Thinking about leaving the law, but not sure where to begin?

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Recently I put together a survey for readers to answer a few questions. I wanted to get an idea of what’s top of mind for all of us, what types of issues we’re dealing with, and what new products or services we all thought might be best for us all. You can see the survey here.

One thing that comes up a lot is frustration: Feelings of lost potential. A perceived disconnect between who we are and who we want to be. Dissatisfaction with our job. Lack of meaning in what we do. A feeling that our JD is not transferrable to any other industry.

And many other issues: Money is tight. We have family pressures. We don’t know exactly what to do. We’re at a stalemate. We don’t have the time to explore anything else. We feel guilty for wanting to explore something else. We feel like we’re going crazy.

It doesn’t look good.

But it is.

 

What if life is rigged in our favor?

There is a great blog I follow. It’s called the Daily Love, by Mastin Kipp. He’s not a lawyer, but he’s turned his life around after some low, hard, depressing times and now runs a positive, inspirational blog and community that has been featured on Oprah.

This past week he posted a video that resonated with me. In it, he talks about how when we’re facing challenges, what if we looked at life as not being against us, but rather working for us.

What if life is happening for us, rather than just to us?

What if life is rigged in our favor?

What if some of the challenges we face are actually lessons for us? he asks.

Sure, I know, we’ve heard it all before, the best lessons come out of difficult times. Think positive. Look at the bright side. Yeah yeah, yeah.

And I know it’s hard to think in a positive way when we’re unhappy, depressed, physically ill, or worrying about money. We just want to scream out “why me?” or “poor me” or “why did this happen?” or “how did I get here?”

But run with me on this: This is more than just trying to think positively. This is about taking a leap, taking a break from dwelling on the bad stuff for a second, and trying to think about how the bad stuff might actually be trying to tell us something. To do this, we need to shift our mindset. We need to think differently.

What if all of the bad stuff that is happening to us is for us, and not just to us? What if our viewpoint of life is our choice? What if we can be more proactive and in control? What if life just isn’t happening to us? What if we have more control than we think?

 

What is the lesson we could possibly learn from all of this bad stuff we’re feeling?

Let me throw some out. I’d love to hear from you (email me or add to the comments here.)

1. These hard times are here to tell us who we really are. Readers also write in the survey questions that they have so many interests beyond work. They talk of how they have an inherent creativity and passion and skills that they are not using as a lawyer, that they want to use more in their life or in another job that will appreciate and optimize what they are good at. They write about how they seem to have lost a sense of who they are.

Maybe these hard times, these real down, depressing hard times, are in our lives to remind us that we have a true self. That our true self can only come out in another job, in another routine, in another environment.

Maybe we’ve lost ourselves. That’s okay. This is the time to re-find who we are.

2. These hard times are here to tell us that there is more to a job than security and stability. Let’s be honest, many of us went to law school and became a lawyer in order to make money. In order to gain some sort of stability. In order to do what we thought was the right thing to do.

And we all need to make money. But maybe these hard times are here to remind us that we can make money in a collaborative environment. We can make money in a job that values us. We can make money in a job that is exciting. We can make money in a job that we don’t even yet know exists … and is passion filled and full of growth and full of meaning.

And this job will take a while to find. It’ll take work to identify. But maybe these hard times, these real down, depressing hard times, are in our lives to remind us that there are jobs out there where money and meaning are not mutually exclusive.

3. These hard times are here to tell us that we have courage and awareness. Leaving the law is all about baby steps. You can’t do it in one big leap. Not possible.

It’s done incremental step after incremental step. It’s done confidence building step by confidence building step. It’s done momentum building step by momentum building step.

And through all of this movement we gain courage. We begin to know more and more that we can do greater and greater things.

And we begin to understand that failure isn’t that bad. When you take small steps, your failures are small. You can easily get back up.

And we gain awareness. Self awareness. We begin to see ourselves again and we begin to like what we see.

And through this all, we become honest with ourselves.

And this is helpful, as it can be really hard to admit that going to law school might have been a mistake. It’s hard to stomach the money and time we might have wasted. It’s hard to think we are disconnected from our true self. It’s hard to feel we’re behind the curve. It’s hard to imagine how we can create another professional identity. It’s hard to think of how we can make more money than we do now.

Maybe these hard times, these real down, depressing hard times, are in our lives to remind us that admitting these feelings is just us becoming more and more honest with ourselves. And aware. And courageous. And necessary.

So as tough as it can be to admit that our lives just aren’t fully right, what if we view this hard realization ironically as a reminder that we’re poised for great stuff ahead? What if these down feelings are not harbingers of disaster but rather indications of success?

What if we thought this way?

Let’s take this survey again.

