The “millennial” generation, as we are so affectionately called, was grossly misinformed. I do not believe it was done intentionally, in fact, I believe the opposite was intended. As the son of Eritrean immigrants I was told, “You must go to school to make something of yourself.” As we were corralled and prodded towards formal education, we were cautioned away from the workforce; as though workforce was some black hole that would rob us of our minds. This directed approach contributed to the current disproportionate ratio of attorney to job.
While it used to be incumbent upon clients to seek legal assistance, the technological advancements to accessing legal information has forced this balance to shift; it is now up to attorneys to adjust and become more adaptable.
This was the reality that faced many of my colleagues upon graduation from law school. They had worked diligently in their studies, seemingly for the last 25 or so years of their lives, but had neglected to match education with a solid work experience during that period. With technology outpacing the traditional law firm systems, a decreased demand for many of them lay ahead.
Since childhood, I held a strong interest in business and the art of transactions. Holding at times three jobs while in school, although physically taxing at times, taught me dedication, patience, and workmanship.
Preceding my legal education, I had some exposure to accounting with a tax preparation firm. Going into law school, I had no idea that my previous exposure would be the kindling that would propel me towards taxation, and that law school would be the incubator. Having taken every available tax course, I knew rather early on that taxation law would be my direction.
In our third year of law school, a good number of my colleagues began to worry about our impending graduation and the realization that their student loans would have to be paid back. After all, some had quit promising careers and uprooted families to explore a future in law. On the other hand, I had been planning for this end seemingly since I began.
Holding off on the Bar Exam, I invested all I had into beginning a multi-location tax preparation firm. My professors thought that I had gone mad putting off the exam. But I had a long-term plan. Realizing success immediately, I ran my business for a few tax seasons. My plan would secure me financially to be able to weather the legal climate as I sought a legal position. Although my passion was absolute in taxation law, I found it next to impossible to transition into a traditional firm without my LL.M in taxation and specific experience in that area. But that did not deter me. Having seen the plights of my colleagues and having worked in the real world, I knew there was another way to practice in the area I was passionate about. Another way that would also effectuate some positive change and that could serve the public interest.
After reviewing multiple federal and state jobs, I found my current position as a tax law specialist with the Florida Department of Revenue’s Executive Program to be the best fit between my interest and previous work experiences.
While not the traditional practice of law, my position affords great exposure to the practical and necessary tools that are required of every practicing attorney; legal writing and research. In general, I am tasked to provide tax opinions, both formal and informal, to taxpayers who deal with specific tax implication of state sales and use taxes. I act as conferee to cases in which an audit has been assessed against a taxpayer. It is certainly a welcome challenge, as taxpayers are often times represented by nationally distinguished CPA and law firms.
Most recently, I was selected to be the liaison between the department and a major online legal research service. I have the task of reviewing and ensuring the service is current with sales and use tax information. Information that other practicing attorneys will then use for their taxation research needs. I am also a part of the legislature analysis unit for the department. My responsibilities include reviewing and analyzing various sales and use tax bills for the Florida Legislature.
Although the traditional route of law practice has been on the downturn, there is still a very present need for attorneys. A myriad of options are available for attorneys in non-traditional areas that can still provide the experience that young lawyers seek. The quickest way to despair is expecting the success of others to be your entitlements. Success does not require you to follow the footsteps of others, but rather to follow your own path. This may mean you have to take a chance, but what is life if you are not willing to do so?
About the Author
Haben Abraha is an attorney with the State of Florida Department of Revenue. He can be reached at 407.205.8176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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