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

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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 though their stories may be inspiring, it still can be so difficult to muster the courage or find the motivation or suffer the desperation that these (now ex-) lawyers faced. Each of our situations is still unique.

And then besides just finding which step to take first, we are held back by so much more: Managing the weight of our student debt, our (sometimes) tortured relationship with money, the fear of relinquishing our identity as a lawyer, finding the time in our busy week to devote to identifying our Unique Genius, or dealing with the doubters in our life who don’t understand how an esteemed lawyer could ever be unhappy.

So we don’t do anything.

We may google “alternatives to legal career” or “non-law jobs for lawyers” or “how to leave law”, and we may complain, or think about a richer life, may read this blog, but in actuality, we feel paralyzed.

So we don’t do anything.


Let’s do something

Do we really want to leave the law? Then let’s begin.

To give us a structure that we can work from, I’ve laid out 21 detailed steps for us to use in leaving the law. Let’s read and do the below steps. As we go through them, comment below or email me [] and tell me how things are going.

1. Understand what this really means. Leaving the law takes work, discipline, some comfort with the fact that not-all-can-be-figured-out-all-at-once, faith in the process and tuning oneself to feel the vibrations of opportunity.

2. Think only of ourselves. Let’s not think of careers, or which job to go to next or which job will pay the most or which job has the most stature or how we’ll craft our resume or who will actually hire us or what non-law jobs are out there.

Do not think of any of that.

Rather, let’s just prepare, for the first, or one of the first, times in our life, to think of ourselves. Just ourselves. Yourself. Think of what we like and are good at and enjoy and let that inform what we do next.

Be selfish. Be myopic. Be focused.

3. Let’s let influencers other than money define which new career path we want to take. Money (and security and stature and pleasing others) has always informed what we’ve done so far.

We already let those factors lead the way in our decision to go to law school … and look where they got us.

Of course we want to make money, and need to pay the bills. Money is a fantastic tool to enable us to live the life we want and deserve. We love money.

We’ll keep our day job to pay our bills, but as for next steps and how we’ll make money in the future, let’s not worry about that yet.

Why? Because we’re going to change things now, finally. We’re going to change our relationship with money. We’re going to change our relationship with seeking a job.

Now we’re going to let our skills and strengths and what we like to do inform what we do next. When we do what we’re good at, the money will follow. Trust.

4. Plan our finances. Take out an excel sheet (do not just do this in our head or on the back of an envelope) and plan what we can and cannot do financially for the next 12 to 18 months.

Forecast into the future. Discuss scenarios (keep our job, quit our job, become Of Counsel, take on contract work, etc.) with our family and our spouse and see what we can and cannot afford to do. We have responsibilities.

5. Do not be concerned about finding our passion in life. It can often stress us out when we try to find our passion or purpose or some other lofty goal.

Because we just might not have one.

Let’s let what we’re good at and enjoy doing inform what we do next, not some passion. If we can find it great, but if we can’t, that’s okay. We can still be happy and successful and worthy.

6. Build on Step 2 – let’s begin to ask for compliments. Let’s begin to find our Unique Genius by asking our friends and family to do one thing: Compliment us.

What am I good at?

What have I always excelled at?

What am I known for?

What do I enjoy doing?

Let’s poll our network (5 to 10 people, across various stages and phases of our life) to get a feel as to what we are really, really, really good at.

Go high level, get really detailed, get obvious, get corny, get sappy, whatever.

Have our network email us all of these traits that make up our Unique Genius strengths and skills, and just get them down on paper.

7. Organize the Unique Genius traits. Just like a research memo, now let’s write the Unique Genius traits out and organize them on paper.

Organize all of these traits and sub-traits into a manageable 3-5 buckets, with main strengths (“Insightful”, “Interpersonal”, “Dependable” and so one) and sub traits for each (“Creative problem solver” and “Very good listener” and “Meets deadlines”).

Create a manageable structure of our skills and strengths.

8. Read them. Feel them. Digest them. Make these Unique Genius traits ours. Speak them out loud into a mirror. Let’s feel really, really good about them. Sincere about them. Authentic about them. Confident about them.

And realize that these skills and strengths we thought we could use only as a lawyer are actually transferable to other types of jobs. Really.

9. Turn these 3-5 Trait buckets into a narrative.

What is our story?

When someone (hiring manager, informational interviewer, friend at a tech startup) asks us “So, tell me about yourself?” or “So, tell me why you’re applying for this (non-law) job?” we can fall back on our Unique Genius traits and say:

I’m so happy you asked …” and jump into our tight, solid, authentic, sincere, confident narrative: “When I think of my skill set, and how I can contribute to this new job, I have bucketed my skills set into the following three traits, which I think are in fairly good alignment with the requirements of this job description. Let me briefly explain …”

10. Research jobs that align and require our Unique Genius traits. Search and speak to people about the multitude of jobs beyond just Transactional and Litigation.

Search for jobs (project manager, account manager, focus group moderator, management consultant, corporate trainer, HR manager, compliance, VP Operations, business development, and on and on and on) and read these job descriptions carefully and see which ones we think would call for our skills and strengths that make up our Unique Genius traits we have in our narrative.

11. Find people in these jobs for an informational interview. Reach out to them (over email or phone)

12. Meet them for coffee (or lunch or somewhere else, in person)

13. Do two things when we meet them.

Ask them about their day to day job so …

(i) we can research if we like this job (if we don’t like their job, we can cross it off our list and move on to the next one), and

(ii) If we do like their job, ask this person to introduce us to other people in the space with this type of job.

At the end, say something like, “Angela, I know Jim suggested we meet, and I really appreciate you taking time for your busy day to meet with me, but I want to let you get back to your office. Before I do, though, is there anyone else in your space you think I could talk to learn more?”

