Novelist Angie Kim was a lawyer. Until she realized she couldn’t take it anymore.

In 2018, Kim took her husband and sons to the site of her life-changing achievement. Photo courtesy of Angie Kim.

“I was in my late twenties and was a litigation partner at Williams & Connolly in DC. I loved being in the courtroom, but I hated everything else, like, all another – on the practice of law. That month was the best: I had three trials in a row, all in arbitration format. I have to make overtures, crosses and objections. I was second president, and the first president was wonderful, so on the third try, he let me do everything. I loved the experience, but I was exhausted.

“My boyfriend was giving a talk in San Francisco. He said, ‘Come with me, you deserve a break. I wanted to see the ocean, so I went to the Cliff House, and it was so windy that there was no one there. I was by the window and the waves were just awesome. Some people had told me about this book by Tim O’Brien, In the lake of the woods. So I ordered a bottle of wine and sat there reading it cover to cover.

“As a busy lawyer, I didn’t really read literary novels. I was reading fast and fun crime novels like Mary Higgins Clark. O’Brien’s book was just a revelation. It’s about a missing woman, but structured as evidence and interview transcripts, then lengthy narrative flashbacks. There were six or seven hypotheses about what had happened to him. I remember looking up from time to time to ponder the evidence and crashing waves and drinking that great wine. Then closing the book and feeling, I haven’t been this happy since I became a lawyer.

“I remember thinking, okay, as much as I loved the trials, is it worth having that five-hour streak over the last few years where I was so engrossed in something – the sensory details, intellectual engagement with the text – and I didn’t have something in mind that was stressing me out? When I met my boyfriend for dinner, I said, “I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore” He said, ‘Okay. Great.’ He wasn’t fazed – our friends were always complaining about wanting to quit law.The next day we got engaged.

“After that, I went into management consulting. Later, I left with colleagues to set up a dot-com. Then in 2001, the market bottomed out. I liked both of these jobs.

“I had my first child in September 2001 and became a stay-at-home mom. I was in my 40s when I took my first creative writing class.

This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of The Washingtonian.

Senior Editor

Bill O’Sullivan is Senior Editor; from 1999 to 2007, he was a feature film editor. In another life, he was an associate editor. Somewhere in the middle, he was editor of Common border magazine and editor at the Center for Public Integrity. His personal essays were cited three times among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays. He teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.

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