I think they mean well. In fact, I know they do.
But, I get asked it a lot. "So, what are you doing after the public defender's office?"
Generally, if the question comes from someone I don't know too well, or I just don't feel like discussing it, I avoid it by saying something like, "Oh, hmmm... let's see. I'll probably head out, get dinner, go home and watch Tivo. I really think West Wing is shaping up to be better than it's been since Sorkin left. Have you been watching it?"
But, I guess there will come a time when I have to ask myself, what am I going to do after the public defender's office? Or, perhaps more importantly, when will that time come?
My office has a "recommended" 3 year stay. There's no contract, it's not a commitment, but there's an informal agreement that if they're going to put the time and energy into training you, you'll stick around for 3 years so they can get their money's worth out of you. But there's also no rule that I have to leave on my 3-year-anniversary.
The people in my office run the range. There's a lot of lawyers in the 0-4 year range, there are some lawyers in the 4-10 year range, and then there are a few lawyers that have been there 10 years or more ("lifers"). There are also quite a few lawyers with 10+ years experience who had left, went into solo or private practice or did something else, and then came back.
I've been at the office for two-and-a-half years. So, if I have any intent to leave after 3 years, it would be time to start looking. But I still feel like I have a lot more to learn and I still feel like I have a lot more experience to gain.
As far as burnout, I think I occasionally feel exhausted, but I think it's more of "I need a vacation" burn out than "I need a new job" burn out. Overall, I would say that I am still in love with my job.
Not too long ago, I was on trial, I was super stressed out, and I found myself wishing I could be something absolutely intelligence-free and absolutely stress-free. Like, a grocery store shelfer. (No offense, grocery store shelfers. But I'm sure you never stay up all night worrying about your work.) Mostly, though, I interpreted this as trial stress and the need for a vacation.
But I also am concerned about becoming a lifer. Because I think that at some point you get typecast as a public defender and it becomes hard to get out. I know one lawyer in my office who had over 10 years of experience, who was actively looking for a new job, interviewing, and getting rejected. He told me that he felt like he had stuck around the PD's office too long, and that it was a factor against him.
And, finally, I don't know what else I would want to do. I mean, I guess I would probably be just as happy doing private criminal defense. But I'd want to stick with solely doing criminal defense. (In other words, I don't want to be at a small firm where I will sometimes get stuck doing a divorce or some crap.) But I think that I need at least a little more training and experience before I'm ready to handle my own clients without much more training or assistance.
Is there anything else I'd want to do? Any other dream jobs? Certainly not as a lawyer. Sometimes I think about being coming a not-a-lawyer. Maybe I could teach (college or law school, maybe trial advocacy). I'd really like to teach a clinic. I also occasionally think about just being a public defender somewhere else, maybe even internationally. But it's also very possible that I'll never find anything else I want to do as much as I want to be a public defender.
I guess the point is, I'm sticking around at least a while longer. I worry that I will make this decision and then forget about it, and the next thing I know, I'll wake up and realize that I've been a public defender for 20 years. I feel like maybe I need to send myself an email in the future that says, "Hello? Are you still there? Time to move on!" But at the same time, I'm not positive that being a lifer is a bad thing.
Most importantly, though, I think I feel a little offended by the question because it implies that my job is a "starter job." That it couldn't possibly be a destination career, which I kind of feel it is for me. This is what I've wanted to be for quite a while. I'm finally here, and I'm just getting started.