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Laura A. Hutchings Headshot

Leaving the Law, Part One: Why I Chose My Second Bedroom Over the Corner Office

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In truth, my discontent started much, much earlier than I would ever let on. In the beginning, the plan was simple: three years at a law firm, eating ramen, repenting for the sins of private, adjustable-rate law school loans. Then I could do what I really wanted: pursue those entrepreneur dreams that existed from my first lemonade stand, persisted through Free Enterprise Camp in high school, temporarily flourished after college when I swore off post-graduate education and moved alone, cross-country to start a dog food company that made organic, microwavable TV dinners for dogs.

All I can say is that somewhere in the kitchen of my summer sublet apartment on the hill in Boulder, Colorado, grinding chicken livers and baking eggs and rice with no air-conditioning, I came to believe that no one would ever take me seriously without a law degree. The prospect of attracting investors was starting to look bleak. Besides, law school was starting to sound like fun. So, I rented Legally Blonde and put my dreams on hold.

A long three years later (surely the stuff of future columns) -- law firm offer and diploma in hand -- my fiance and I left the crowded Northeast Corridor for the open spaces of the West. Ready for my first paycheck, we bought a small condo. Then we bought some furniture. I dropped a small fortune on lawyer-clothes, a pair of shoes, a proper handbag.

Three months after graduation, the grace period ended on my six figure student loan debt. The pressure was on. Forget everything I said in law school about starting a non-profit ranch for stray dogs or never "working for the man" -- it was time to get real, I was going to love litigating at a large law firm.

And so it went. Like a champ, I held on for almost three years. Don't get me wrong, there were high peaks amongst the low valleys: friendships made strong in battle; loyal colleagues; a tall, non-fat, Splenda latte just in the nick of time. And I was blessed with amazing clients. I will never regret taking on their burdens, or the many hours spent in their service. Like family photos saved in a fire, I carry these people with me.

Then one day, in May of 2009, I took my framed diploma off my office wall and left my lucrative career at an international law firm (a story for another day). No doubt there were those who thought I was crazy, leaving a secure job, voluntarily, during the worst economic downturn of our time. There were those who warned of failure, and there were proud smiles wishing me success.

Since my "retirement" (complete with an engraved desk clock) I see the same story replayed in the faces of friends and strangers. I get calls from the trenches and friends of friends asking me out to dinner, wanting to know how I walked away. Was I really surviving as an entrepreneur? I have to laugh: thinking of myself as old mother Abigail with a guitar, luring the law firm malcontents to my porch.

Yes, at least for the moment, I am surviving.

Won't you have a seat? What words of wisdom I have, I will share with you.