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Above The Law

How

by Casey on February 3, 2016

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Two people I recently worked with have just now left the law for alternative, non-law jobs that are in real good alignment with their skills and strengths and enjoyments. 

Needless to say, when they told me they had received and accepted the job offer, I was ecstatic. They were ecstatic. It’s why we do this.

One comment jumped out. Constructing her Unique Genius narrative, one student told me, was how she was able to gain real momentum and confidence in leaving.

Once she felt good about her narrative, based on her Unique Genius skills and strengths, she could finally talk about herself (to friends, family, at informational interview coffees, in hiring interview meetings) with confidence, pride and clarity.

To put it another way, she said she could finally talk about herself without worrying she sounded pitiful or, alternatively, like a conceited *$&(%^$#.

Unique Genius, a refresher

One of the main tenets of Leave Law Behind is to not worry first about finding a non-law job, or what title our non-law job should have or what salary the non-law job should provide or what stature this non-law job carries with it.

We first need to understand who each of us is. We need to first understand what we want in a job and what we like in a job and what we’re good at and what we’re confident in and where we add value and where it comes easy to us.

This is what we call our Unique Genius.

Let’s face it: Many of us went to law school and took a legal job for practical reasons: It was just what our ethnicity/religion/family did, or our parents made us, or we wanted a path to security, or we didn’t want a job right away after college and thought law school was a safe bet, or we wanted to ensure we got a high paying, professional job … and on and on.

But we didn’t really consider what we wanted. We didn’t really consider what we were good at.

So by stressing our Unique Genius, we are finally able to do that.

By focusing on our Unique Genius, we flip the normal paradigm on its head:

Find-job-we-think-we-should-take-and-somehow-(often-unsuccessfully)-try-and-fit-our-skills-to-it

is flipped instead to

Sincerely-understand-what-I-am-good-at-and-what-my-strengths-are-and-where-I-add-value-and-then-explore-jobs-that-align-with-my-skills.

Exploring our Unique Genius and coming to some structure around it is our first priority. And then we can find roles and jobs and paths that align with this criteria. That’s the order.

[Hold on! Thirty Seconds to Discuss Problems We Have with this Whole Unique Genius Thing]

But this whole Explore-Our-Unique-Genius thing can appear very hard for us to do.

We lawyers want conclusion. We want black and white. We don’t want to fiddle with this Unique Genius step. We just want to know what the new non-law job is. We want to know how all of this leaving the law stuff turns out. We want to know what salary we’ll make. We want to know what the title will be. We want to know how long the commute will be. We want to know … We want to know … At the end of the day, we don’t like the unknown.

But the more we focus on ourselves first (ie our Unique Genius) and don’t worry too much about the specifics and conclusion (as hard as that can seem to be), we can then really find an opportunity that is a great fit for us.

We need to do the Unique Genius work up front. It provides us with the chance to find that alignment between what we do well and a job. Yes, it’s exciting.

The Unique Genius Narrative … the story of you

And once we have worked through and explored our Unique Genius, we can then create a narrative of ourselves that we feel honest and great about. This helps us structure who we are, it helps us feel less fear and less lack of self worth, and instead feel authentically confident about our skills, and it helps us present ourselves better during informational or hiring interviews.

The narrative is based on cataloguing our skills and strengths, realizing what we are good at, and what we are not good at, understanding what we still fear, and doing research on real-life jobs out there whose job description is a fit with our skills.

We need this narrative so that when a hiring manager asks us why we left the law and why we are applying to this alternative (non-law) job, we can calmly say something like the following:

“Ah yes, thank you for asking that question. It’s a real good one. And it’s one I’ve thought about a lot recently, and exploring the answer has really powered and energized my career search over the past few months, and I feel it has contributed to why I’m in front of you now, interviewing for this position. 

The reason why I don’t want to practice the law is because after three years of law school, after a number of years practicing as a lawyer, and after a thorough and patient and dedicated and fairly comprehensive exercise exploring my professional skills and strengths and identifying what I’m really good at, I feel very confident that my skill set is not in alignment with what is called for to practice law. 

To put it simply, being a lawyer is just not a fit for me.

But in life, it is often times as valuable to find out what you don’t want as much as it is to find out what you do want. In that spirit, my assessment has empowered me to feel very confident that what is a fit for me is this potential opportunity at your company. 

Let me tell you why. While at first glance at my resume may not place me as the most conventional pick for this role, I have done a solid audit of my strengths, I have comprehensively detailed a large number of skills I posses that are transferable and a real good fit for this role, I have met over coffee with a large number of professionals in this space and picked their brain, learned about their day-to-day, understood their best practices and have gained a deep understanding of what this job requires. 

