Volume 10, no. 1
As the Ad Says, "Just Do It!"
By Phyllis N. Klinger
I’ve had my share of important moments, and one of the most significant was when I achieved my lifelong goal of becoming a lawyer. I was a single mother with two years of college and a legal assistant degree when I started my pursuit of becoming a lawyer. I was working as a paralegal at a law firm—six to seven days a week, including billing "at home" in my spare time. I had little time for anything else, but the excitement of trial work drew me to the profession. Finishing college and attending law school seemed almost unattainable, but I had the support of my two favorite people: my sister and my daughter.
Applying for reentry to college, I discovered that most of my credits would not transfer. It would take more than three years to graduate. I accelerated the process by attending year-round. As a more mature (and better) student, I carried 21 credits my last semester, did a counseling internship 30 hours a week, made the dean’s list, and graduated with department honors. In the end, it was my daughter's and my sister’s pride that made it all worthwhile.
After college, I worked in crisis counseling. While it was very gratifying and I sensed I made a difference in my clients’ lives, law school was still my career goal. So, onward I marched. Following the LSAT, I applied to law schools, which at the time had very few places for "mature" female students, and I was accepted as an "exceptional student." Though I had to carve out time to study, I was also determined to make time for my daughter. I’m very proud of that. Four years later, after passing the bar, I went job-hunting, but jobs were scarce then.
I sent out resumes. But for the job I really wanted, I went to the law firm and waited in the lobby for eight hours, trying to get an interview. The next day, the firm's senior partner, who later became a state court of appeals judge, impressed with my perseverance, hired me on the spot. He remained my mentor until his recent death.
At my next job, I started the evening LL.M. program at a downtown Detroit law school. As my career developed, I worked at several mid-sized firms in order to try different areas of the law before I specialized. One of my favorites was asbestos toxic tort litigation. I always have loved the courtroom, which for me continues to be exciting, surprising, dramatic, and fun. After six years of night school, I received my Master’s Degree of Law and Letters. I got licensed and practiced in two other states before returning home to Michigan where I presently practice in my own solo firm. Today, after more than 20 years, I’m still thrilled with the practice of law.
What advice would I give someone else considering a career change? Do it! Don’t thrash about deciding if you can do it, just start on your way to your dream. You can achieve it and the change will be worth all the work and time. No matter what your age, finances, and responsibilities, there is a way to change whatever you want to change if you seek it out and go for it. Make your life happen the way you want it to happen.
Phyllis N. Klinger owns a solo family law and general litigation firm in Michigan, and is licensed in New Mexico and Colorado. She is active with the ABA as well as state and local bar associations and author of more than 30 articles.