I’m Sickened By the Idea of Practicing Law and Want to be an Actor Instead


QI’m a 3L at a top 20 law school. I have a job lined up at a mid-size litigation firm in San Francisco. But I hate the law. The idea of working in a structured office environment makes me sick to my stomach. I know this sounds lame, but I want to be an actor. This will sound even lamer, but I’m actually considered very good looking—and have done some acting in college. Is it ridiculous for me to move to LA and try to be an actress? Am I throwing away my career?  What if I don’t make it?  Can I re-enter the legal workplace later on?

AYes, wanting to be an actor is slightly insane.  But in a good way. It’s no more insane than opening a restaurant, starting a software company, or writing a novel.

Cheesy Aphorism #1

If you don’t dream big, you won’t be big. The truth is that it’s only insane if the plan doesn’t work out. If you never book a movie, a TV show or a dog food commercial, you’ll be the whacky chick who threw away her law degree to chase a silly dream. No doubt. But if it does work, you’ll be the brave heroine who threw caution to the wind and chased her passion, knowing full well the odds were stacked against her.

Bottom line: If you REALLY want to be an actor—if you feel it deep down in your bones—then give it a shot. Seriously. What’s the downside? I mean, the absolute worst-case scenario is that you discover that you’re a shitty actor… and you’re never able to land another legal job the rest of your life. But if you really hate the idea of practicing law in the first place, who the hell cares? What’s so bad about being deprived from having a career that makes you sick to your stomach?

Cheesy Aphorism #2

It’s much better to fail miserably at something you love than to succeed at something you hate. Do you really want to spend your whole life wondering if you could have been the next Meryl Streep while toiling over discovery requests in some windowless conference room?

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

16 Comments

  1. quado

    May 10, 2010 at 1:06 am

    I think for any of us to be able to properly give advice we need to see pics…now!

  2. Seriously?

    May 10, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Don’t get me wrong. Chasing dreams is an essential part of the American Way of Life (TM), and I can see why working in an office is unappealing. Does this girl/aspiring actress have a safety net or some other form of independent wealth? An opportunity to act is going to magically disappear in the next 5 years, so why not recommend she work for a little while as a lawyer to see if she can stand it? She can do local acting and maybe even modeling in San Fran to hone her skills while she decides. The odds of just magically making it in Hollywood are slim already, and the burden is absolutely crushing for someone who is possibly looking at > $100,000 in student loans to pay back. I’m not looking to crush souls here, but this girl should at least try to build up a name for herself and a cash reserve to live off of before she throws away her one guaranteed avenue to a lucrative career.

  3. BL1Y

    May 10, 2010 at 6:12 am

    I want to say that you should quit and do acting.  With acting there may only be a tiny window in which you can start your career, and you have 30-50 years to practice law, but the truth is leaving the legal work force this early on is going to make it hard to re-enter.  Most openings at law firms are for experienced attorneys because firms get their newbies through on-campus interviews.  Without the OCI structure to help you, it’s very hard to get your foot in the door.  If it’s possible to stay at your job and still do auditions, etc, I’d say do that, and then quit as soon as you get a real acting gig.

  4. Ace in the Hole

    May 10, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Most lawyers hate their lives and hate their jobs.
    Working as a waitress while chasing the dream would be preferable, believe me – you’ll be poor (unless/until you make something of it), but better off nonetheless, trust me.

