Breaking Up Isn’t Hard to Do: My Decision to Leave the Law

OK, continuing in my answers to the questions you asked to help me fill out JennieBoo‘s eight things meme, (see parts one and two of my answers if you need to catch up), today I’m taking on NYC/Caribbean ragazza’s million-dollar domanda regarding my move to Italy:

“How did you decide to leave the law? Were you afraid about making money?”

This question required much more than a few sentence answer, so I’m devoting a whole blog post to it—but I’ll start with the quick answers:

Quite easily, and of course.

Now to expand a bit. Beware for a roundabout, but we’ll get there.

I never actually wanted to be a lawyer. Well, maybe when I was in high school, but what do you really know about anything then anyway? Have you seen photos of yourself from those years?


And yet it was always set in my head to go to law school once I finished college. I think, quite honestly, that it was just so ingrained in me (by myself) by the time my senior year came around, that I just did it without much thinking. That’s what smart, overachieving (working class) people do, right? They do things like become doctors and lawyers. Writers? Too risky!

Sure, I considered grad school for English or history, but never really seriously—and only as an additional part to law school.

Truth be told, I always knew I’d end up writing for a living. I could’ve done an Master of Fine Arts or gone to work for a publishing company right out of college (and perhaps I should have), but I figured the law would give me something solid, respectable if you will, as a back-up. Not a back-up career, mind you, but a back-up skill set.

I promise to post another time on the wisdom of this thinking, but I’ll get too off-track if I do that right now.

So, suffice it to say, that my decision to leave the law wasn’t very difficult; when the itch to move to Italy struck, I was in the middle of a 2-year appellate clerkship, which for those who don’t know, is fancy schmancy way of saying you work for a judge, researching and writing memorandums on the cases s/he hears.

I was going to have to do something different when the clerkship was up in August of 2003, and after I got stuck on Italy, I thought, well, here’s your chance.

Was I worried about making money? Sure, but I had some savings to tide me over for a while. I had done a bit of freelancing/contract work throughout law school, so I carried those contacts with me; since then I’ve gained many more of course.

Now to be clear, I’m still actually a lawyer (paying dues and whatnot) and I still do legal work–I just don’t do it the traditional way in a firm or, you know, the United States. The Internet is a lovely thing (now with broadband!).

Changing careers is always difficult—doing it while changing countries/continents/languages/cultures too, well, perhaps that’s kind of insane.

And if I had the chance, I’d do it all over again–exactly as I did the first time.

medieval village steps in southern Italy

Sometimes you just need to be brave enough to take that first step,

and the rest seems to happen on its own.

44 Beans of Wisdom to “Breaking Up Isn’t Hard to Do: My Decision to Leave the Law”
  1. Farfallina - Roam 2 Rome

    Sognatrice, many of us agree with you. My do we!!

    You said “Sometimes you just need to be brave enough to take that first step, and the rest seems to happen on its own.” and it’s so true!

    One professor used to say “Deciding that you will do it is 90% of the work, after the first step everything comes together”. It’s so true!…

    I am very new new at blogging and I cannot count how many times I’ve been asked why medicine in Italy? aren’t I worried about not making money as you could in the states? why did you have to travel the world so much? finish med school!

    Hehe, I was hesitating on answering that question but after being able to relate to your answer I see that many people understand after all!

    Thanks for sharing this with us, it will inspire many…

  2. Kataroma

    Hi Sognatrice – another former lawyer here. Just like you, I went to law school partly for the marketable “skill set”. In my case, I was sick of working low level admin jobs with my degree in history and wanted something more “serious.”

    Luckily for me I went to law school in Australia so no huge student loans. I now do a quasi legal job and don’t miss the stress of being a lawyer.

  3. Mauryn

    My Italian husband is a lawyer and the stress is often unbearable. It’s totally not worth it. And Italian lawyers don’t make anywhere NEAR the money American lawyers make either!

    My courage to pick up and leave the States to come to Italy wasn’t bravery at all…it’s just that things are so much easier when you’re 18!!! I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but was happy to jump right in! I mean come on, Kansas City vs. Milan? It was a no-brainer.

  4. Anonymous

    Mauryn – that’s another reason I left the law. I worked in a high stress lawyer job at biglaw in New York and I hated it but made 6 figures so it was a good trade-off for a couple of years at least. In Rome I earned a piddling Italian salary (I guess you know the drill) but still worked 10-12 hour days and had molto stress. Soooo not worth it.