Do not necessarily ask for a job.

14. Meet more and more people for coffee

Do more and more research.

For the job areas we think we won’t like, cross them off our list.

For the job areas we think we do like, let’s ask for more and more people to meet with.

Some people will not follow up or want to meet. Others will.

Ask for more and more people to meet with.

Over and over again.

15. Build up our network.

16. Build up our courage.

17. Research and create and find opportunities that align with our skills and strengths. Become more and more certain about which jobs align with what we are good at and enjoy doing. Create contacts at organizations that will help facilitate the right introductions.

18. Feel confident in any decision we make.

19. Begin anew

20. Help others do the same.

21. Write a guest post for this blog detailing how we left the law.



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 had the courage and wherewithal to change the plan myself.

First, through my twenties and my graduation of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1999, I had my plan all figured out: Get a law degree, pass the bar, become a litigator, first work in criminal law to get some real life trial experience, and then move into civil litigation, where I could combine this experience with my natural speaking abilities and negotiation skills and with my interest in business and make good money.

And then I failed the bar.

So that plan immediately got changed on me.

As I was studying for the bar again, a friend put me in touch with a startup technology company. Once I passed the bar in February 2000, I left the criminal-law-to-business-litigation-track to do “Legal and Business Development” for a small startup.

Who knew failing the bar would open my mind to other opportunities?


Proactively changing my plan

Fast forward to 2004. I am now VP Operations and In-House Counsel for my second tech company. I’m gaining experience, our company is growing, and I’m beginning to excel in my role.

I now found myself knee-deep in another plan – to one day become a top notch Silicon Valley general counsel.

Except that I didn’t like being a lawyer. I didn’t want to be a Silicon Valley general counsel. It was too reactive (I spent a lot of time negotiating licensing agreements all day for the sales team) and not proactive enough (I wanted to be part of the team creating overall company strategy).

Sure it was the job many attorneys say they would die for, but for me, my interests and what I was good at didn’t align with what it took to be a lawyer.

But this time, I didn’t wait for an external circumstance to change my plan. I did it myself. I acted on these feelings.

I left. June 2004.

I was 31 years old. Got married later that year. Found a few consulting projects and part time executive roles to pay the bills. First child came in 2007, recession arrived in 2008, second child was born in 2010.

And amongst all of this, I began to let go of the life I had planned.

I was determined to live a life that I was more in alignment with, even if that meant going through periods of doubt, anxiety, unknown and change.

And while my parents still worried about what life path their up-to-this-point-practical-minded son was on, they both were very supportive: My mom bought me a magnet for my refrigerator which said “leap and the net will appear”.

I had leapt. I have definitely received my bumps and bruises on the way down. But this net has been there for me.

And it’s in large part because I created this net. In the tangible world, and in my own mind.


How to create the life (and net) that is waiting for you

Let’s begin to work on a life so that when we sit on the subway or when we go jogging on the weekend or when we begin to work less or when we begin to sit in a rocking chair most of the day or when we realize the end is near, we will know that we lived a life that we were good at and we enjoyed and were excited about and were proud of and that we created.

And that begins with making ourselves vulnerable.

When we have let go of our plan, we feel vulnerable. Being vulnerable is something we lawyers do not want to do. We think it is bad. It means we take a risk and we could make mistakes and we could be ridiculed and we will be exposed and we will be revealed and we will face unknowns and we will most certainly fail.

But when we let go of our plan, we realize that being vulnerable also means we open ourselves up for examination and critique and deciphering and that we become strangely okay with it, we become strangely open about it, we strangely look forward to it, we see that our success and happiness is strangely tied at first to being vulnerable. To being bare. To starting over. To becoming aware of opportunities we otherwise might have ignored.

Come, let’s try this, yes let’s try this, close our eyes, let’s try this, let’s re-examine this outline we’ve had for our life, this do-things-right-and-then-get-the-degree-and-get-the-job-and-get-the-family-and-get-the-stature-and-get-the-financial-cushion-and-get-the-what … get-the-what … get-the-what?

Let’s ask some tough questions. Why did I go to law school (really)? How do I feel about money? What if I couldn’t call myself a “lawyer”?

How well do I know myself? How mindful am I?

How can I do something for myself, for once?

Sometimes our mind can rush on and say things to us, and we think it is us saying something to us, we think it is us planning something for us, but it may not really be us.


Why we are on this planet

We are not on this planet to worry. We are not on this planet to be stuck. We are not on this planet to be anxious. We are not on this planet to always be right. We are not on this planet to always have a fiduciary duty. We are not on this planet to be stressed. We are not on the planet to follow some sort of plan.

No that is not why we are here.

We are here to enjoy. We are here to help. We are here to provide value. We are here to do what we do well. We are here to trust. We are here to feel worthy. We are here to feel self satisfied. We are here to be confident. We are here to not be confused. We are here to be certain. We are here to feel good about ourselves.

We are here to feel good about ourselves.

We are here to feel good about ourselves.

For the time being, let’s forget worrying about the “how” of leaving the law. Let’s forget trying to get our arms around the details of leaving the law. Trust that there are steps and a process and work to execute on that can empower us to leave the law.

Let’s just have faith (yes faith) that we can leave the law. Let’s remember that the most important thing about us is us. And not the plan.

Let’s forget the plan we have had for ourselves for so long. We may not even remember when we designed this plan, or why we implemented this plan, or who helped us with this plan.

But what we do know is that this plan may not be working for us now.

So let’s focus on one thing, us. Just us. Be selfish and myopic. Us. You. Really, really you.

When we resist who we really are, that can actually be the cause of our greatest suffering.

And we are not here to suffer.


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 […]

Read the full article →

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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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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