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Above The Law

What we fear is actually what we need

by Casey on 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 time, active readers of the leave law behind, so they were familiar with what we discuss here.

They get the idea of planning properly to leave the law.

They knew and had spent time exploring their skills and strengths and enjoyments of their Unique Genius.

They had begun to face their fears of leaving.

They knew that ultimately they would have to “get out there” and begin speaking with people about jobs that may align with their Unique Genius.

They want to leave. They have the desire to act. They understood the process.


We talk ourselves out of it

But invariably, they also talked themselves out of leaving. As their momentum to leave grew, they would begin to riff on one of the below points, that would then end up hamstringing their motivation:

  • I just don’t know what an old criminal lawyer can do besides law.
  • No HR manager would want to hire a lawyer.
  • I know what I’m good at, but I just don’t what job besides law would want me.
  • I will get to work on leaving, trust me, but I have this mediation coming up that I have to prepare for.
  • I don’t think I could work for anyone else.
  • I have all of this law school debt, so I feel compelled to practice law for at least a little while longer. Then I’ll leave …
  • A lawyer’s skills are a plus to non-legal jobs, but they are a small plus.
  • Companies do not want to train lawyers to do non-law jobs.
  • I feel like no amount of coaching can help when there are few if any places to go outside of law.
  • I like being able to say I’m a lawyer and that would be hard to give up.
  • I make a decent enough living and am able to afford my house and car payment.
  • I don’t want to leave and then disappoint my current firm.
  • I don’t want to regret leaving.
  • I have no credibility and no resume to begin to explore non-legal jobs.
  • Because of the student loan debt burden, I am nervous about making the move financially.
  • I don’t know how to translate or channel the skills I have into doing something else that people need (and are willing to pay for).
  • I’m afraid I’ve pigeon-holed myself into a career that pays too much for skills that have far less value outside of the law.
  • I’m afraid that if I try something new, I’ll fail and my spouse and children will pay a heavy price for that failure.

These are all valid concerns that need to be critically assessed and considered when making a life change like leaving the law. To do so is to only be responsible.

But these valid concerns are in no way valid reasons to not move forward at all.


Let’s not worry about the “how”

The concerns that many of us bring up all point to the “how” of leaving the law. We want to know “how” we’re going to plan to leave. Being risk averse and perfectionists and control freaks, we want a perfect assessment of how this is going to happen, and if in any way there is a chance of making a mistake or being embarrassed or facing the unknown, we’re going to seriously consider not doing it.

So let’s face it right now, when leaving the law, there is a chance of making a mistake or being embarrassed or facing the unknown.

And that is okay. That is inherent in doing something like leaving the law, where we are making new rules and choose to not conform.

Here are three new ways to view making a mistake or being embarrassed or facing the unknown that could help us in leaving the law:

1. Making a mistake means trying a new opportunity. If you make a mistake when leaving the law, it likely means you tried something, it didn’t fully work, you learned from it, and you either try it again, or try something else.

Scientists call this experimenting, tech folks call this iterating, writers call it writing.

Mistakes are actually constructive. Let’s give ourselves permission to do them.

2. Being embarrassed means being not-totally-conforming. When we get red in the face because we try something others wouldn’t dare try, when we don’t succeed at things others warned us about attempting, when we feel like an outcast because we like something that no one else sees the value in … that means we are finally doing things (somewhat) our way.

It means we’re breaking the rules a bit. It means we’re not totally conforming. It means we aren’t doing things just because we should do them.

We unhappy lawyers have been doing things “right” through high school, college, law school, at our jobs. We have done what we’re supposed to do. We have followed the rules … and we’re still not happy.

When you get embarrassed while doing something to leave the law, it means we’re finally doing what we want to do, not just what we should do.

3. Facing the unknown means embracing our fears. When it comes to leaving the law, we’re afraid of a lot of things. Running out of money. Failing our family and friends. Making a wrong decision.

And most of all, we’re afraid of what we don’t know. Even just thinking of leaving the law takes us to a territory we have heard about, but never experienced before.

But instead of being antagonistically afraid of the unknown, let’s instead collaboratively embrace the unknown. Two stories help me with this.