  5. sognatrice

    Farfallina, there will always be those that question what you are doing–I take that as a good sign 😉

    Kataroma, as I hinted in the post, I don’t think going to law school in these days just to get a skill set is really a bad idea–of course if you can do it as economically as possible all the better!

    Mauryn, oh I’d never practice law in Italy–as Kataroma said, it’s *so* not worth it. If I didn’t even think it was worth it for 6 figures, well….

    I would hope that at least some lawyers are carrying out their life’s passion; I know I wouldn’t have been, and that’s why I’m not doing it.

  6. My Melange

    You motivate me and give me hope my dear….

    Two of my fav sayings of all times are
    1. I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable.

    2. Don’t get so busy making a living..that you forget to make a life 🙂

    I believe in both! I left a higher paying stressful job for a lesser paying…more laid back job. I still keep in touch with the frazzeled co-workers I left behind….and they wish they did what I did, but too often people become attached to the money! I prefer to be attached to my SANITY!!!

  7. J

    I’ll echo the others and say bravo for taking that step. Was it really stepping away from law or stepping toward writing and Italy? No matter, really.

    The legal profession is something I never aspired to – even though my father admitted freely that he raised me to be a lawyer. He was a judge, active nationally, and while I was growing up he’d bring back tshirts of famous cases when he went to conferences at law schools, make me learn the precedent set by each (Erie vs Tompkins anyone?) then have me recite the precendents on demand among his legal colleagues and friends. Blech. I did work in a law firm for a couple of summers to make sure I was rebelling because I really didn’t like it and not just for the sake of rebelling.

    I’ve not thought of law school as a place to acquire a “skill set” – more a place to learn a different way of thinking, a different approach to reasoning and problem solving. I guess it all depends on how one puts it into practice.

  8. Blame It on Paris

    Yes. You have to take that step.

    So many people tell me they wish they could have done the things I have done/do, and really…that’s what it comes down to, most of the time. Taking the step.

    But it can be a scary step! More like that step in the last Indiana Jones where you make the “leap of faith” and step out over a void, not realizing there’s a glass bridge.

  9. sognatrice

    My Melange, sanity is never overrated in my opinion; I like those sayings too 🙂 Brava anche a te!

    J, regarding the step being away from law or towards writing and Italy–all of the above. I never would’ve pursued writing aggressively (at that time) from the States even if I had left the law. It’s hard to verbalize why, but I just needed Italy to give me some distance and freedom–the two passions coincided, I suppose.

    I’m so sorry you were subjected to precedents and t-shirts of famous cases, but at least it showed you what you didn’t want to do I guess. I do think law school provides a skill set from analytical thinking to writing (especially making logical, progressive arguments) to handling and dealing with people you would never associate with in a million years if given the choice–or maybe that last one was just my experience 😉

    I really like the law, theoretically–it’s just the practice of it I couldn’t do. In fact, I recently borrowed a book from a high school aged boy here who just finished a kind of pre-law course; I love learning about different countries’ legal systems, again, the theories. Filing lawsuits for slip and falls, writing wills, figuring out how multi-millionaires can save on taxes, or defending criminals? Nah. No thanks. The cockles of my heart are freezing over just at those thoughts 😉

    Paris, great analogy 🙂 No steps (or leaps!) worth taking are *really* ever little though, are they?

    Mauryn, I forgot to comment before on your being so young when you “decided.” In many ways, I hear you–I was 25 or so and sometimes I look back and wonder what the hell I was thinking, and whether I’d take the same step now….interesting thought process for sure.

  10. laxlaw

    My dear friend,

    I could’ve written that blog for you! It was a little bit of fate that aligned all the stars for your move to Italy. I STILL envy you for that!

    And, as I continue to clerk – 11 years after graduation, I completely agree with your feelings on law school. I like being able to say I’m a lawyer, without having all the stress of actually practicing law. And, I love the search for the “perfect” answer to a difficult question.

    As for your writing … well, you know how I feel about your writing …

    Best. Decision. Ever.