Through all of this personal auditing and industry research, I feel very confident in not continuing to practice the law and rather pursuing this role as a next step in my career.

And as such, I have catalogued my strengths and skills into three main areas: [SKILL AREA #1], [SKILL AREA #2], [SKILL AREA #3]. I’m more than happy to get into detail about all three.

And most importantly, I’ve read your job description thoroughly, and I feel that the requirements you list out here are in great alignment with, and definitely require, the skills I just listed. Please let me know where I can elaborate any further …”

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Lessons from someone who just left

by Casey on January 19, 2016

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I love hearing stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of people first realizing they want to do something different to those people who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.

Lately I’ve received a lot of emails from younger attorneys, maybe just a year or two out of law school, who already know they want to do something else, but have no idea of what to do next.

Here is the story of West Kraemer, a Leave Law Behind reader, Florida attorney and recent ex-lawyer and newly minted programer and entrepreneur. He has some personal experiences I think you’ll find very interesting and actionable.

 

I left law behind to become a programmer, making websites and pursuing my dream of one day becoming an independent entrepreneur.

There are a few lessons I took from my transition that I would like to share, which would have smoothed my transition had I known them at the beginning of this process. I hope these lessons can help your transition go as efficiently as possible as you begin your process of leaving the law as well. (Also, please see the end of this piece for an FAQ/’How To’ on learning to code from scratch.)

 

Have a plan

The first lesson I learned in my transition out of law is: Have a plan. I graduated from law school in 2014 and just couldn’t bring myself to practice law. I admit, I struggled in law school academically. My exam essays didn’t fit in the rigid frameworks professors had set forth as their ideas for “model answers.” But, somewhat paradoxically, I excelled at legal internships. I found case law that was missed by attorneys working above me that won cases. I wrote successful appeals. I wrote an opinion for a judge on complex matters of jurisdiction that attorneys working on both sides of the case misinterpreted. And so on, and so forth. So, I thought that my struggle in law school would all be “worth it” when I got to the real world, because I was good at doing the actual things lawyers need to do; that is I had a terrific understanding of the law, excellent research skills, and I was a good writer.

However, when I graduated law school and it came time to actually become an attorney, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Bar exam study deadlines kept getting missed, letters to potential employers went unsent, and I felt paralyzed by it all. So, without a plan, I ended up working at a dead-end job for $30K a year with no benefits for nearly 12 months. The good thing about adversity like this is that it forces you to examine who you are and what you really want. The bad part is that I struggled financially and wasted time I could have spent pursuing my dreams.

With a plan I would have realized that I really liked running the ecommerce business I started in law school, and that making websites and running my own businesses was something that I really wanted to pursue as a career. The business I started in law school was a website where law students could buy and sell outlines. The twist that made my business model unique was that, as the outlines sold more copies, they became more expensive. I called it TopOutlines because the “Top Outline” was the one that sold the most copies. What I liked most about working on my own business was that I was in control of everything, I didn’t answer to anyone, and I was making money for myself, and not someone else.

 

Believe

The second lesson I learned is that there are a million reasons not to make a life altering choice, and if you’re going to make a change you have to believe that your one reason supersedes the million. My one reason (pursuing my dream of learning to code to become a digital entrepreneur) was enough for me to join a 9-week tech bootcamp that taught me how to make websites. It’s called Wyncode and it’s located in Miami. There are other programs like it all across the country, and there are also all kinds of online resources that you can use to become a programmer, but I knew I needed the structure of a formal educational environment to get it done in a timely manner, which is why I choose Wyncode. This tech boot camp condensed what would have taken me years to learn on my own into two months. So, from the point of view of transitioning to another career where there are student loans and a mortgage to take into account, making another investment in myself was absolutely, 100% worth it.

 

Invest in yourself

That brings me to the third lesson I learned, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. Law school cost me an arm and a leg. And then another arm. And then another leg. But I made that initial investment in myself because I believed in myself. And, even after deciding that the law is not for me, I’m still the same capable, intelligent person who deserves to believe in himself. So I spent the money it took to learn to code. And now my job prospects are terrific.

So, broadly stated, the lessons I learned from transitioning away from law were,

1) have a plan,

2) there are always going to be reasons not to make a transition, but the drive to change your life for the better can and should surpass all of those reasons if it is what you want to do, and

3) don’t be afraid to invest in yourself because you’re still worthy.

In conclusion, if I were to revisit the point in time where I decided I needed to leave the law behind, I would have thought through a plan, ignored the million reasons not to go through with it, and invested in myself to affect the transition I had decided upon. In my case, I felt like I followed those lessons well, however, in retrospect, I would have liked to have begun the boot camp earlier, and spend less time at a dead-end job I hated.