Years ago, a thief was to be punished in the palace in front of the king. The king offered the thief a choice for his punishment: hanged on the gallows in front of him, or made subject to whatever was behind the large wooden door down the hall. The thief thought about it, and going with what he knew, chose the gallows. As the henchman placed the noose around the thief’s neck, the thief asked the king what was behind the large wooden door down the hall. He was going to be hanged, he wouldn’t tell anyone. The king thought for a second and then motioned to his attendant, who pushed on the large wooden door, which opened to a path leading through a grassy field to the edge of town. “Your freedom,” the king answered. “But you were too afraid of the unknown to ever consider it as an option”.

I also like what E. L. Doctorow said about life and the unknown: It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.


We’ve come too far to be talked out of this. What we fear (mistakes, embarrassment, the unknown) is actually what we need.


[What do you fear the most about leaving the law? Email me a few thoughts at The first two readers that do get a free 20 minute mentoring call with me.]



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 a lot of work.

These, and many others, are the hurdles we face to not take action to leave the law. We have the motivation and the desire and the aspiration to leave … but not the drive to actually act.

We feel this way because we view leaving the law as a chore. An obligation. A necessary evil. Something not fun. Something we have to do.

But it becomes a lot easier to act when we look at leaving not as “we have to” but rather as “we get to”.

Thinking that “we get to” leave the law means it’s an opportunity to change our life. It means we can regain a level of control over what we do day to day in a way we have not experienced in a long time. It means we can take the time to, for one of the first times in a while, look inward and find who we are.

It means we are thankful for where we are in life, notwithstanding all we may not like about life.

Here are three things we all can do right now to align with this idea that all of the hard work it takes to leave the law is actually something we “get” to do, and not something we “have” to do:


1. Say it. Write it. Say “I have the opportunity right now to leave the law” out loud. Write “I have the opportunity right now to leave the law” in ink on a piece of paper.

Read it. Hear it. See and listen to what we have written and the commitment we have made to ourselves. Just start here with making this statement a part of our life.

And by saying this, we will have gratitude for our position in life, and when we have gratitude for where we are in life (meaning even with all we don’t like, we can still sincerely say “thank you!” for where we are) then we focus more on what we have in life and less on what we feel is lacking. And when we focus on what we have in life, we get more in our life.


2. Make leaving a regular event to look forward to. The main way to get better at writing is to sit down and write. The main way to get better at basketball is to play basketball. The main way to build a relationship with our children is to be present in mind and body with our children.

And so goes it with leaving the law. The main way to get better at leaving the law is to focus some time on leaving the law.

Make it an event for us. Put it on our calendar.

Carve out 30 minutes in the car during the commute. Take 20 minutes before bed (right after that last work email). Spend 15 minutes during our work out. Or spend a full hour when we have to come into the office on Sunday.

Look forward to it. Make it an event. [Schedule it on your calendar and email me a picture at The first two readers that do get a free 30 minute mentoring call with me.]


3. Take action … one step at a time. Once leaving the law becomes an event on our calendar, let’s take that time to take action.


We can’t do it all at once. We don’t understand a semester’s worth of Torts all at once. We don’t bring in a client, research their case, write a brief, litigate it, and settle it all at once.

These all take time. We take baby steps along the way. We learn. We let things digest. We build momentum.

And the same goes with leaving the law. Let’s take one step at a time.

  • Forecast our money situation and see what we can, and cannot do, financially.
  • Address our identity as a lawyer and explore whether this is an obstacle to leaving the law.
  • Explore our Unique Genius and become very comfortable with our skills and strengths and to which non-legal jobs our skill set can add the most value.
  • Get out there – set up informational interviews with people in the non-legal roles we think we’d like to explore, and learn more about them and find potential opportunities.
  • List the nagging fears that we still have about leaving, and work to overcome them.
  • Throughout it all, train our mind to become more courageous, confident, authentic, sincere, in-tune, dynamic, strong, and happy.

One we focus on what we have, we begin to concentrate less on what we are lacking.

And when we focus on what we have, we begin to realize that we now have a unique opportunity to change our life.

And once we realize we have a unique opportunity to change our lives, leaving the law becomes something we want to do, not something we feel we have to do.

And when it becomes something we want to do, we make the time. We make the effort. We do the work.


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