  11. Ninotchka

    This was cool. I feel like I know you that much better. 🙂

  12. stefanie

    Again, I just have to say your life reminds me of a movie. You’re living the life that some brave and adventurous woman on screen would, except you did it for real. Good for you. 🙂

    So, when they make a romantic comedy about a girl who quits her job, leaves the states, and meets the love of her life through a lost jean jacket in Italy, who is going to play you? (And what very attractive man is going to play P?)

  13. Jane

    great post! I was a paralegal for 11 years. At one point in time I actually took the LSAT. I decided though that I was far too “grey” for such a “black and white” profession. I think had I stayed in it, I would have been very unhappy. I’m glad you are taking the time to experience this new live of yours in a different country. I’m sure the law will always be there for you if you decide to do it full time. In the meantime, keep cooking, creating and loving your life in Italy!


  14. jennifer

    Beautiful! I’ve tried to apply this kind of logic to every choice I make in my life.
    What a wonderful post. I learned more about you in this one than any other, I think.

  15. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    grazie Sognatrice for answering my question!!

    I have so many friends who are lawyers but don’t practice. Most are in the entertainment (agents), non-profit or political world. It is a great skill set to have. Quite a few lawyers have gone on to become talented novelists and screenwriters.

    I do love what I do (working in film) but made no money and had given up on having a life until I made that trip to Rome two years ago. I was working all the time and was still broke. After that trip I said “basta”.

    My friends who have not been to Italy think I am crazy to move overseas and leave “glamourous” Hollywood just when my producing career is starting to take off. I believe I can still work in the arts but in/from Italy.

    Of course I will miss my friends but the majority of my family is not American and live overseas, I’m single and have no children. I have no ties to Los Angeles other than my career. At my age the stakes seem higher but I don’t want to wait until I’m 50 to make a change.

    I have a goal. I just have to work toward it.

  16. The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick

    I always wondered how you came to switching careers so drastically. Thanks for sharing! 🙂 Oh, and I love that photo of the stone stairs!


  17. sognatrice

    Laxlaw, you’ve gone and made me tear up. Shame on you! FWIW, I’d probably be clerking now too if I had stayed, although I know I was spoiled in our chambers. To me, that was the perfect legal job.

    Nino, glad you liked it; thanks for commenting 🙂

    Stefanie, hmm…I think I might have to ask NYC/Caribbean ragazza for suggestions here, being in the biz and all 😉

    Jane, thanks so much. You make a good point about the black/white/grey issue; I doubt I’d ever go back and actually practice law, but I’ll always have the training at least. I do use it in my freelance writing, so it’s not completely wasted 😉

    Jennifer, why thank you; I agree that you can learn a lot about someone based on the choices they make. Glad you got to know me a little better today–and I, you, through your beautiful post 🙂

    NYC, well I apologize that it took so long to answer, but here we have it finally. It sounds like you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing–sure, some people won’t get it, but they don’t have to. Especially in your business, there must be tons of stories of how Star X, Y, and Z’s families thought they were crazy for moving to LA and giving it a go…and look at them now. Happiness is the most important thing, and only we can find that for ourselves. Can’t wait to meet up with you at a sidewalk café in Roma someday. Will you show me around?

    Christina, glad you enjoyed the post and the photo–taken this weekend while P was feeding the hens 🙂

  18. Ally Bean

    I was planning on going to law school after undergrad, but never did. At the last minute I opted for paralegal training instead. It was a wise move on my part because after one very long year in a law firm I’d seen enough to turn me off to a career in law forever.

    So then I went back and got a MA in Communication which has been invaluable in helping me to understand life, but of dubious value in helping me to make money!

    Oh well, I’m happy about my choices. And fascinated by yours. Thanks for sharing the logic and feelings behind your decisions.

  19. JennieBoo


    You are so brave, Sognatrice.

    I envy the strength you have.

  20. somepinkflowers

    your explanation will play
    when they make the movie
    of your life & love in italy…


    PS–everyone knows
    that grad school
    and such further education
    is so useful for learning general problem-solving skills
    and other life lessons…
    if you can please a law professor
    you can
    most likely


  21. Karina

    Sognatrice, I still think it takes amazing courage to take that “step” or leap as it’s been said in here to just leave your life and travel to a whole new country…both of my parents have done it three times in their lifetime, two of those times with me in tow, and I admire them for those choices…the final one being to come to the U.S. to provide a better life for their children.

