Every Job I’ve Ever Had: Scopist, Immigration Law Clerk, Civil Rights Attorney
When I was 14, my mom replied to a want ad for a nanny on my behalf—and somehow, I got the job. I had the duty of babysitting an impossibly tiny and quiet infant while her grad student parents studied. Mostly, I took her for long walks to the park down the road. The dad was a veteran of the Marines and would send me home with books to read in between shifts, including Holidays on Ice, which got me hooked on David Sedaris. I think they paid me $7 an hour, and I usually worked 5–10 hours a week. I eventually stopped nannying when we moved to a different part of the city.
The first job I applied for was one I found in the early days of Craigslist. It seemed perfect: all I had to do was go door-to-door and convince people to vote in favor of various progressive causes. The only problem was that, at the time, I had such bad crippling social anxiety that I couldn’t even order my own food in a restaurant. I survived the unpaid day of training, but I was so anxious the night before my first shift that I couldn’t stop crying and had to call in sick. I never went back.
I started working at Pier 1 during my first year of community college. It was across the street from my school, and I spent my days rearranging decorative pillows and cleaning up terrible-smelling diffuser oils. I was paid minimum wage, and all my coworkers were middle-aged ladies who never seemed satisfied with my candle display arrangements. I also distinctly remember knocking over a very expensive tower of ceramic tea pots. I quit when I transferred colleges and moved out of the city. On my last day, my task was to reorganize the entire throw pillow wall, which showed me that my supervisor had deeply hated me all along.
Around the same time as my stint at Pier 1, my mom started hiring me to copyedit various legal documents that she worked on through the small business she owned. She would print six pages of the document on a single piece of paper, and I would scan the tiny type for typos. She paid me a very generous $1 per page (or $6 per paper), and I continued this gig through law school.
Like the nannying and copy editor gigs, this job opportunity came straight from my mom. As a scopist, I was responsible for listening to the recording that a stenographer had transcribed and making sure that the final transcript was accurate word-for-word to the recording. This usually paid $2–3 per page and was another gig I continued through law school.
I took a quarter off in the middle of college before transferring to the liberal arts school where I would finish my degree. At the time, both my sisters worked as graphic designers for a scrapbooking company and the company needed someone to help make various prototypes of different types of scrapbooking products to show potential buyers. My boss spent his free time making Civil War dioramas, and I almost cut the tip of my left pointer finger off with an X-Acto knife while I was making one extra-large piece of scrapbooking paper by splicing together two normal-sized pieces of scrapbooking paper. I am pretty sure they paid me $6 an hour, which did not seem worth it even then.
At the same time I worked at the scrapbooking company, I also worked at a screen printing factory through a different family connection. They paid me $10 an hour to do various tasks around the warehouse. Mostly, I folded cardboard sleeves for CDs and pulled T-shirts off of the dryer after they were printed. $10 an hour felt very luxurious for a job where I also got to listen to podcasts while I worked and no one tried to make uncomfortable small talk with me.
During my last few years of college and during law school, I started trying to turn my writing hobby into a semi-erratic cash flow. This has been my longest side-hustle, and one I still do today. It has never been my primary source of income, and now that I have a legitimate career, money from my writing goes towards paying down debt and going on vacation.
This was a work-study job during law school, and the only thing I remember about it was that I got paid $15 an hour to research something to do with Foucault and public health and Sweden. I was working for an intimidating professor who gave me weekly absent-minded enthusiasm when I turned in my findings.
Research assistant (again)
My second research assistant job involved tracking various states and municipalities that had “banned the box” on employment applications. The goal of the project was to convince more municipalities to strike questions about previous criminal history from their initial job applications. As with the previous research assistant job, I got paid $15 an hour.
Immigration law clerk
I had four internships during law school, but this is the only one that paid, so it is the only one I will include in this list. I spent my days writing long cover letters and memorandums to accompany a variety of immigration petitions. Usually, this meant that I would receive a giant packet of information about a client’s life and it was my job to synthesize all that information into a moving memorandum that would convince the adjudicating immigration officer to grant the case. I worked in the same room as my best friend from law school, and we frequently would take the rickety elevator down to the 7-Eleven on the first floor to cry to each other about the workload.
Bar review course representative
During my last year of law school, I worked as a bar review course representative to secure a mostly-free review course that would have otherwise set me back about $3,500. Once a week, I stood behind a folding table in our law school commons and made up answers about our bar course’s superiority to entice first-year students into signing up with us.
During my last year in law school and during bar study, I made extra money by addressing other people’s envelopes in dip-pen calligraphy. I don’t think I actually made any money on this because any profit I turned immediately went back into feeding my art supply addition, but at least it kept me from going into debt over different types of brush pens.
Non-profit immigration attorney
After taking the bar exam I started as an immigration attorney. I worked with victims of domestic violence, most of whom were detained. I knew I wanted to practice immigration law from before I started law school, and it was as amazing and heartbreaking as expected. I loved the work, but I didn’t mesh with the workplace and I left after about six months. I made a $41,000/year salary.
Civil rights attorney
This is my current job that I started at age 26. I work on cases involving the constitutional rights of marginalized people. My job goes through cycles of being very low-key and flexible to being incredibly all-consuming and demanding during trials. It is less heart-wrenching than immigration law, but also more removed. I like the litigation side and learning the ins and outs of civil lawsuits, but I miss interacting with clients every day. I get paid a $57,000/year salary.
This job certainly won’t be my last. I miss interacting with clients too much to do impact litigation forever, and I can’t seem to stop taking on side hustles even though I don’t technically need to. Having multiple things going on keeps me from being bored, and, as wild as it sounds, I love having something to do when I get home from work so that I don’t just waste away in front of the TV. I don’t think I will go back to scrapbook prototyper, but I might consider picking up some weekend shifts at Pier 1—that candle discount is baller.
Bea Bischoff is a civil rights lawyer and writer living in Texas. She tweets at @bea_bisch.
This story is part of The Billfold’s Career History series.
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