A nong, nong, time ago, I used to be a civil servant. Yes, I used to work for gahmen. The Supreme Court, to be exact. As a court transcriber.
This was back in the day just before technology fully infiltrated into our lives; the transcription team would take turns to make cassette tape recordings of court hearings, then after we finished the session, we’d have a 2-hour timeframe in which we’d individually work on behemoth computers with big-backside 19″ CRT monitors installed with Windows 98 and Word 97, to type out transcripts based off our recordings, and then send them off to our department head to compile all the transcripts together before the day ended. There was an entry test for the job: you had to type a minimum of 45 words per minute to qualify. I had only 2 years experience with computer keyboards prior to this job, but fortunately I managed.
And that was as much qualification as I had to enter the legal industry. But enter it I did. 9 months into the court job, I was poached by my then brother-in-law (who co-owned a law firm with my sister) to write for a website that sought to pair people who needed legal representation with a large network of lawyers. Officially, I was known as a content development executive (we made up occupational titles as we went along), but on my namecard, my title was “The Kid” (because we ended up not liking the occupational titles we made up).
And I was still a kid back then; I was 23.
As the partners focused on beefing up subscriptions and developing the infrastructure for the website’s core business, I was charged with overseeing the design of the website user interface as well as proofreading and editing articles submitted by the lawyers (most of which came from the three lawyers running the project). And a little later, I even created a subsection of the website which I lovingly called the Court Jester, where I would curate lawyer jokes, and even write Onion-style parody articles, much to the bemusement of the legal community-at-large.
But it wasn’t always fun. The website was conceived at the height of the dotcom boom, and launched as the era passed its peak. There was a lot of in-fighting as well, a downside from everyone being so close and comfortable with each other that we were practically family (in my case, half of us actually were).
2 years later, our dotcom bombed, but not before I decided to go back to school. I enrolled into a polytechnic and focused on mass communication and media as a full-time student for the next 3 years.
One diploma, one job, one marriage and one kid later (a total of 8 years), I (re-)joined the law firm at the request of my now-ex brother-in-law (sigh, divorce lawyers), as a sort of a writing and marketing consultant to change the way lawyers talk to people – clients and court alike (that’s a rather mindset-changing blog post in itself). And for a while, it was a secure, stable job that more than paid the bills and allowed me to explore my own potential. I even found time to start Dear Xander in December 2011, and 3 months later, Blogfathers SG! as it was known back then.
It was during this time that I truly understood the power of writing well. We decided to take an actual case and apply my style of writing to the lawyer’s style of, er, layering, and came up with court submissions that read more easily and expressed intentions and logic more fluidly and richly than the more common, drab and dry legal drivel. We got a better verdict as a result, and kept our client, too.
But there was a rather heavy downside to working in a law firm that specialised in civil litigation and divorce: it takes a very strong mind and an even stronger heart to watch people bickering over large amounts of money, and witness marriages break apart on an almost daily basis, either through the client meetings that we conduct, or through the opening statements that the lawyers draft, or through the affidavits that they write, or through the paper trail you have to pick through – bank statements, receipts, letters, emails, phone messages – in order to determine which side is more skilled in weaving the non-fiction into their fiction.
After a couple of years, I decided I needed to leave to find a better way to be happy, and in large part to maintain my sanity as a family man. It was only at this point that I really started considering writing as a full-fledged career option, even though I was already writing professionally, both in-house at the firm and as an occasional freelancer in lifestyle magazines, and the jobs I held in the legal industry thus far had elements of writing infused in my scope.
So I tendered my resignation, quite honestly without formulating much of a plan (much to my wife’s chagrin). thereby committing myself to conduct the personal upheaval of my own life that people might call switching careers.