    Because of their choices, I’ve been able to make my own, and one of those choices was to NOT go to law school. Like you, I was headed in that direction, but at the last minute, I decided I wanted to work for a few years as a paralegal and see if the “law” was really for me. What I’ve found is that while I enjoy working in the law, I’m not willing to give up my free time to become a “six-figure” lawyer. I quite enjoy the freedom of being a paralegal, and leaving work AT WORK when I go home for the night. And even as a paralegal, I’ve been offered positions paying twice what I make now, but I’m content in my low-stress, reasonable paying job…

    I loved “My Melange’s” sayings…mine has always been “I work to live, I don’t live to work”…I know too many lawyers who make fantastic money, but have no lives to speak of…so your decision certainly makes perfect sense to me.

  22. goodthomas

    Sognatrice, I think you very brave to have done what you have done. To have taken a literal leap of faith, to follow your instincts, your dreams, your feelings.

    Your rational thinking was on course here, and of course, perfect for you. To be where you are today proves that when one follows one instincts, one cannot really go wrong.

    And by the way, I think you are the nicest lawyer I have ever come across.

  23. Carole D. (K.C. Mo.)

    Grazie for sharing your story.
    That is so true what you said “…and the rest….happens..”.
    That’s how you found the love of your life. In the States, you would have married another professional, have children, but still have to work 24/7 in order to keep up with finances.
    Great life changing decision, ma chi sa? what the future brings…

  24. Calabrisella

    che impressionante!
    ti ammiro…
    e buona fortuna col tutto nel futuro…


  25. qualcosa di bello

    “Sometimes you just need to be brave enough to take that first step,
    and the rest seems to happen on its own.”

    could not have said it better myself!!

  26. a far away friend

    Sognatrice, another great post. You have so much courage. Your ability to inspire your readers is impeccable. You open yourself up to all of us every day. I love your quote, but it again gets me all choked up when I read it. I have to agree with Stephanie, your life can be on the big screen. I think I’d pick Lauren Graham to play you. She’s very pretty, dark haired and lovable, just like you!

  27. Shan

    I have to say I am in awe of you. I could never do that. Heck, we can’t nut up enough to move even two hours away from our parents. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Kathy

    What a great story!

    My father was a judge, and I always assumed I would go to law school and be a lawyer. Some of my earliest memories are of wandering around the empty courtroom and climbing up into the huge chair on the bench.

    As I got older and had many serious talks with my father, he explained to me that he was disillusioned with our legal system, and he said that he didn’t think I should go to law school. He could obviously see that I wouldn’t be happy as a lawyer.

    On another note, since I am now in the process of completely changing my career path, I have to thank you for this comment:

    “Sometimes you just need to be brave enough to take that first step, and the rest seems to happen on its own.”

    I really need to hear that right now!

  29. sognatrice

    Ally, thanks for sharing a bit of your experience; sometimes education really isn’t about that paper at the end of it–thank goodness!

    JennieBoo, look who’s talking! After all that you’ve come through, handling it all like a pro–talk about strength! You are a true inspiration, and you should never forget that.

    SPF, not sure how many law professors I pleased, but I do know I pissed off a few–that’s a useful life skill too, right?

    Karina, so many paralegals in the bunch here; glad you tried out the law for size before you plunged in. Like I said, I don’t regret going to law school, and for me, no amount of trying on was going to dissuade me from getting that JD. Anyway, your parents have served as wonderful role models; I’m sure as you’ve gotten older you can appreciate more and more what they did. How lucky you are!

    gt, the nicest lawyer huh? I guess that’s a compliment 😉 Thanks for your continued support!

    Carole, sometimes I do wonder about how my life would’ve been had I stayed in America; I never would’ve been working all the time, though–that’s just never appealed to me. I work hard when I’m involved in something I believe in, but otherwise, it’s rough going. Thanks for commenting 🙂

    Calabrisella, grazie! Anche a te!

    Qualcosa, as a fellow stepper, I’m sure you could come up with something 😉

    Friend, thank you so much for your words; they truly do mean a lot to me. And Lauren Graham? I love her! Only she’d have to wear brown contacts–or perhaps I could live vicariously through her blue eyes?

    Shan, you know, you’re another one–you’ve been through so much (I’m thinking of with your girls in particular); the strength and courage you have inside is just astounding to me. Moving house is easy compared to what you’ve had to deal with.

