In about a year, unless something goes terribly wrong, I will be sworn into the American Bar Association, and begin my career as a Real Lawyer™. There is a lot that has to happen before this swearing-in ceremony — I have to, you know, finish my last semester, graduate in May, and study for, take, and pass the bar exam in July. Then I will take some time to travel (a “bar trip”), and begin working at my firm as a “law clerk” in October while my application for admission to the bar is reviewed. Then, sometime next winter, hopefully, I will be sworn in. (There is a lot of knocking on wood going on while I’m writing this.)
I have a lot of thoughts about what it means to be a big city lawyer. I’ll be starting my career in Manhattan, working in “big law” to pay off my enormous student loans. I’m worried about several things — my commute will be extended by about ten minutes, making it almost an hour, I will join the ranks of lawyers regularly working 12-16 hour days, and I may have to work on projects that don’t align with my personal goals. Plus, I have a LOT of debt to pay off, and it may not disappear as quickly as I hope. But I made this choice deliberately, and I don’t regret it.
Pretty much everybody, upon graduating from law school, worries about these things. But one thing that doesn’t get talked about very much in the legal field is lifestyle inflation, although everybody is aware of it, and most of us fall victim to it. Everybody is making an absurd salary (although at least two thirds of mine will go to either taxes or loans), and one result of this is that there is a significant designer presence in the office. On one of my first days during my summer internship at the firm (a type of trial-run, to determine if it’s a good match for you to work there), I followed a woman to the elevators who was wearing Louboutins. To work. Just casually. Everybody has some kind of designer handbag in which the obligatory chunky laptop and stuffed folders will be hauled back and forth from home to work, since leaving the office in no way signals the end of the day’s work. People wear nice makeup, and take long weekends away to their country houses, or their second homes. They can just buy tickets to Hamilton if they want to, without a second thought.
It’s incomprehensible. I spent the summer in a state of suspended awe — I couldn’t be too incredulous because I am walking into this world voluntarily, but I want to go with my eyes open, and a plan of attack. I am fully aware of the peer pressure element of office culture. If I am the only one without a designer handbag, the thought will inevitably creep into my mind that if I want to be Serious and Successful, I should also have a designer handbag, because all of these Serious and Successful people at the office have them. I trust myself and my commitment to maintaining my modest student lifestyle as I go through this major life change, in an attempt to get rid of my loans as fast as possible. But I don’t want to rely on simply trust in myself, although I am confident in that, because I know a lot of things will change, and I am good at talking myself into things.
So what to do? It began to feel naive to talk to people about this new job I have lined up, and swear up and down that I won’t let the money go to my head. The salary increase for Manhattan law firms was widely discussed in New York, so my salary is no secret. I got a few eye rolls when I talked about how the money is no big deal, because I will throw as much of it as humanly possible back at my loans. I wanted a strategy, something concrete I could assure people with — and assure myself with.
Enter cruelty free consuming. I’ve written before about my commitment to using cruelty free beauty products whenever possible in an attempt to consume ethically (in a way that is manageable and sustainable for me). Since writing that article, my commitment has expanded to eliminating leather, as I just spent over three weeks looking for a black vegan leather cross body bag for some sort of a reasonable price. I knew that if I wanted a leather one, I’d have all the options I could want. But it is important to me to start transitioning away from leather. I feel comfortable in my cruelty free beauty routine, and eliminating leather to the extent possible seems to be the natural next step. All seemed lost until I had a magical shopping day at TJ Maxx (I tried on two pairs of jeans and they both fit perfectly on the first try, when does that ever happen), and found an Isabelle black vegan leather cross body bag in the size and shape I wanted, and it could be mine for the low, low price of $25.
This is the biggest reason why I think I will be able to maintain my goal of minimizing lifestyle inflation. I am so damn excited about this $25 bag, because I looked so hard and stumbled upon it when I wasn’t expecting it. It’s exactly what I was looking for in a bag. I felt a priority shift in me, that this purchase deeply aligned with my values, and that means so much more to me than buying whatever name brand designer bag that everyone may or may not have at my new office. I sincerely don’t care that everybody has a Chanel or Kate Spade or Chloe bag in real leather, no matter how gorgeous they may be. I am making informed decisions based on what is important to me, in a way that feels compatible with the way I want to move throughout the world. And that has a far bigger pull on me than peer pressure.
Lauren is a law student in a big city. When she’s not reading casebooks, she’s reading novels and dreaming of rural Ireland and/or outer space.
Image via Unsplash