I sincerely hope that this helps anyone reading transition away from law if that’s what he or she wants to do. If you want to transition away from law to become a programmer, I’ve included some FAQ’s to help aid that process below.

FAQ On Learning to Code

1. Do you need to know math?

NO!!! Math can help coding from a “how you think about the world” perspective, but you don’t need to know math to be able to code. I hadn’t taken a meaningful math course since high school before my coding boot camp began and I learned to code just fine.

2. How do I take the first step?

Sign up for a coding boot camp. If you’re in Miami, sign up for Wyncode. If not, find one near you and sign up.

3. What are some free online resources I can use to get started and “dip my toe” in the water before “diving in” to see if I like it?

4. This is hard! How do I get help with a problem I can’t solve on my own?

One of the differences between a really good programmer and a novice one is the speed at which they Google solutions. A lot of coding is just Google-ing around until you find the answer you’re looking for. So, spend time looking for answers online. Odds are someone else has asked the same question you’re having on a website called StackOverflow, or somewhere else on the Internet.

5. Computer Programming isn’t for women or minorities, look at the average representation of programmers in popular culture, it’s all dorky white guys. Should I avoid programming if I’m a woman or minority?

NO WAY!! That’s true about representations of programmers in pop-culture by and large. BUT! Coding is beautiful because anyone can do it.

The only way to change the demographics of who actually codes is to get involved if you want to, even if you don’t “fit the mold of a typical programmer.” Please, please, please code if you want to, no matter your background.

Rail Girls is an awesome female-focused coding website for beginners. Check out their “guides” section for some step-by-step walkthroughs aimed at teaching women how to code (don’t be turned off by the female-friendly vibe here though fellas, this is a really, really good website for learning the basics!!).

 

West Kraemer was born and raised in New York City, the son of two artists. After undergrad at Hartwick College, he taught English in Austria on a Fulbright Grant, got an LLM in International Law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and went to law school at the University of Miami. After deciding that being a lawyer was not for him (at least for now), he went to Wyncode Academy in Miami to learn how to be a web developer and make websites. He is currently building his startup company TopOutlines.com and looking for a job programming, or in a related field. West lives in Miami, Florida with his girlfriend Stephanie, and their dog Bridger. If you would like to contact West about offering him a freelance consulting opportunity job or to discuss leaving law behind, he can be reached at KraemerWest@gmail.com.

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Thank you

January 5, 2016

I constantly receive emails from many of you. Many of them are emails simply saying thanks. You thank me for starting this blog. It has helped you leave the law, it has helped you feel not so alone, it has helped you to motivate to make change, it has helped you to take a first […]





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What we really need to know about money

December 25, 2015

Last week we discussed specifically how we can get over our fear that we can never make as much money in a non-law job as we do now as an attorney. We now know that as we explore and identify and become comfortable with the skills and strengths we have that make up our Unique […]





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Money

December 14, 2015

One of the biggest hurdles we face in leaving the law is money. Some of us make a lot of money as attorneys. Some of us do okay, and are able to pay our bills and our student loans and get by. And others of us are out of a job, or jumping from contract […]





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You’ll leave the law with these 99 tips

November 30, 2015

Last week, we discussed why we unhappy, dissatisfied attorneys need to forgive ourselves for all of the things for which we had previously been hard on ourselves. Our true self is not to be unhappy. Our true self is to be happy and full of self worth using our skills and strengths to add value […]





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Why you should forgive yourself

November 16, 2015

I began law school in the Fall of 1996 here in San Francisco. Around that same time here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Netscape went public (1995), Yahoo was founded and began hiring (1995), and Google was founded and began hiring (1998). I can’t tell you how many times I have thought to myself […]





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How to find work/life balance (really)

November 1, 2015

While many of us want to leave the law altogether, some of us still want to consider finding a way to practice the law in a non-traditional, temporary, or part time way. Those of us who are Moms and Dads want to know how to do this in order to be more present with their […]





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3 ways I co-opt fear to use to my advantage

October 22, 2015

Lately, I’ve been working through how to deal with fear. In our lives as people in general, and as attorneys in particular, we face a lot of fears. Some we share with most everyone else (fear of physical pain, of losing a loved one, of trying new things, of falling into depression, of loneliness, of […]





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Here’s why we’ll never actually stop being a lawyer

October 13, 2015

Last week I had a great conversation with an attorney who I had worked with to leave the law. He is about to begin working at a small tech start up. While he was dissatisfied at his firm job and wanted a completely new space in which to work and was excited about this new […]





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