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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 go out for dinner and drinks.

Not your normal dentist routine, I know. But it makes going to the dentist fun (notwithstanding my new cavity and gum recession, but that’s a different story…) and it’s a great excuse to hang out with friends.

Our latest appointment happened last week. We ate dinner in downtown Mill Valley, a small town with some great restaurants and shops and then walked around, (re)telling old stories from high school and college and just hung out til we decided to head home.

After dinner, we strolled out onto Throckmorton, took a left and walked down the hill, past a few small cafes and clothing stores closed for the night.

One of my friends then reminded me how the last time we were out for dinner a year or so ago, we had acted like the true 12 year olds we are and had a “see-who-can-jump-the-highest-and-touch-the-store-sign-hanging-over-the-street-without-hurting-themselves” contest.

And back then, a year ago, to the surprise of everyone, I had propelled all of my 5’8 ¾” frame and hit a small wooden store sign that hung about 9 feet high over the sidewalk.

And now my friends wanted me to do it again.

Times like this don’t come around that often in life. Chance to impress your friends. Chance to feel young again. Chance to show off. I was loving it.

The sidewalks were empty and fairly well lit. I took off my blazer, untucked my shirt, walked about 20 paces back to give me some running room. I bent over slightly, breathed in a few times, and swung my arms to warm up. I began to move, did my stutterstep, accelerated forward, took my long jump step, bent my knees and felt my legs propel upwards and leap and then swung my right arm to the sky, and pushed my left arm downwards and I arched my back and stretched my forefinger up up up into the air …

And I missed the sign. Pretty badly. By about a foot and a half.

I went back, did the whole routine again. And missed again.

Ten more times I missed. I was (kind of) getting closer, but I was still missing the sign.

Another friend tried. He missed.

I tried again. I missed. Nothing but air.

It was simply impossible to jump up and hit this sign. Impossible. I was not tall enough. I was not strong enough in the legs. I couldn’t do it.

Why couldn’t I do it this year? Was the sign higher than I remembered? Was it a new sign? Were we even jumping in front of the same store?

I had done it a year earlier, and now I just couldn’t do it.

I planned to jump one more time. One more time. Then I’d call it quits. And so I walked up, and breathed in, and swung my warms to warm up, and did my stutterstep, and ran forward, and took my long step, and bent my knees and felt my legs explode and then swung my right arm upwards, and pushed my left arm downwards and I arched my back and stretched my forefinger up up up into the air …

… and I missed.

Didn’t touch the sign.

And I landed.

But this time, before the pang of disappointment could hit me I heard my friends. “Dude, that was so close!” and “Man, you almost had it this time.”

So, I was close this time? Really? On my first jump I missed it by a foot and a half (it felt like I had missed it by a mile). 14 jumps later, and now I’m “close”? I “almost had it”?

Wait a minute …

I’m close. I almost have it. Really.

I’ll try it again.

And I did. I did my stutterstep and ran and leaped and stretched and I missed it again.

But it was different now. I was even closer. My friends’ yells got even louder. Almost there man, they said.

Almost there? Really?

Almost there. Really.

So I went back to my spot. And I began my stutterstep. And this time I knew I was going to touch this sign. I was going to get the tip of my finger higher than I had done on the previous 15 times, higher than I ever have. I was going to do it.

And I did. I grazed the sign with the tip of my finger. 9 feet high. I did it. And my friends cheered.

I jumped four more times, and hit the sign four more times.

And looking back, I realized my turning point: Once I heard from my friends that I was sincerely close, that I was sincerely almost there, I realized that I was finally going to do it because I came to a point where I sincerely knew I could do it.

In other words, it’s all in our head.

Whether it’s running the mile under four minutes, climbing the tallest mountain in the world, winning a case in front of a difficult judge, prevailing in a settlement hearing, hitting 9 foot high sign in Mill Valley or leaving the law, impossible feats become possible once we know we can do them.

We can leave the law. We can make a change. There is a lot standing in our way making it seem impossible, but it is possible.

