There is a lot that goes into leaving the law. You need to get a handle on your financial situation. You need to lessen your fears of the unknown. You need to explore your skills and strengths in order to inform what job and role you are best suited for. You need to get over your personal identity being solely tied to “lawyer”. And you need to network and meet people and create opportunities that fit your particular skill set and enjoyments.
It’s admittedly a lot to do, and can seem overwhelming. But there is a tangible structure to it, and babysteps to take, that mitigate the over-whelmingness and enable you to build confidence and momentum as you begin to see results.
But there is an intangible factor to leaving the law that is equally, if not more, essential.
Attitude. Your attitude. How you think and feel.
I know, I know – you hear it everywhere. From self development gurus, from Tony Robbins, from the Secret, from that annoyingly happy barista at Starbucks, from the law school friend who made partner in what seems like no time, from the college roommate who is swimming in cash from his investment banking job with a gorgeous spouse and three gorgeous kids, from the 28 year old who just sold his company to Facebook to … well you get it. You’ve heard it before. A good attitude is key to a healthy and happy life.
But we lawyers who are unhappy with the law deal with something that many of these folks may not realize or have had to experience: Our life plan has been interrupted! It’s been set off course! We worked very hard and had it all planned out, didn’t we? Good grades in college, law school, OCI, good paying job, make parents happy, make grandparents happy, identifiable corporate or non-profit or governmental career path, nice lifestyle, prestige, security.
But not happiness. This plan was supposed to make us happy, or so we thought, or so we assumed. But many of us are not happy as lawyers. We’re confused. We’ve done so much right. The grades received, the tests passed, the jobs gotten, the hours worked, the office politics navigated, the stripes earned. How could this have happened?
And it’s difficult for us to tell others that we’re not happy. We can’t tell our fellow lawyer colleagues, as they may rat us out to the senior partner or think we’re not committed at work or just simply not understand and we’ll feel vulnerable.
And we can’t tell our non-lawyer friends and family because they see all we have and all we’ve accomplished and they just assume we’re satisfied and successful and content and of course happy and we’ll feel like we’re spoiled.
But this disconnect between our achievements and our happiness stems from the simple fact that all of what we did accomplish wasn’t what we truly, deep down, sincerely wanted to accomplish.
And to make it even worse, we feel we’re getting older and we feel that we’re too entrenched in our role as an attorney and we feel that we have no way out and we feel that we’ll never do what we really want to do.
But luckily there is a way. And it begins with your attitude.
It doesn’t necessarily begin with being positive. It doesn’t necessarily begin with visualizing what you want. It doesn’t necessarily begin with putting on a happy face or trying to leap and just do something else.
It begins with being grateful. With appreciating. With seeing what you have and what you are and liking it and being thankful for all of it. It begins with, in the face of everything that is getting you down, recognizing what it is you have that is great, that is beautiful, that is unique.
Of course there are the usual items to be thankful for: Your health, your family, your friends, that you can pay your bills, that you live in a great country.
But there are also more pertinent and on-point factors to be thankful for. First, you have made the conscious observation that you are unhappy. Many unhappy lawyers do not even go that far. They live in denial and do not have the courage to face that being a lawyer is not for them. You have admitted that you are unhappy being a lawyer. Be grateful for your introspection and honesty.
Second, realize that you have all of the energy and intellect and ambition to change your current situation. It is inside of you. You’ve passed the LSAT and Bar and finals and negotiated agreements and argued in court and helped clients and created a book of business. Be grateful for your drive and your inherent gifts.
Third, realize that there is a discernible structure and set of intuitive steps to help you leave the law. Babysteps, allowing your Unique Genius to inform your job choice, and networking to research jobs and also gain leads for opportunities. Be grateful that there is a blueprint.
And fourth, be thankful that you are not alone. You are not the only one thinking dark thoughts about the legal industry. You are part of a large and ever growing movement of lawyers who are looking to do something else. Be thankful for this community.
Maybe it’s time to scrap the plan we put in place. Maybe it’s time to scrap the plan we think others had in mind for us. Maybe it’s time to live up to the expectations we have for ourselves, and not up to the expectations we think others have had for us.
Maybe it’s time to be thankful that we have the courage and desire and fortitude to even think and feel this way.