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

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“If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap. If you want happiness for a day—go fishing. If you want happiness for a month—get married. If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime—help others.”

– Chinese proverb

I received an email from a reader last week. The subject line read “Thank you”. She wrote in to tell me that ever since law school she knew the law wasn’t for her. She did not enjoy law school, but nonetheless still finished. And she has been miserable in her few years practicing. She did not like the work of being a lawyer and she and her boss did not connect in a meaningful way.

So she just quit. Gave notice. Gone.

And she spent that day reading Leave Law Behind and it has calmed her down and let her know she wasn’t alone and made her feel like a real live person again and she wanted to thank me for that.


Helping others

I have received many emails like this over the years. It makes my day when I hear of how this blog has helped people, of how this blog has made a difference. I get this great, awesome feeling when I know that my experience and our experience and our collective support can let each one of us dissatisfied or unhappy attorneys know that everything is all right and we are not alone. Knowing that this blog help others is a large part of why I continue to write.

And as we all know, we dissatisfied attorneys need a lot of help. We battle with a lot. Proving ourselves as worthy. Suffering anxiety and depression. Dealing with financial stress. Carrying the weight of fiduciary duties. Hiding that we’re unhappy. Dampening our social skills in order to function within the often-isolated work routine of the law. Feeling our life is passing by us. Not reaching our potential. Not knowing where to start to leave the law.

And all these feelings do is mask the abundance and prosperity and opportunity currently in our lives. They sabotage our confidence and our ability to create and get up to speed with who we really are.

We need to realize that there are not many other classes of professionals out in the world with our collective set of smarts, dependability and leadership. We can really make a difference in the world.


Just help

So … what about you? How can you help? What skills do you have and enjoy doing that someone needs?

What’s keeping you?

Nothing really. It’s easier than you think. And essential that you do so.

Helping is really just another way of saying “adding value”. When you help others you help yourself by showing what value you bring to the world.

Take a small step. Write a blog. Volunteer. Do pro bono work. Do a pod cast. Plan an event. Commit to a cause. Sketch out (not actually write, just sketch out) that outline of the novel you have in your mind. Do three informational interviews with non-lawyers. Spend some quality time doing Unique Genius exercises. Redo your resume and apply for a non-law job. Believe that you are worthy of success and happiness and satisfaction for no other reason than that you want it. Mentor someone.

One of the best ways to begin to leave the law is to focus on helping someone. Is to focus on adding value.

All of the rest (money, lifestyle, satisfaction, confidence, courage) will follow.

The world is waiting for you.



Annie Little, a blogger and writer at Attorney at Work, asked me and a number of other lawyers and bloggers to write about numerous topics on the law and alternative careers to the law. Annie had me focus on the question  “How valuable is your law degree“.

For the most part, the value of a law degree is often determined in relation to what it can get us practicing lawyers.

Some are very tangible and measurable: A clerkship. A BigLaw job. A high salary. A career path.

Others are more intangible: Stature. Ego. Self-Worth. Exclusivity.

But when we leave the law behind, and stop practicing, the value of a law degree in a world of non-lawyers may be no less important. But the value can just be a bit more difficult for us to ascertain.

In a world of non-lawyers, having a law degree means we’re smart. Really … no fooling. Non-lawyers perceive lawyers as being smart and intelligent. And if you wear glasses, that only increases your smarts quotient.

In a world of non-lawyers, having a law degree means we’re disciplined. Law school admittance requirements are hard, it takes three years to complete, the books are really thick, and the Bar is no joke. Non-lawyers view having a law degree and license as requiring discipline and dependability.

In a world of non-lawyers, having a law degree means we can do a number of important things well that others cannot. We have the ability to negotiate agreements. We have the knack for handling sensitive and confidential matters. We are looked to as a source of rational, objective advice. We can interact with people of all kinds. We put out fires. We can understand complicated situations. We can do things others can’t.

But …

In a world of non-lawyers, having a law degree can imply our skill set is considered “siloed”. Non-lawyers often think that we can only do law stuff. It takes work and patience to show non-law hiring managers that we can do other things.

In a world of non-lawyers, having a law degree can imply we’re not initially considered “creative”. People do not associate us with creative endeavors (design, marketing, development, ideas, thinking outside the box), so it is incumbent upon us to foster those creative skills and strengths we may have stifled up to this point, so they can benefit others down the road.

In a world of non-lawyers, having a law degree can imply we’re risk averse. It’s in our nature to fear the unknown and change. We need to train ourselves to understand that life is messy and work is always changing,

For those of us who have stopped practicing or are thinking about leaving the law, the value of a law degree can at first be questioned.

But just because we are not practicing doesn’t mean that our law degree is worthless. It just means its value and the perception of its value is identified in more nuanced ways.

But that’s where the fun is.


If you’re interested in one-to-one coaching sessions, shoot me a note.

And take the Leave Law Behind survey. I appreciate your (confidential) thoughts and feedback.


My 21 step guide on how to leave the law and begin anew

April 23, 2015

The issue many of us run into when attempting leave the law is we have no idea where to begin. By its nature, leaving the law is kind of a formless, unstructured exercise. Sure, there is precedent of some kind in that other lawyers have left the law and we can read their stories. But even […]

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What you find out when you let go of your life plan

April 14, 2015

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell   I have let go of and changed my life plan a few times. Sometimes the circumstances around me forced me to change my plan. And sometimes I […]

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What bungee jumping and leaving the law have in common (and how I did both)

March 26, 2015

The following post was written by Leave Law Behind reader, Chris Jones, formerly of Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft and now VP of Content for AppointmentCore, a scheduling automation software company. Take it away Chris … Every year, I try to do something that scares me. In 2011, that meant jumping off the world’s highest bungee bridge in […]

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Three ways to overcome the main problem we have in leaving the law

March 19, 2015

I love reading the submissions I receive from Leave Law Behind readers through the confidential survey we have on the site. It is a great way for readers to send me anonymous thoughts and ideas and feedback and to flat out vent. And I find it an extremely valuable insight as to what the community […]

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Here’s how going to the dentist and jumping to hit a store sign can inspire us to leave the law

February 25, 2015

I got inspired going to the dentist. One of my best friends is a top dentist in Marin County, right north of San Francisco. We grew up together, and once or twice a year, myself and two other buddies drive up, have our teeth cleaned, head over to the gym for a workout and then […]

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How to get that (non-legal) hiring manager to take us seriously

February 15, 2015

One major theme in the feedback from the last post on Leave Law Behind is a sense of loss and confusion of how to even get started in leaving the law. This is mainly because some  of us have already tried to leave law. And it didn’t go well.   Some real life hurdles we face when […]

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What we fear is actually what we need

January 30, 2015

I spoke with some of the winners of last week’s post contest – they carved out time in their schedule to leave the law, sent me a picture of it on their calendar and we spent 30 minutes on the phone discussing whatever was top of mind for them. It was great. Some were long […]

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3 ways to finally take action and leave the law

January 19, 2015

What’s keeping us from leaving the law? I know, I know … we have a lot to do. We’re not sure where to start. We don’t want to tell anyone we’re unhappy. We don’t know of any jobs that pay as much as we make now. We don’t know who outside of the law would hire us. We have no time. It’s […]

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