Come with me, let’s go to that inner core of ourselves and identify what we think as impossible and then show how they are really possible:

  • I don’t have time. Don’t think of time as a limited resource. Take small, incremental baby steps that build on each other. Let’s grow our momentum, see some progress and we no longer have to find the time to leave the law, we’ll only look forward to it.
  • I’m afraid I’ll fail. Accept that we will fail. But let’s not focus on big overwhelming leaps; let’s focus on small steps, small baby steps, so when we do fail, we won’t fail hard, we won’t fall far, and we’ll pick ourselves up, we’ll learn so much, and the next time, we’ll get it right.
  • I don’t know which job to pursue. Let’s not focus on the job, let’s focus on ourselves for now, and let that inform the path we take.
  • I don’t know what I’m good at. Well, let’s find out. Let’s ask 10 people to compliment us and provide us with 10 or so traits and compile these into a list and organize them into 3 to 4 main “trait areas” and use this as a structure for our personal narrative, how to retool our resume and which jobs to explore and pursue.
  • I’m afraid people won’t hire me because I’m a lawyer. So let’s not call ourselves a lawyer. Let’s apply for that “Content Writing” job by calling ourselves a “creative content writer with an adept skill for meeting deadlines” or apply to that “Operations” job by calling ourselves a “detailed oriented administrative professional with a profound respect for order” or apply to that “Account Management” job by calling ourselves an “engaging people person with the ability to win anyone over and instill confidence that the job will get done”.

Let’s do one thing today, one small thing today, to begin to leave the law. We don’t need to go all the way and leave the law yet, that is a big task. Let’s just show ourselves that we can leave the law.

And once we realize that we can leave the law, that it is possible to leave the law, that we are worthy to leave the law, then we will finally see that we have already taken that first step to leave.

Congratulations.

And so now that we’ve begun to leave, where will we go? Sky’s the limit. Surprise us.

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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 we try to leave the law

We have sent out resumes to non-legal jobs … we have even scored an interview for some roles … but the hiring manager didn’t like us … or thought we would want too high a salary … or thought we only had legal experience, and not enough business experience … or they didn’t know how to view our skills … or we didn’t really know how to pitch ourselves … or we just lacked confidence throughout it all and it showed …

And we are frustrated. These hiring managers didn’t appreciate how well known our law firm was. They didn’t seem to care how highly ranked our law school was. They didn’t know how hard it was to make law review. They didn’t realize how difficult it is to do patent prosecution or how great of a licensing lawyer we are or how well we can litigate.

In short, they didn’t seem to care. They didn’t seem to like us. All of our credentials and accomplishments and hard work didn’t seem to mean anything to them.

And you know what? That might very well be the case.

 

How to get the outside world to understand the value we lawyers can bring

The outside world may have respect for lawyers, but it’s often done from a distance.

In reality, they don’t understand us. They know what we do but – besides what they see on TV – let’s face it, they don’t really know what we do.

How do we cross this bridge? How do we show “them” (all of those hiring managers and decision makers and bosses in the non legal world) how good we really are?

There are two ways to cross this bridge, to show them clearly the skills we have: first, we must speak in their language, and second, we must show how we can add value.

 

Speaking in their (non-legal) language

When it comes to speaking in their language, we can’t fault a CEO or HR person or hiring manager if they don’t understand the importance of the amicus brief we wrote or how respected our BigLaw firm is or how important that summary judgment was that we won. It’s not the language they speak.

They speak in a certain language of their industry. They speak in Sales or Revenue or Cost per Acquisition or subscribers per month or earned media or Likes or Klout score or customer care call time or refunds saved.

When we apply to a non-legal job, it is incumbent upon us to understand their world. We have to do the hard work to re-tool our resume so our legal work can be positioned for this non-legal job. We have to do the hard work of understanding the requirements of this non-legal job and seeing how our skills align with their needs. We have to do the hard work of showing how we can add value, not based just on our degree, but on our transferrable experience.

We’ve all met deadlines, done presentations, upsold clients, made money, closed deals, put out fires and achieved goals.

As much as we want to tout our degree or our law school pedigree or our stature as a lawyer, we have to realize that leaving the law means abandoning a score card we are familiar with for one we’re not.

In other words: We need to translate ourselves and our skill set into a language the non-legal world can understand and appreciate and hire.

 

Solve a pain. Help. Add value.

Second, we have to show we can add value.

This seems obvious: add value to a person or boss or organization, and be paid for the value we provide.

