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

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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 to say “no” too often for my liking (I often had to shoot down exciting business ideas that may have run counter to our existing agreements) and I saw a limit on my ability to make real money (I did not receive any sort of sales commission or success fee on deals closed).

Since I left the law, I am proud to say that I have made a lot of professional and personal progress. First, I have done the work to really understand who I am. All of my writing about our Unique Genius comes directly from my own exploration of my strengths and skills and enjoyments. While our Unique Genius is always evolving and refining, right now at this stage in my professional life, I am very confident in what I am good at, at how I can help, where I bring value and what I enjoy.

I’ve also learned how to effectively apply and transfer my various skills as an attorney (issue spotting, persuasive writing, analytical argumentation, public speaking) to my non-legal jobs and responsibilities.

And I have networked a lot, enabling me to uncover new and cool work opportunities, and build a web of like-minded professional contacts that I can help and who will also help me. I have researched what jobs, career paths, lifestyles, and income streams are out there, and I have a very good idea of what I like in a career and a job … and what I don’t.

I have also encouraged my entrepreneurism. Through all of my one-step-back and two-steps-forward, I have taken risks, helped build companies, jumped into the unknown, started ventures with no guarantee or precedent (like this blog), and taken responsibility for opportunities that require hard work, execution, accountability and creativity.

I have left the law. I have done a lot since. I am in a good spot professionally. And I am happy with my career trajectory.

Yet there is still something that I have struggled with, that has always nagged me, that I am only now just coming to terms with.

Overcoming the fear of success

Only now am I really ready to be successful professionally.

Only now am I ready to really, really be extraordinary.

Only now am I no longer afraid of being successful.

Which begs the question: What does it mean to be afraid of being successful?

I began law school in 1996 for a lot of reasons: To stay in school longer, to avoid having to find a job right out of college, to get an advanced degree, to (one day) make some money and have job security and … really, because I was a Jewish kid that didn’t like blood so I didn’t consider going to medical school.

All not the most critically thought out reasons, of course.

And sure, I didn’t want to be a failure in life, and I went to law school because I wanted to do well. I wanted to create a nice life for myself. I wanted to make money and be respected and to help in some way.

But never did I really think of going to law school to be really successful. To be really unique. To be absolutely extraordinary.

Never did I ever say something like “I am going to law school because this is going to help me become a success, a really big success, a huge success, and live an extraordinary life”.

I never said that. And I’d venture that many of us have never said that.

Definitions may differ, but for me professional success includes being able to help – let’s say I can make investments or create business opportunities that I feel the world needs. For me, success includes being financially independent – let’s say having $10 million. For me, success includes being well known – let’s say widely recognized within my personal and professional circles. For me, success includes being influential – let’s say I can run for office or single handedly drive initiatives or gather support for positive change in my community.

Throughout all of the “risks” I have taken in leaving the law, and all of the entrepreneurial attempts I’ve made, and all of the initiatives I’ve created, and all of the work I’ve done on myself, I still have had a mindset of settling. I still have had a mindset that I wouldn’t be that phenomenal. That I wouldn’t be so unique. That I wouldn’t be extraordinary. That I wouldn’t be hugely, wildly, outrageously successful.

I knew what great success looked like for me, but I didn’t believe I could attain it. I didn’t believe it was possible for me. I didn’t believe I deserved it. I didn’t believe my friends and family would accept me as a huge success. I didn’t believe it was right for me.

How I now know I’m becoming a huge success

But now I’m ready for it. As hard as this is for me to write publically, for fear of being viewed as arrogant or crazy, lately, I have realized that great things are in store for Casey Berman. Big things. More money. Authentic accolades. Greater influence. Increased time. Laser focus. Genuine contacts.

And as we leave law, as hard as it can be, I feel we need to also begin to realize that being successful – hugely, wildly, immensely, intensely successful – is in store for us. We are not just going to leave the law for a better job and life. We’re going to be a huge success at it.

And here are some ways to do this:

1. Define it: First off, let’s define what success means for us.

List the tangible (I will have $10 million) and the intangible (I will be courageous) and the enjoyable (I will be a published novelist) and the ostensibly crazy (I will be something other than a lawyer). Keep writing and brainstorming.

List it all, and as we explore our Unique Genius, identify which definitions of success begin to align with our skills and strengths.

List it all, and let’s not hold back for fear of seeming arrogant or conceited or haughty or egotistical or materialistic or money-loving or narcissistic or overconfident.

List it all, have huge expectations, and let’s begin to feel really, really good about what success means for each of us.

2. Realize that being successful is the new normal for us. I recently realized that my being a huge success was going to become the standard for me, and not the exception.

Let’s begin to think that being a huge success is not just for other people, it’s for us unhappy attorneys too.

Just because we may have made a mistake in going to law school and didn’t think critically about it, doesn’t mean we can’t reignite our career and create a life that is awesome.

Just because we have a lot of student debt we have to still pay off doesn’t mean we can’t be extraordinarily rich down the road.

Just because we work in a depressing law firm now doesn’t mean we can’t be working in an awesome, dynamic company in the future.

Just because we feel that our legal skills are only for use as an attorney doesn’t mean we can’t find other roles and jobs and paths in which our legal training could be highly valued.

Just because the skills we are really good at and enjoy (public speaking, advocating, collaborating, creative writing) we may use in short supply now doesn’t mean we can’t soon be utilizing them as we grow our career down the road.

Sure it takes work and dedication and luck. But it begins with us. No one else out there is going to try and convince us that our career is extraordinary. We need to take our definition of success and believe we can do it.

3. Admit that we can handle the pressure. Being hugely successful is not without its challenges and hard work. There is a lot of pressure: The hard work to earn that money. The need to perform. The criticism from others. The accountability.

