Thursday, May 02, 2019

Personal Musings on the Imposter Syndrome...

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This last month was the month I've met an important milestone.

Last month was the month when my earnings post law school started to exceed the fees I have paid to SMU. Even though this was not important to me financially, I needed to convince myself that I should at least earn my way back to cover my fees without the assistance of my passive sources of income. Of course, covering the fees about 8 months after being admitted to the Bar is no big deal. The Justice Law Clerks paid way less in fees after accounting for academic awards and they were paid during the period I was earning zilch and they were studying for the Bar exams.

I also had to come to the realisation that this will be the second time in my life when I failed a career transition.

The first time was after I studied for my Masters in Applied Finance and took all the finance certification exams only to find that IT paid me quite well to actually stay on. Right now, my training career is doing fine enough for me to possibly keep going on in 2019 and try to do my best - If I had actually stepped into Family law, I'd possibly cover around a third of my fees today and I'd be really miserable dealing with emotional problems from other folks.

To what end should I strive to be a "REAL" lawyer ?

One of the problems after becoming a trainer after going the whole shebang of being admitted to the Singapore Bar is the imposter syndrome that bothers me even right up till today.

The idea that I'm a "fake lawyer" was hinted by the auntie who sells me second hand books in Parklane whom I consider a friend because her son graduated from SMU and I was regular book shopper between lectures and came from the same university.

She said something really insightful. Obviously, she knows that I am free enough to shop for books on weekday afternoons. But she said something to me which was so interesting that only a bookseller who be able to say this to a close friend with much authority.

She said something that is full of BURN !

She said that I buy books "real lawyers" don't read.

The books I buy are full of equations, charts and are dry as hell. And by now she is familiar enough with my habits that she can even predict what books I would buy. In fact, she keeps some of the more arcane investing books for me knowing that no one else will give those books a second look.

Her insight to what "real lawyers" read is even more interesting. She says that "real lawyers" are always stressed. They buy the trashiest fiction novels to read and relax after work.

My imposter syndrome triggered again when I had an alumni's gathering this week. I really enjoyed my time in law school and really miss my professors, but I was self-conscious about my career choice. For reasons you guys know, investment trainer always sounds a little dubious to members of the public. Will there be a pissing contest to see who works harder for their law firms during the alumni meetup ?

Anyway, I thought I should go back to say hello to my classmates and get some name cards. I might need a good lawyer to assist me in writing disclaimers or even help me with IP matters in the future, so I should position myself now as a potential customer.

As it turns out, the moment I stepped into the function room, my ex-classmates greeted me with "welcome to the work-life balance" club.

None of the alumni in the group I contacted are "real lawyers". Some are in house counsel and the rest work for government agencies. The real guys who work for the prestigious law firms are stuck in the offices and have to miss that event.

We discussed a lot of major issues about the industry, the recent "violence" done to family law and how lawyers worked harder than the "996" culture the Chinese are revolting against. I think I held my own rather well because my Conflicts of Laws instructor as me whether what I learned was useful and I was able to discuss her topic at the level where I can quote case authorities and how it got me a thrashing when I was a pupil.

The conclusion is this. The legal industry is no longer what it used to me. Once growth starts to slow and folks no longer see a bright future, they will not put in the hours for a future that is not compelling to them.

My fear about getting into family law has always been about the "SUSS tsunami" that has yet to hit the legal industry so badly. SUSS conducts two modules in Family Law for their graduates and they probably are willing to do the same kind of work for much less. After that the supply will be shifted unfavourably towards those doing Criminal and Family Law work. Relief will not come until 2023 when the new regime for Bar Exams come into existence.

Anyway, self-loathing about career choices can only take one so far. I made a decision to postpone doing some smaller legal projects today so that I focus on my family and training business. I just do not multi-task as well as in my 20s or 30s.

At the end of the day, titles and your position in society may seem illusory, but the money coming into your bank account, your investment performance and the money you make for other people, is totally real.

I will revisit the possibility of a legal career if I ever run out of training gigs.

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