But too often, we look for jobs because we feel we are entitled to them. Or we hate our current job so much we’ll just go anywhere. Or we want a job that sounds cool or is with a hot company or brings us a certain stature.

What we need to realize is that the main way to make a lot of money in this world and to enjoy our job at the same time is to add value.

Add value.

Many of us are scared stiff that we won’t get a non-legal job. And that paralyzes us.

To overcome this, we need to show that the skills we can bring to a position are so great and unique that the hiring manager may not have foreseen the need for such skills.

Let me say that again, in different words: We need to show the hiring manager that our skill set as a lawyer is so unique, and so valuable, and so needed, that the hiring manager didn’t even know we (or anyone) could bring such value to their organization.

But here’s where we get stuck: We feel our skills are not unique: Most smart people in the (non-legal) business world can read and write and speak and present well, right?

 

We have skills, and combinations of skills, other do not possess

Short answer is no. We short shrift ourselves when we downplay how important our skills are. We are loyal. And we spot issues that others don’t see. And we keep a calm head. And we provide good advice. And we keep things confidential. And we engender respect. And we question.

We come from law firms and other working environments where everyone can do that. We need to realize that outside of the legal environment, not just anyone can or does do this. We need to realize that our skills are in high demand.

But the other thing to realize is the value we can bring with the combination of our skills:

  • You’re good with people AND you can negotiate contracts? Have you thought of Business Development?
  • You write clearly and detailed AND you have a science background? Have you thought of Product Management?
  • You are empathetic AND have a deep background in employment law? Have you thought of a HR Manager role?
  • You are a control freak (with a fairly high level of OCD) AND are kind of a tech and gadget geek on the side? Have you thought of a Business Process Outsourcing role?
  • You can deftly manage a conversation AND make people feel comfortable in your presence? Have you thought of being a Focus Group Moderator?
  • You have a prosecutorial mindset AND you have great attention to detail? Have you thought of a Trust and Safety role?

It’s very easy for us to get down and out when we think of how the non-legal world has no sense of how much we’ve worked and how smart we are. And we’re right, they don’t know what it’s like to be a lawyer.

But that’s not their job to do so. It’s our job to show them the value we can bring in ways they haven’t even thought of yet … in translatable ways they can understand.

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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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The most important new year’s resolution you can make right now

December 29, 2014

It’s the end of December, and many of us are making new year’s resolutions for 2015. Carrying through with these resolutions, however, can be difficult. This happens because they can be too demanding, unrealistic or vague. By the end of January, our discipline often wanes. And if we specifically aspire to leave law behind in 2015, [...]

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The 5 main reasons why lawyers leave the law to join a startup

December 22, 2014

Quitting your job as a lawyer is hard. No one should ever tell you otherwise. As an associate at a law firm, you have a  stable career and an almost bullet proof trajectory to making six figures each year. Despite the freak-outs you may have about whether or not this is what you want to [...]

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You can begin to leave the law right now by closing your eyes

December 14, 2014

For something to happen, for us to be able to accomplish something, there are a lot of initial things we can do. Set goals. Define requirements. Issue spot. Rally up resources. Identify who else can help. Sketch out a budget. Lay out a timeline. These are all tangible manifestations many of us feel comfortable with. [...]

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She recruits lawyers who want a change in their life. Here are 5 things she has to say.

November 27, 2014

When Casey asked me to write a guest post, I thought it might be good to critically think about what is driving you to explore leaving the law. Before declaring to the world that you’re ready to leave law, it’s worth confirming whether you’re actually ready or if you’re just expressing frustration with your current [...]

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How to think about your legal skills to position them for a non-legal job

November 17, 2014

One thing that is holding many of us back is that we think our skills only enable us to be lawyers. We have uncertainty around how we can actually use our legal skills in a non-legal job. We don’t know which skills are transferable. And this makes us feel that what we know is only [...]

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How I learned a major aspect of leaving the law from riding on the subway

November 7, 2014

I take the subway to my office each morning. In San Francisco, public transportation is called the MUNI. I catch my MUNI train at the West Portal Station and ride underground to the Embarcadero. Usually it’s uneventful. Trains run (fairly) on time and it gets you where you need to go. And then there are [...]

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