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Above The Law


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 helpful to offer some specific, practical, realistic advice on how to leave the law for a more rewarding career. I hope these guidelines will help get you through what is rarely a simple or straightforward process.

First, let me tell you a bit about me. In 2009, I was a partner in an international law firm and had been in private practice for a dozen years.   Although I enjoyed law at first, as my 20s became my 30s, I found litigation more and more draining. It took having my daughter for me to finally take a somewhat blind leap out of my firm. Despite being miserably sleep-deprived, my maternity leave was the most fun I had had in years. As I developed my new career after a few false starts, I learned so much from interesting ex-lawyers all over the country that I decided to write the book I wished I had had when I was trying, and failing, to leave law behind.

Life After Law tells the detailed stories of more than 30 successful ex-lawyers who have moved into a wide range of fields, from entrepreneurship to psychotherapy to media management.   All of the ex-lawyers I know with who have transitioned to a better Act II have the following things in common:

1. They use the skills they’ve loved using for years. Every ex-lawyer profiled in Life After Law found new and lucrative way to use the skills they love using. Importantly, these aren’t always the skills they were praised for when they were lawyers. You can be good at something you don’t truly enjoy, and those skills aren’t a promising foundation for a career you love. Instead, to help identify what I call your “preferred skills,” think about what gives you the most joy, makes you feel most alive, and gives you a sense of purpose and excitement. What comes to mind? Even generalities can help get you started.

Most lawyers are drawn to some corner of practice based on their inherent interests, falling into one or more of these categories: writers, analysts, healers, consultants, and advocates. Other lawyers are entrepreneurs, artisans, or teachers at heart. These skill sets can help point you toward your next career. Life After Law groups the stories of happy ex-lawyers according to these eight skills sets so that you can see how other people with those interests reinvented their work lives.

For example, if you like analysis, you might want to follow ex-lawyer analysts like Meredith Benedict, who became a health care strategist, Alison Ranney, who became a recruiter for non-profit institutions, or Christopher Mirabile, who co-founded one of the largest angel investor networks in the United States.   Ex-lawyers who liked the consulting aspect of law include Greg Stone, who owns a successful media company, Lisa Montanaro, a productivity consultant and life coach, and Susannah Baruch, who created a public policy consulting career that also lets her spend time with her children.

2. Their first step away from law wasn’t their last. Most transition stories are at least a little messy in retrospect. Few happy ex-lawyers come up with their dream career while they are bogged down at work they don’t enjoy, especially time-intensive work. More often, it takes some time away from that pressure, and some experimentation, before you find the new career that really makes you tick.

For example, before Valerie Beck started Chicago Chocolate Walking Tours, she left her firm to become a Mary Kay salesperson. She used both the negotiating skills and contacts she developed in law and the small business skills she learned in sales to launch a company that eventually expanded to several other major cities.   I became the executive director of an investment group focusing on women-owned businesses and flirted with development before realizing, through adjunct teaching, that I really wanted to go into academia instead. The road to your next career may not run in a straight line.

3. They’re so glad they left. Really. Every single one of them. Think about it. Have you ever met someone who regretted leaving the law?

Managing the financial aspect of leaving the law can be challenging, but it is doable. The process of transitioning to less income, and the change of identity and sense of personal loss that can entail, if often harder than actually living on less (which, of course, most non-lawyers do). If you’re still in practice, my advice is to reduce your expenses as much as you can. Figure out what you need to live on, realistically, and aim for that as a minimum salary. If you can find a way to part company amicably with your law job so that you can collect unemployment and get bridge health care until you get a new job, there is no shame in that. You may also find that your new career is less expensive. You may no longer need so much, for example, in the way of fancy suits and recreational shopping.

I’ve used these principles myself, moving from partnership in an impersonal international firm to – eventually – my dream job of teaching undergraduates and MBA students at a university near my home town.   I still use the research, writing, mentoring and public speaking skills I loved using as a lawyer, but have ditched the adversarial life and my billable minimum (for which my family is grateful). There are hundreds of thousands of happy ex-lawyers out there, and it is absolutely realistic for you to join them no matter where you are in the process. You’re never too smart or too successful to start a career you love.

Liz Brown is the author of Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have and an assistant professor at Bentley University, which does not have a law school.   A former litigation partner, Liz is also the former Executive Director of Golden Seeds, the largest source of angel funding for women entrepreneurs.   She is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.



Okay, quick test. What is 9X9?





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 is 26, and so then 130 minus 26 is … 104? Right?

Yes, it is 104, but why did it take so much longer to get 104 than it did to get 81, and 15 and 42, and 64?

