Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative careers for lawyers.
This week’s interview is with another Quebecoise, Anne Marie Babkine, who practiced as a lawyer for 14 years before quitting her job to work on a series of different projects. Her input below (and very honest assessment about why she left practice and what she did love about it) is refreshing. As I’ve said prior, I’m extremely glad that I started this series as it has introduced me (and you!) to a truly innovative, dedicated and very interesting group of people.
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What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
I chose law because it is multifaceted and I am too. I felt that the law would lead to a profession that was not mundane. And was I ever right! Between law studies and working as a private practice litigator, I spent 14 years in the legal world. I was in superwoman mode all the time, dealing with an overstretched agenda, always busy and needing to be efficient. And then I had children – two perfect boys.
Maybe if I hadn’t had them I would have never questioned my lifestyle. Before, it never occurred to me that I would have to make room for them in my busy agenda. The way I was managing my life was not suitable for raising children, at least not if I wanted to raise them myself instead of delegating those duties (and I did). I had all the help in the world, but I was clearly missing them when I was at work and feeling guilty not working when I was at home. It felt like I was never in or at the right place and this was a big source of dissatisfaction for me. I enjoyed having a professional life so I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but there had to be a better way to reconcile work and raising children. I was also always curious about what life was like in other places, in other countries. Maybe I should have chosen to practice in a less rigid, territory-based field of law? So the fact that I felt “stuck” in Montreal added to my dissatisfaction.
My husband was also unhappy with his professional life and wanted to change careers. He was the visionary in our partnership and expressed the idea of redesigning our lives to create a project that would allow us to work via the Internet and move abroad at the same time. It took me two years of reflection, but I took the plunge in 2005 and chose translation as a second career.
Through the years, we had also nurtured the idea of creating a home exchange site since we both really enjoy this travel alternative. Home exchanging is a form of sustainable tourism and a great way to meet people. My husband designed two sites which I translated into French. When I am not busy with my own translation projects I am involved in helping to manage them. This lifestyle has allowed us to live abroad on two separate occasions, each time for one year.
What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?
I simply love the idea that I can unplug my laptop that holds my work and just plug it back wherever we want to be in the world. All I need is a reliable Internet connection. Simple! I love the flexibility it allows. The two years we spent abroad were highlights in our family life and we would love to do it again. I love my hometown of Montreal, but I’m always happy to leave. Concerns about material things become secondary when you leave everything behind. This is what our traveling is all about and it is quite liberating. In the industrial world, we are surrounded with clutter and this in turn stops us from living (and leaving).
Living in harmony with my environment is a priority and our lifestyle now allows us the time to live in a greener way with respect to all aspects of our day-to-day life. It is not perfect yet, far from it (we still take planes), but we are aiming at doing better. Our current lifestyle has also allowed us the opportunity to meet really interesting and enlightened people that have a different take on life. This gets us out of our self-centered mode. I know the dynamics of such wonderful encounters will have a long lasting effect on us, and hopefully on our children too.
Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving conventional private practice in North America but concerned about what is out there?
The sky is the limit when it comes to opportunities. With hindsight, I should have done this earlier. Until proven otherwise, there is only one life to live. So I would have to bluntly say: do it! Unless you are fulfilled by what you do, try something else, before you are over-committed and can’t break free. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back.
I guess we are all our own worst enemies, in that we lock ourselves into what we think is real living and society pushes us that way because most people do not know how to do otherwise. We are conditioned into believing that happiness revolves around having and not being. A whole new world opens up when you have time to live and grasp what is out there, things that you cannot begin to imagine.
The unfortunate thing about practicing law in a conventional way is that it does not afford you much time for anything else. What is right for you may not necessarily be right for your neighbour. That being said, it sounds like a very easy decision to make. It certainly wasn’t for me. After all, it did take two years. The puzzled look of envy (or more likely dismay!) from my colleagues when I made my announcement was unforgettable and for a few moments had me doubt my decision. In the end, I took full responsibility for my choices and that in itself was empowering.
How did your legal education inform the way you see the world today? Do you still identify yourself as a lawyer?
I would say a legal education structures your thinking in a way that nothing is black or white anymore, with many shades of gray in between. But being an optimist, I see rainbow colours everywhere. I definitely don’t identify myself as a lawyer (I never did) even though I remain a member of the bar association. The title does not define me; I was just doing my job as well as I could then and still do as a translator. Maybe this explains why I was able to part from a traditional professional path. Economically, what I did, really does not make any sense for a lot of people. Inasmuch as leaving a legal career felt like jumping without a net, I feel my life is so much richer now in terms of experiences.
I did many things before law. One of those was training to become a classical dancer, which I did for a number of years. This training left a bigger imprint on the person I am now because in my heart lies an artist.
What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?
This is just one more stereotype and they may simply not have met the right ones. A lot of people who practice law are bright, people oriented and open to their environment. When they have the time they can seriously have fun. But having the time is key here. Here we go again, it always come back to time! And lawyers do indeed sometimes take themselves a little too seriously. Let’s face it, the profession is stressful, performance is mandatory, and this is energy consuming in and of itself. So it takes discipline to let go.
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Anne Marie Babkine is currently a freelance translator and running the French antenna of two home exchange websites that she co-founded: 1stHomeExchange and HomeChicHome. In 2005, after 14 years in the legal profession, she happily jumped the fence and escaped into the big world. Her family (Anne Marie, her husband and their two sons) are traveling the world together, one house at a time, blogging at Art du Weekend.