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My wife and my kids ice skate. And there is nothing I can do about it.

I do not know how to ice skate. And I’m actually kind of afraid of it.

I love physical activities and playing sports. But growing up in San Francisco, there weren’t many ice skating rinks.

There was one dilapidated rink out near Ocean Beach. Some other ones far away in the suburbs.

So what this means is I didn’t grow up ice-skating. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t have much interest or passion for it. I have no muscle memory for it. I never really thought much about ice-skating. And besides the temporary, once-a-year skate attempt during the holidays, I didn’t think I’d ever have to throughout life.

Until I had kids. And until my wife told them that she ice skated when she was young and loved it and was signing them up for lessons at the recently built, year-round ice skating rink in downtown San Francisco.

Now I was forced to think about ice-skating.

And what I’ve had to think about I don’t like. To be honest, I’m actually kind of scared of ice-skating. I don’t know how. I may hurt myself. It’s cold. It’s new.

My wife is a good skater. My kids are young, and still beginners, but they are getting the hang of it. They’ve been taking lessons for about six months now, and they are beginning to lose their fear of being on the ice. They are learning how to glide. They are learning how to stop. They are learning how to break their fall. And they are learning how to get back up.

So this weekend we’re up visiting Santa Rosa, about an hour north of San Francisco. And, as luck would have it, there is a local ice skating rink here. It’s actually a “Snoopy” rink – Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon and Charlie Brown, lived in Santa Rosa and there is a museum, information center and a skating rink all dedicated to the Peanuts Characters.

The rink is called “Snoopy’s Home Ice”. There are funny statues of the Peanuts characters, a gift shop, a café and, yes, a big fully functional, ice skating rink.

As we get out of the car, my daughter instructs me that I’m going to skate with her and that her brother will skate with my wife and that my daughter is going to show me the new gliding technique (one foot up in the air) she recently learned.

And I had to tell her that I actually won’t be skating. I had to tell her that I will be watching from the seats as she skates with her mother. And as she protests and asks why, it pained me, but I can’t really tell her the truth: I’m scared to skate. I don’t know how. I may hurt myself. It’s cold. It’s new.

So I told her “just because” and bought her some Starburst at the snack bar.

The sugar distracted her, but it didn’t help me at all. The ice was still intimidating to me. It still scared me. I felt paralyzed.

Once my sugar-infused kids and my graceful wife made it onto the rink, I took a moment and then realized that much of what prevents me from beginning to ice skate is generally the same that prevents many of us from exploring careers and roles beyond the law.

1. I don’t know how and I could get hurt. Of course I know I can easily take ice skating lessons. But right now, ice skating is this murky, opaque, unclear place. It’s cold. There is the white glare. It’s inside. It’s fast. It hurts when you fall. And I have no idea how the balance or the form or the technique is supposed to work. I have no idea how you can skate so straight on this little thin blade. I imagine that I can easily tear my ACL or break my wrist.

And the same goes for leaving the law. For those of us hoping to leave the law, we don’t know how to take that first step. Leaving the law can be a dark place, where we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know the structure. We don’t know the tools. We don’t know the scripts. We don’t know the verbiage. We don’t know the non-legal world. And even if we feel that we’re not the best lawyer out there, at least if we remain a lawyer we still know our way around somewhat. Leaving the law can be learned, but it’s still a mystery for many of us.

2. It’s difficult. Of course the people skating on the rink make it look so easy and effortless, but ice-skating is really hard. You need to keep your legs steady and keep your balance, be able to squat, ad be able to fall and get back up. It’s not easy. Like anything, becoming proficient (not perfect, just pretty good at it) takes a while. And it takes effort and discipline and dedication, even if I’m just going to do it as a hobby or to enjoy with my kids.

The same thing goes for looking for a new job and a career in line with our Unique Genius. Sure, we know that there is a structure and a well-thought-out plan and people who have done it before to serve as models, but let’s be honest, it all looks like it is so easy and logical and possible … for “them”, but not for us. For those of us who are still scared to leave the law, we don’t think it’s easy. And we feel we are so far behind. And we feel it’s so difficult to get motivated.

3. It takes time. I know that to really learn how to ice skate (and enjoy it and become pretty good at it) I’m going to have to carve out the time. I’m already pretty busy, so I’m kind of at a loss as to when I’m going to be able to find the time to take lessons.

And many of us also find it hard to really get any traction on thinking of leaving the law, much less exploring it and acting on it. We get slammed with work. We get a new deal or trial or matter that requires our full attention. And in the few hours where we’re not at our office, we’re thinking about work as we go to sleep or we’re trying to fit in a time to workout or see friends or spend time with the family. And so we ask ourselves how can we also take on all of the work required to leave the law?