    Kathy, I’m happy you liked the quote 🙂 Thanks for sharing, also, the story of your father. Part of my reluctance to practice law also had to do with the state of the system and feeling so powerless to do anything truly worthwhile. I know lots of people spend their lives fighting for a better way, and I truly admire them because I don’t have *that* kind of fight in me. I wish I did though.

  30. Nora

    Brilliant post – you’re a brave gal!

  31. sognatrice

    Nora, thanks, but bravery is all relative–I’d never skydive 😉

  32. Italiana Americana

    aw i like this story! I believe you do have to take the first step which can lead you where you want to go, even if it is scary!

  33. sognatrice

    Thanks Italiana, and I agree 🙂

  34. modelbehavior

    Gutsy move to relocate to the boot, I like it!

  35. Tina

    You are such an inspiration!!

    May your student loans (if you have them) disappear as soon as possible! 😉

    Seriously though, I have a close friend who is an attorney in Alaska, and she too is looking for a big change. Not necessarily moving to Italy, but she would like to spend time in Buenos Aires. Anyway, I noticed you said you still do practice law a bit, thanks for the fabulous internet. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to chat with my friend (or at least exchange an e-mail or two) about what you’re doing right now, because it lines up with what she’s trying to figure out for herself…

  36. odessa


    thanks for sharing this. been lurking in your blog for some time now and i really enjoy your writing.

    anyways, i too can relate to your story. i wanted to be a doctor all my life, i guess just because it seems like what any overachieving eldest child should do, be a doctor or a lawyer. but i left med school, moved to san francisco, and am now working as an occupational therapist for children with special needs. and like you, i realized that all i really want is to live a life of writing.

    again, thanks for sharing your story!

  37. Tori

    I left a teaching career 2 years ago, and perhaps, it was insane, but it was the best decision I could have ever made, because I listened to my heart. Sure, there are many financially scary moments, but they are over shadowed by the joy I have in my life. Thank you for sharing this

  38. sognatrice

    Modelbehavior, why thanks; good to see you around 🙂

    Tina, of course you should pass along my email to your friend; not sure how much help I’ll be, but you never know. You’re too funny to refer to student loans (if I have them); thankfully law school wasn’t really what put me under as I went to a state school and got a scholarship–it was the private frou frou undergrad that’s killing me 🙁

    Odessa, sounds like you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing right now–we can’t really ask for more than that in life, can we? Best of luck with your writing 🙂

    Tori, exactly! I think a lot of people are waiting for change and risk to *not* be scary or to have success guaranteed, but I’m pretty sure things have been like this since the beginning of time so the only real question in my book is if not now, when?

  39. Great story! I am former political science/history major who ended up going to law school. I actually like practicing law but admire how you uprooted yourself and moved to Italy! I day dream about doing the same thing sometimes but would never have the guts to do it.

    Black Coffee & Bourbon’s last blog post..High Off of Bleach

    What a fun blog name you have 🙂 And sometimes it takes something different than guts to make such a move…some might even say a bit of naivete helps….

  40. You are so brave and had guts which i admire in you.

    Aw thanks Simon 🙂

  41. 07.23.2009

    Wow – what an inspiring choice! Thanks for commenting on our blog and letting us know about yours! It’s great to read about and hear from other expats living in Europe! I look forward to following your adventures in Italy!

    Thanks Laura; looking forward to learning more about you as well 🙂

    .-= Laura´s last blog ..The Importance of Coffee (and being competent) =-.

  42. Anna

    Thank you for such an inspirational post. I can empathize with a lot of what you and other said on this page. I had a similar experience with career change. I left a stable and reasonably-well paid teaching post at a university because I could not bear teach others what I had absolutely no interest in. The problem for me was, and still is, to find what it is that I can and enjoy doing and earn at least some living from it. Making career change is never easy. It is a huge blessing is you know where your passion and talent lies. More difficult is to have to find your way through from the scratch, when there seem to be “no light at the end of the tunnel”. I would not like to make it sound too grim and I am still happy I left the teaching post. But even after two years since that, I realize I still have a long way to go before I reach the place where I want to be. Having said that, I am glad I at least have started the journey. Thanks again for your post.

    michelle Reply:

    Best of luck to you, Anna, as you continue your journey!

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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