RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In our MORNING EDITION series Take Two, we've been profiling people who have reinvented themselves through their work. This morning NPR's Ketzel Levine reports on a listener whose reinvention seems to have hit a snag.
KETZEL LEVINE reporting:
`How would you like a change-of-life story that failed?' So read the subject line of John Scanlon's(ph) e-mail. He was a mechanical engineer for 15 years who longed to make a difference in the world, so he put himself through law school at night and graduated at just the wrong time.
Mr. JOHN SCANLON (Lawyer): Denver was already in a recession and law firms were laying off like crazy. And then September 11th hit. There were no jobs to be found.
LEVINE: John Scanlon is now 43, earning a very modest living judging gymnastics at the state and national level. He's also doing the odd legal job, but has yet to put his master's of law degree to work.
Mr. SCANLON: You know, there had been a couple of possible law jobs, but they've been in things like collections, and I won't hurt people, and I now have a binder about three inches thick of rejection letters.
LEVINE: Do you have the binder here?
Mr. SCANLON: Yeah.
LEVINE: Can we see it?
Mr. SCANLON: Sure.
LEVINE: It's just a couple of long strides from one end of John Scanlon's home to the other. He lives in a small, sparsely furnished apartment dominated by a view of concrete walls. He returns seconds later cradling an overstuffed file. Hundreds of crisp white letters, each with nearly identical paragraph breaks and fonts.
(Soundbite of paper rustling)
Mr. SCANLON: Let's see. `Dear Mr. Scanlon, we regret to inform you that we do not currently have a position available for an attorney with your qualification. We appreciate your interest'...
LEVINE: `Dear John,' `Dear Sir,' `Dear Mr. Scanlon'--his binder is the saddest of collector's items, a primer on breaking bad news.
Mr. SCANLON: `We appreciate your interest and wish you every success in your legal career.'
LEVINE: It can't feel good to be lugging around 10 pounds' worth of rejection letters. It just can't feel good.
Mr. SCANLON: That's why the slew of hundreds of resumes go out in bunches. And I send them out, the next couple months I get rejection letters, and then I have to get psyched up again to do it again.
LEVINE: Maybe it's the job market for recent law school graduates. It could be John Scanlon's class rank. Perhaps it's the stigma of having attended night school, or of having another career before the law. John Scanlon is shy. It's possible he doesn't interview well. He often says he wants to help people. Maybe it doesn't ring true. Whatever the problem, he has no idea what he's doing wrong.
Mr. SCANLON: That's the most frustrating part of this whole process. Law firms will not give you any specific feedback.
Mr. ROBERT NEWELL (Attorney): It appears that he is looking for work in the field of international law and human rights, and the primary problem is that law firms don't do that kind of work.
LEVINE: Robert Newell is an attorney with the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. He does the kind of work John Scanlon longs for: consulting on human rights, economic development and rule of law. Robert Newell consults for the international relief agency Mercy Corps, but he does it pro bono. His income-earning specialty is complex litigation. He suggests that John Scanlon's strengths and passions might better suit a non-profit like Mercy Corps.
Mr. NEWELL: He has an advanced degree in natural resources and environmental law. That's a plus. He also has several years of experience as a project manager and he's got an engineering degree. If he focuses on the engineering and project management background, I think a lot of folks would be interested in that.
LEVINE: In other words, John Scanlon should lead with his strengths, which means engineering and project management, and that is exactly what he left behind in order to get his law degrees. Frustrating? You bet. But John Scanlon seemed heartened to at least have his strengths acknowledged. He remains readily encouraged, slow to despair, and very dogged.
Mr. SCANLON: As I get rejection letters, I get more determined. I want to do what I want to do. It's that Chicago blue-collar attitude that you never quit, no matter what. And this time, I'm not settling.
LEVINE: The question is, can he stay flexible about how he gets where he wants to go? Ketzel Levine, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: To see John Scanlon and hear more stories from our Take Two series, visit npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.