4. It’s new. I don’t really understand ice-skating. As much as I’d like to imagine myself gliding across the ice and being able to skate with my kids and even try a hand at some hockey, ice-skating is a really new thing that I know nothing about. I don’t know the culture. I don’t know the history. I don’t know the forms. I don’t know the famous skaters. I don’t know many others of my friends who do it. I don’t anything.

And the same goes for us hoping to leave the law. Each of us doesn’t really know that many people close to us who have actually left. We don’t know what jobs exist beyond transactional jobs or litigation jobs or academic jobs. Leaving the law is a world totally and utterly new to us.

And as the Zamboni began to rumble to clean the ice, I then remembered that when we’re avoiding making a big (read: necessary) change, there are usually four main drivers that compel us to overcome resistance and do it: We have no other choice, we are highly curious for adventure and change, we are desperate or we give in to peer pressure.

So when it comes to ice skating, for me, I have no other choice – I either participate in this activity, or I miss out on spending quality time with my kids on the ice.

And I’ll admit, I’m kinda curious about learning this new skill. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed”. I’m becoming excited about that idea.

And while I’m not desperate to learn, there may be some peer pressure – my kids and my wife insist I learn (and it’s not in my personality to sit on the sidelines forever).

And this analysis put me over the edge. I’m going to do it.

A small baby step is all it takes. I’m going to take a private lesson. And I can arrange one that fits my schedule it turns out. Yes, I’m doing it. If you’re ever down at the San Francisco Yerba Buena ice skating rink, and see some proud forty year old moving inch-by-careful-inch across the ice with a seven year old and a four year old and a smiling wife shouting encouragement and tips, that’ll be me.

Ice skating is still new to me. It’s no less cold. It’s still hard to fall on. I still have no idea what to expect.

But these are all not reasons to continue. I know one day I’ll learn and be pretty good at it.

I’m scared. But in clearly spelling out my fears, weighing what was really keeping me from moving forward and identifying a small babystep, I’m no longer paralyzed.

I’m suddenly motivated.

Just like you can be.

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Real life stories of lawyers who have left the law

September 21, 2014

When Casey asked me to write a blog for Leave Law Behind, I asked myself what would be most helpful to the LLB community. Having interviewed hundreds of former lawyers, and profiling 30 of them in my book, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have, I thought it might be [...]

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The horns blare and the drums beat and your power is now limitless

September 13, 2014

Okay, quick test. What is 9X9? 5X3? 7X6? 8X8? 13X8? Pretty easy those first four multiplication questions, but that last one, hmm. Had to think about it, didn’t you. Here’s how I finally figured it out: 13 times 10 is 130, and 8 is 2 less than 10, so I’ll subtract 13 X 2 which [...]

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It’s weird but going crazy might be a really good thing for us unhappy attorneys

August 22, 2014

For so long, we were normal. Ever since we could remember, we got good grades. We did well at our extracurricular activities. We had energy, independence, ambition, goals. We happily did what we were told. We pleased most everyone. We were liked. We moved through life at a nice clip. We had a plan. And [...]

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How I coach my clients to leave the law

August 11, 2014

When I speak with a prospective coaching client, I make it a point to discuss in detail how we actually (step by step) leave the law behind. This is because we often think leaving the law cannot be that easy. We think we can’t do this. We think we can’t excel. We think it won’t [...]

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4 things you must do before applying to the cool job at the end of this post

July 29, 2014

Today, I want to introduce you to a job. It is a legal job as an attorney for a cool startup called Hire an Esquire. The description and hiring manager Jules Miller’s contact info is at the end of this post. For some of us, this could be the legal job we’ve always wanted that [...]

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5 simple ways for us unhappy attorneys to start becoming an extraordinary, huge success

July 9, 2014

Leaving the law It was in 2004 that I really left the law. That is when I left my in-house job at Workshare. The job was too reactive – and not proactive enough – for me (I was tasked with creating the legal framework to support initiatives created by Sales or Business Development), I had [...]

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3 ways to help us find the time to leave the law

June 24, 2014

While leaving the law takes a lot (of courage, effort, desire, confidence, momentum, hard work, flexibility, mindfulness) most of all, it takes time. A bunch of it. And for many of us, time is hard to find. We have trials to manage. We have court hearings to attend. We have agreements to draft. We have [...]

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Why we will not fail at what we really want to do

June 9, 2014

An amazing thing happens at a certain point with my coaching clients. As we explore our Unique Genius, we begin to get comfortable and more confident with our true skills, and strengths, and with what we really enjoy as a person. Through our Unique Genius exercises, we of course identify many of the traits we’d [...]

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