  5. R Smith

    May 10, 2010 at 8:07 am

    You must have a family trust fund or rich parents, since few in this economy would seriously ponder leaving a lawyer’s job to try their hand at acting.  Hollywood’s definition of an optimist? An actor with a mortgage. Having said that, I prefer cheesy aphorism #2: pursue the dream or you’ll hate yourself 15 years from now. But actress jobs go to young and cute or established.  And its not a job for the faint hearted:  take a weekend or a sick day, and go on some open casting calls to get an idea of what you’re up against: young, serious and very attractive women who will leave their day job (usually waitressing or temping), to go on a casting call even if it costs them the job. Women who will renege on their promise to be the maid of honor at a best friend’s wedding to audition (true story: she got the lead in an old tv series called Dynasty).  Women who would sleep with Guano if he was a real director.  But women under 30 who want to be actresses are a dime dozen:  you’ll need an agent and the better he or she is, the better your chances. Go look and see before you quit. Ask other people in that biz.  True, the risk/reward ratio is high,and law can be a mentally deadening life for someone who yearns for the more creative side.  But please remember that the fantasy of being selected for a good paying job right away is miniscule.  You have a respected job that pays and ought to become more secure over time. Be sure you want to leave: re-entry into law is going to become more difficult.

  6. nn

    May 10, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Many firms are cutting back on new associates or delaying the start dates.  Maybe your firm would be amenable to a 1-2 year postponement?  Don’t sell it to them as “I want to see if I can make it in the industry that I’m actually interested in–I hate law!” Sell it to them as “This might be good timing for me and the firm.  There is something that I’ve wanted to try but I’m not sure that I could do that after having a long, fulfilling law career.  Perhaps I can do that first and come back to law?” Either way, though, you really shouldn’t throw your life away and work in a law firm if you hate the law.  It’s a real commitment.

  7. Anon

    May 10, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Aphorism?

  8. STFU

    May 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Why does everyone want to be an actor.

    Gee, I think I will be an actor now.

    If you really wanted to be an actor, you wouldn’t have gone to law school.

  9. BL1Y

    May 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    I can’t believe I argued (kinda) in favor of going the law route.  FML.

  10. R Smith

    May 11, 2010 at 5:40 am

    BL1Y: you argued for the responsible thing. Good for you.  Imagine if it were your kid asking you to quit law and “move to LA” to see about being an actor.  You know how many people get off greyhound buses every week with that goal? Its insane. They have no money, no leverage and the ones that look to it as an out from another career, don’t have the motivation to carry them thru the tough times. Let her check it out first as you said.

  11. manda

    May 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Why didn’t you do this before law school?  If you can afford to not take the job, then you should go for it.  You will regret it otherwise.  You won’t, most likely, be able to re-enter the law at your current status, but I think you could find a way to use your degree.  You could clerk for a judge (to re-acquaint yourself with the law, and, in this scenario, you can afford to not make much money), and then go to public interest or government, which have very different vibes than firms.  If you have loans to pay off, you would be very foolish for not going to the firm.

  12. Alma Federer

    May 12, 2010 at 3:52 am

    I advise to BE CAREFUL!  It is difficult being a lawyer, but it is even MORE difficult to be an actress.  Even though I am now young and beautiful, I would NOT go into acting, because women do not get good roles once they are over 40.  So why give the law up for maybe 10 years of acting, my dad told me.  I think my dad is right, so I will stay in the law.  10 years from now, I should be MARRIED and with one or two children to raise, so I will NOT want to be an actress anyway, then.

    • Louis

      December 9, 2012 at 9:51 am

      Are you available?

  13. Hannah Palindrome

    May 12, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Alma-You crack me up…LOL

  14. Son of Guano

    May 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Alma, I know “young” is a relative concept nowdays, and I don’t mean to be the one with bad news, but BL1Y is young: LF10 sounds young; you are over 30, unmarried, work in a law office, won’t flirt with lawyers, want kids immediately, eat french fries and say “fooey.” I bet you didn’t go to Coachella, didn’t go on a foreign vacation with a man in the last year and have cats. That may be the youth of middle age, but its not young. Sorry.

  15. Realistic Dream Crusher

    May 15, 2010 at 5:51 am

    “I’m actually considered very good looking—and have done some acting in college.”
    Good looking people who have done a bit of acting in college are at a premium in LA,….you should have no problem.
    Seriously though……

    It’s a big risk. Your chances of making a living as an actor are .0000000000000000000001%. I’m not even talking about being the next Brad Pitt….just an acotr who can make a living from it.
    There are thousands of people in LAX who have spent their whole 20s and 30s trying to make it. They are living in flop house hotels and motels……with no career path.

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