any longer.
On what goes down in history as one of the most emotionally-draining days of my life, I spoke with my boss and tendered my two-weeks notice. I had hit a breaking point, a place where I willingly succumbed to becoming a person that I didn’t like, and that was it…I was done. To my surprise, I was told that I didn’t need to stay for two weeks and, instead, could pack up my stuff and leave that day (apparently there’s very little compassion in corporate law…figures).
As I packed my law books into a stereotypical banker’s box, I found myself staring out my window into the busy streets of Boston’s Financial District. Where did I go wrong? Hadn’t this been exactly what I wanted all along? What the heck was I going to do now?
I tipped my Uber driver an extra 40 bucks and watched as he heaved my belongings and accomplishments, pieces of my legal dream, into the trunk of his GMC Yukon. I took off my heels, climbed into the back seat, and drove away from the firm I had once considered my home…
Unemployment: A Tale of Wine, Netflix, Sleep, and Yoga
I spent the next several days in a hibernation-induced haze. I drank a lot, slept a lot, and watched TV a lot. I was “unemployed” - a status that I had been fortunate enough to avoid for my entire adult life up until this point and, quite frankly, it felt nice. I had earned my annual bonus shortly before leaving the firm and had enough to pay my bills and fund my new-found laziness for a few months, so I embraced unemployment and the foreign comfort it brought with open arms.
For a few weeks, I woke up when I wanted to, ate what I wanted, and did yoga in my apartment. I started meditating each morning (or, to be honest, each afternoon since I usually woke up around 11:00…) and finally started to Let. It. Go.
Like all good and pure things in this world, even a little laziness and indulgence must come to an end. A few weeks of binging episodes of Big Little Lies and Keeping Up With The Kardashians was enough to spark a little flame of productivity in me, so I reached out to a temp agency for short-term legal work. I took a month-long job at a big immigration firm and figured that if I was going to work for “The Man,” it could at least be A Man that believed in doing some good.
The Part-Time Job That Turned Into a Great Love
Once my immigration job had come to an end, I took advantage of my return to unemployment and went to visit my family for a much-needed and long-overdue visit. We spent the week laughing together, crying together, and I left feeling a little more like myself again. Then, on the train ride back to Boston, I received an email.
During one of my merlot-induced online job searches, I had applied for a part-time job at a local yoga studio called Health Yoga Life. I had no idea what my next career move would be, but I figured that spending a few hours in the calm serenity of a yoga studio sure couldn’t hurt while I tried to figure it out. To my complete amazement, I received an interview and an offer within a couple days.
I started working at the front desk for only 20 or so hours per week and helped keep the studio clean between classes. I started meeting the teachers, students, and coworkers that called the studio home and, for the first time since law school, finally felt like I fit in again. I was surrounded by strong women and men who not only understood my friendliness but embraced it. Unlike the law, where my personality and optimism were labeled as naive, this was a place where I could truly be myself.
I started taking classes multiple times per week and found myself experiencing an entirely foreign concept: I loved my job. I loved the studio environment, the mission Health Yoga Life stands for, the people I met, and absolutely everything about this incredible place nestled in the brownstones of Beacon Hill.
Unlike my job as an associate attorney, here my hard work was truly appreciated. I felt like my voice mattered, that I was really a part of a team, and it didn’t take long before I started taking on more responsibilities in the company. I’ve also made true, lasting friendships with the owners, teachers, interns, and students of Health Yoga Life, and have a vibrant group of close friends in my life again, each of whom fills my life with love, joy, and a sense of purpose each and every day.
The Yogi Lawyer is Born
After sharing my strange journey to yoga with a few coworkers and friends, I noticed that everyone had a similar response: how did I do it?
Some people joked that I should write a book, and one rainy Saturday I decided to do the next best thing: start a blog. When I wrote my first post, I honestly didn’t think anyone besides my mom and boyfriend would read it. I was an amateur writer at best and really, what did I know about the yoga blog space?
Turns out, a little more than I gave myself credit for. Almost overnight, The Yogi Lawyer exploded, and I had readers all around the world reading my story. Thinking that this was probably just a coincidence, I started an Instagram account for my new blog and added a couple yoga photos…once again, things blew up, and I now have over 12,000 followers.
A few weeks later, I started receiving writing opportunities and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. I’ve always had a passion for writing and now, after everything that’s happened and the crazy twists and turns my life has taken, can now call myself “A Writer.” Yoga lead me through the law, to my job at an amazing yoga studio, to writing and, ultimately, to myself. I’m even in the process of becoming a certified yoga teacher and just recently became a certified Reiki Master!
Helping Others Find Peace
Back when I was thinking about leaving the law, I made myself a vision board. Flipping through the pages of magazines and newspapers, I came across a saying that I clipped right away, it read:
Help Others Find Peace.
I didn’t know it then, but that’s exactly what I feel like I’m doing with my life now through yoga. Each time I get to know a new student at the studio and make the practice more approachable for them, I am helping others find peace. Every time I receive an email or comment from a reader of The Yogi Lawyer telling me that they decided to leave a job that they were unhappy with, I am helping others find peace. Whenever I share my unique journey, this journey through college, law school, big law firms, and unemployment, all leading me to yoga, I am helping others and, most importantly, myself find peace.