There is real pressure in being really great. That’s why many of us might be afraid of it; whether we realize this or not, we may feel that we do not want the added stress and exposure and responsibilities that come with being a success.

And many of us in fact want to leave the law because of all of the pressure and stress we face as attorneys is just too much. We handle the stress of always needing to be right. We handle the stress of always needing our research to be up-to-date. We handle the stress of fiduciary duties. We handle the stress of filing deadlines.

The difference here is that when we are open to being a huge success and we have worked hard to find that opportunity and that job that is in alignment with our Unique Genius, the pressure and stress is something we can meet head on. We are confident in our abilities and strengths. We enjoy what we do. And so this pressure and stress is a different type of pressure and stress than what we face as unhappy attorneys.

This pressure and stress is proof we are doing the right thing, because this pressure and stress is the form of the challenges we need to and should be facing. This pressure and stress is essential for us to grow. This pressure and stress is evidence that we’re leading our life in a meaningful way.

We can handle this pressure and stress, because when we believe we will be a success and we do something we are good at and we enjoy, this pressure and stress is no longer a cause for anxiety and knots in our stomach, but rather it is an opportunity to shine in the face of a surmountable challenge.

4.  Being a huge success means that we can finally really help. While we went to law school for many reasons, helping (the world, the underprivileged, the shareholders, our clients) was one reason that likely aligned with many of us.

And we sometimes find that now, ironically, being a practicing lawyer means we can’t really help as we intended.

We may not like the clients we represent. Or the partners of the firm we work for are only after making money for themselves. Or we are too busy managing the trial calendar we can’t really meaningfully interact with clients. Or we really want to help one set of clients (foster children) but can’t make enough money doing so and now need to represent people we can’t stand (soon-to-be-divorcees).

Being wildly successful means that we are in a position now to really help others. We can give money and time and our backing to those causes that are close to our heart. We can now mentor. We can now give advice. We can now lobby. We can now influence. We can now make investments. We can now lead. We can now sponsor. We can now inspire. We can now lend our name.

Being hugely successful means we can really give meaningfully to our world.

5.  It is who we are. This post was not easy for me to write. Who do I think I am to say to everyone that “Great things are in store for Casey Berman”?!

I worried what will people think of me. Will people think I’m arrogant? What will my friends and family think? Will readers think this is still impossible for attorneys?

But I have realized that being a huge success is the person we are all going to be. We are not frauds. We are not selling out. We are not bad if we are more successful than our friends or family. We are not horrible if we make a lot of money. We are not narcissistic if we thrive with attention. We are not becoming someone we are not. We are not being someone a lawyer isn’t meant to be.

In fact, when we begin to be ready to be a success, a huge, unadulterated, extraordinary success, we actually are beginning to become who we truly are. We are beginning to live our life with meaning and satisfaction and confidence and skill. We are beginning to live our life with strength and courage and optimism and ambition.

We are beginning to live our life again as we intended.

So …

We did not likely go to law school consciously thinking we would be a huge success. So as we leave the law, let’s make sure we do.

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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 hours to bill. We have new clients to find. We have fires to put out. We have emails to catch up on.

And we have family obligations. We have workouts to complete. We have weekends to enjoy. We have sleep to catch up on. We have dinners to eat. We have children and spouses to love.

And so, understandably, we find it so difficult to get motivated to leave the law … as unhappy as we are in the law, come 3pm in the afternoon or after dinner or on the weekend (if we’re not working Sundays) we are just so tired or overwhelmed or obligated to do other duties that being inspired to act by the 5 Steps to Leave the Law Behind is the furthest thing from our minds.

So what to do? We may just need to redefine how we view the relationship between leaving the law and the time it takes to do so. Here are three ways to get started:

1.  Realizing that leaving the law has to take time. While many of us ambitious lawyers look at our to-do list and feel we can get it all done, in reality we really can’t. No one can.

So it’s best to realize that as we move to leave the law, it’s just going to take time. We didn’t study for the bar in a day. We didn’t write that brief in one sitting. So nor should we pressure ourselves to find a way to leave the law in short order.

It takes time because all good things often do. And it also takes time because for each of us leaving the law is experimental and unknown. We need to let ourselves align with and gradually drive the process.

This orientation reduces the sense of overwhelmingness, which enables us to focus clearly on the important tasks at hand, which increasing the chances of completion and success, which results in greater momentum and drive, which results in increased courage and confidence, which results in identifying and pursuing opportunities in line with our Unique Genius. Which results in us properly leaving the law.

2.  Don’t save it all up for later. In our time-impacted lives, it can be so difficult to find those large blocks of time needed to get everything done in order to leave the law.

So don’t.

Instead, initially identify those smaller windows of time – a half hour here, forty-five minutes there – and use them to start one task, to get just one thing done, in order to leave the law.

We cannot assess our financial situation, explore our ongoing connection with law school and define our Unique Genius in one sitting. Let’s use these smaller bits of time. Let’s break these large tasks into more manageable actions. Let’s see some initial results. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t. Let’s gain some momentum … incrementally.

3.  Enjoy. It takes a lot of time to leave the law, there is no doubt. But it also is so much fun.

Once our momentum builds, once we begin to identify our Unique Genius, once we hear that other (non-legal) people are interested in our skill set, once we learn of the multitude of opportunities in the world beyond Transactional, Litigation and Academia, we begin to truly realize the import of what we are going to accomplish. We truly see the possibilities in store for ourselves. And we truly begin to enjoy this work to leave the law.

It no longer becomes difficult. It no longer becomes scheduled. It now becomes exciting.

Time is at a premium in our lives. But if we really, sincerely want to leave the law, the time is there for us. We just may need to look for it in new ways.

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