Because 81, 15, 42 and 64 have been “imprinted” in our sub-consciousness. Whenever we learned multiplication in our respective formative years, this pattern and knowledge was repeated and repeated and repeated to us so that it was imprinted into our sub-consciousness. We just know it. It’s fact.

But we only went up to twelve. 12 X 12? Sure, 144.

But 13 X 8? 13 X 5? 15 X 14? 16 X 17?

We didn’t learn these. These weren’t repeated. These weren’t imprinted.

Why? I’m not sure, but the curriculum drafters thought that up to 12 X 12 was sufficient for most of us.

I learned this listening to a fantastically insightful interview with John Kehoe, best-selling author and one of the world’s leading authorities on positive thinking and specifically “Mind Power”. He goes into great detail about how our attitude and perception and the thoughts we think empower, or sabotage, our real life, tangible actions and goals.

Specifically, he talks about whatever we think repeatedly, good or bad, will be “imprinted” on our sub-consciousness. And whatever is imprinted on our sub-consciousness begins to attract the circumstances and people and jobs and things in our life.

Another word for imprinted could be “accepted as fact” or “thought of as the norm” or “accepted as being self evident”. Whatever we call it, whatever is imprinted on our sub-consciousness has a direct effect on how we view the world.

What are some of the things that have been imprinted on our sub-consciousness as fact, beside 9X9 and 5X3?

  • Life is hard
  • Money is hard to make
  • The rich are lucky
  • Life is a zero sum game
  • Money doesn’t grow on trees
  • The world is a cold dark place
  • It’s all downhill after 40
  • A mid life crisis is bad
  • It’s too hard to get to the gym
  • Something always has to give
  • Don’t call attention to yourself
  • Only do it if you know you can make money

Now let’s dive a bit deeper. What are some things that have been imprinted on us specifically as lawyers?

  • Being a lawyer is a stable job
  • Working hard means respect
  • You don’t need to love being a lawyer
  • Working hard means success
  • 1,600 billable hours is work/life balance
  • 2,000 billable is good
  • 2,500 billable is fantastic
  • 3,000 is out of this world
  • You are happy when the client is happy
  • The skills you have as a lawyer can only be used as a lawyer
  • Being a lawyer means you weren’t cut out to be a doctor
  • The only jobs out there are Transaction, Litigation or Academia
  • Because you spend so much money and time going to law school, you need to remain an attorney
  • If you’re unhappy with the law, something is wrong with you
  • Working hard is the only way
  • Working at 2am on Saturday is normal
  • Working weekends is normal
  • Being a lawyer is the only how you will get respect
  • You can’t leave law if you still have all that student debt
  • If you’re life looks good on paper, it is good
  • You do not have the right to be unhappy
  • Law school was not a waste
  • Don’t let your parents down
  • You will be a fraud if you try anything else
  • Sunday night anxiety is normal
  • It’s normal to dread your emails
  • Stress is a badge of honor
  • Being stressed means you’re doing something right
  • It’s normal to work in solitariness
  • Not many other industries are more respected than the practice of law
  • Trading your hours for money is how you make money
  • You are lucky to have a job
  • Things will go wrong
  • Being negative just means you are realistic
  • Emotions are not rational
  • Having a lot of student debt is normal
  • I need to please others
  • Keep up and read about with what other people keep up with and read about
  • Don’t fall behind
  • Don’t let the younger guy eclipse you
  • Other people make the big money
  • Get a good job
  • I need structure to get anything done
  • Risk is bad
  • Your self worth is tied to what you do at the firm
  • Clients are always annoyed to have to deal with lawyers
  • Make a living
  • Not seeing your family much means your working hard which means the client is getting their work product on time and if the client is happy and if the partner is happy and the firm is happy with you, than you’re happy
  • Conform

As we leave the law and course correct our career, as we explore our Unique Genius and become confident in our skills and strengths and enjoyments, we also need to pay close attention to our mindset and attitudes.

So let’s have some fun and courage and imprint some other beliefs onto our sub-consciousness:

