News & Politics

Novelist Angie Kim Used to Be a Lawyer. Until She Realized She Couldn’t Stand It Anymore.

Her reckoning came with an ocean view, a bottle of wine, and an inspiring book.

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

“I was in my late twenties and a litigation associate at Williams & Connolly in DC. I loved being in the courtroom but hated everything else—like, everything else—about practicing law. There was this one month that was the best: I had three trials in a row, all in an arbitration format. I got to do openings, crosses, and objections. I was second chair, and the first chair was wonderful, so by the third trial 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 blustery that nobody was there. I was by the window, and the waves were just awesome. Some people had told me about this Tim O’Brien book, In the Lake of the Woods. So I ordered a bottle of wine and just sat there reading it cover to cover.

“As a busy lawyer, I wasn’t really reading literary novels. I was reading quick, fun mysteries like Mary Higgins Clark. O’Brien’s book was just revelatory. It’s about a wife who’s gone missing, but structured as evidence and interview transcripts and then long narrative flashbacks. There were like six or seven hypotheses of what happened to her. I remember looking up every once in a while to ponder the evidence and the crashing waves and drinking this 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 that worth having just this five-hour period out of the last several years when I was so engrossed in something—the sensory details, the intellectual engagement with the text—and didn’t have in the back of my mind something I was stressed about? When I met my boyfriend for dinner, I said, ‘I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore.’ He said, ‘Okay. Sounds great.’ He wasn’t fazed—our friends were always griping about wanting to leave the law. The next day, we got engaged.

“After that, I went into management consulting. Later, I left with colleagues to start a dot-com. Then in 2001, the market bottomed out. I loved both those jobs.

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

This article appears in the February 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Managing Editor

Bill O’Sullivan is senior managing editor; from 1999 to 2007, he was a features editor. In another lifetime, he was assistant managing editor. Somewhere in the middle, he was managing editor of Common Boundary magazine and senior editor at the Center for Public Integrity. His personal essays have been cited three times among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays. He teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.