Today’s post was inspired by a Daily Prompt (albeit very belatedly).
In the legal world, the meaning of words matter. Both WA and Australia have Acts devoted to interpretation. If a word is not defined in legislation or case law, it is likely the “ordinary meaning” applies, in which case, we turn to “well-known and authoritative dictionaries”, such as the Macquarie Dictionary.
The Macquarie Dictionary defines reputation, among other things, as follows:
- the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally.
- a favourable and publicly recognised name or standing for merit, achievement, etc.
- the estimation or name of being, having, having done, etc, something specified.
I used to be a lawyer. One day, after many long nights at work, weekends in the office, tears and arguments with Boy Robin about what is a reasonable amount of time to devote to work that you do not enjoy, I quit my job.
I spent some time at a community legal centre, which was great, until they ran out of money to pay me.
And as I was no longer employed as a lawyer, for all intents and purposes, I stopped being one.
It is strange feeling. Five long years at university, a year’s articled clerkship, being admitted in the Supreme Court and entered on the Register of Practitioners and several years of working as a lawyer. Taking comfort in the idea that I was helping people, not to mention the sense of achievement and prestige of being a lawyer, despite all those bad lawyer jokes out there.
A large part of how other people perceived me, not to mention how I perceived myself, my reputation if you will, rested on the fact that I was a lawyer.
I will never forget the day I had to fill in the Notice of Intended Marriage form and for “usual occupation”, I had to fill in “administration assistant”. I was no longer a lawyer and had no intention of being one for the foreseeable future, leaving a gaping void as to who I was.
I imagined my descendants tracing their family tree and finding the marriage certificate of the great-great-great-great-great-grandmother. How would they see me? Some slip of a girl who never went to university, with no career goals or drive to achieve? Or, if they found evidence of my law degree and admission as a lawyer, an underachiever, who couldn’t hack it when things got tough and took the easier route, especially when she knew that now she would have a husband to provide for her? Or will I have left enough of a mark on the world that they will see me as someone who, despite working hard to become a lawyer, realised how miserable it made her and chose to do something else?
I’m slowly coming to terms with it. I try to remember my reputation primarily rests with who I am and what I do as a person, not my occupation, although my occupation will inevitably influence it to some extent. I try to keep a hold of the fact that all the prestige and so-called reputation in the world does not make up for the absolute misery I felt as a commercial lawyer. In any event, I can go back to being a lawyer one day, although if I did, it would definitely be in the not-for-profit sector rather than the commercial world.
Little by little, I build a new reputation for myself, rather than for everyone else.
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