  • Life is easy
  • Use leverage to make money
  • When I work at a role where I am always using my skills and strengths, I’ll make a lot of money
  • When I work at a role where I am always using my skills and strengths, I’ll be huge success
  • People need me and value me
  • I expect to make it big
  • I expect to spend time with my family
  • Good things happen to me
  • Being creative can be better and more lucrative than working hard
  • Do what we love
  • Align our skills with what you do each day
  • Take time to think
  • Create
  • Clients and customers can really value us
  • Know we have the energy and the power
  • The world is abundant
  • There is enough money for all of us
  • Our student debt will be paid off
  • Going to law school and taking on the debt and taking the time was a good thing
  • It is good to think about ourselves
  • Leaving law doesn’t mean having gone to law school was a waste
  • Being happy is a great goal
  • When we are happy, all of our other wishes will inherently be satisfied
  • Collaboration is how people work in the real world
  • You can be a leader
  • I’m only more confident after 40
  • You have something to offer that other people need
  • There is nothing wrong with shaking up our psyche when we’re at our mid point in our lives
  • You are never a fraud
  • Begin rich is what I expect of myself
  • We have what we need already
  • Play a game we like
  • I’m interested in things the mainstream media is not, and that’s okay
  • There is support in the work place
  • We can do it
  • Build a product. Sell it. Over and over again.
  • We have enough time
  • We have enough smarts
  • We are authentic
  • We can be cool and respected in the larger world using the same skills we have right now
  • We are so powerful
  • We are really good at what we are good at
  • There is enough prosperity for all of us
  • What we focus on we attract
  • Things will go right
  • Being negative is just being negative
  • Emotions are to be celebrated and acknowledged
  • We only need approval from ourselves
  • Get a job that fits us well
  • Having money lets us help others
  • Help someone or something is the first step
  • Being an outlier is fantastic
  • I am a great person
  • I am really valuable

To be clear, this isn’t just positive thinking. To only think positively without actualizing these thought and without acting on them results in not much positive change.

This is powerful thinking. This is taking these new thoughts, imprinting them on our sub-consciousness, and then acting on them. It means showing up and getting out there.

No one has ever done well – financially, emotionally, psychologically – at a job they don’t like. They make a living, but they don’t make a life.

And we don’t want a life like that. We unhappy lawyers are too valuable to be sitting in a job we don’t like, in a life we don’t like. We’re too valuable to be working in solitariness. We’re too valuable to be leaving skills on the table. We’re too valuable to be doing something we don’t really think we’re good at.

We unhappy lawyers are a force. We are loyal and dedicated and smart and passionate and leaders and mentors and problem solvers.

The world needs us to find a way to do something we’re so good at and we enjoy so much.

We have a duty to make a change. When we were kids we accepted that 12 X 12 was our ceiling for our multiplication tables.

But now as adults, our exponential growth and development can know no bounds.

When we think about this point, really, really think about, when we let ourselves acknowledge the fact our life can and should no longer proceed with our current limits on them, when we give ourselves that time, and that permission, then maybe we need to stand up from our desk, and look out the window of our office, and let’s say we actually leave our office, and let’s say we don’t worry if anyone is watching us and wondering or whispering about where we are going, and we go down the elevator, and walk outside our office, and let some late summer air into our lungs, and we walk with our head high and our shoulders strong and our legs mighty, and maybe we put in our headphones and turn on some powerful music from our phone, and go for a walk around the block and close our eyes, we’re in a music video, and all moves more slowly around us, it’s a dream world, and we visualize, just something, just something, just something else, something that is not being forced on us, but something that is unique to you, that is authentic and positive and powerful and enabling (and the music grows louder and stronger and pulses) and aligns with you, and is so different than the source of your unhappiness but rather is a force of hope you knew existed but just hadn’t seen in a while, hadn’t felt in a while, and then you realize that it isn’t coming from any external source, but this empowerment and hope and courage and motivation is begin generated by you, by you, from within you and from nowhere else but you, and that empowerment can’t banish all fears (debt and risk and shame and fraud) but it can help you manage them and face them and mitigate them, and this brings tears to your eyes (and the horns blare and the drums beat and the bass strums and the piano clangs) and you begin to know yourself again, and you see yourself as an old friend who is now back in your life, and you are so happy to see yourself again, so happy to feel cool again, so happy to be anchored again, and so happy to connect to dormant creative and spiritual thoughts that you authentically have and enables you to realize that all the power you need comes your perspective and from your conscious and your sub-conscious.

When you do this, or something like this, you realize that you have no other choice but to change your life.

And when you do this, or something like this, you realize that the only person who can change your life is you.

And when you do this, or something like this, you realize that the opportunity to change your life is something you have right now.


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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We are scared, but here is why we shouldn’t try too hard to get over our fears

June 1, 2014

Many of the conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks with readers and clients have included some discussion about fear. Our fears can get in the way of just about anything and everything. They can get in the way of our dreams and goals and big plans. They can also get in the way [...]

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The real reason we lawyers are unhappy (and how we can turn it around for the better)

May 22, 2014

We are unhappy as lawyers now. We’re just not clicking in life as much as we’d like to. We’re in a funk. We are not as optimistic as we want to be. We’re wondering where all of our potential went. I have had and still have a lot of moments like this. Self doubt, anxiety, [...]

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