I spoke last month at an event at my alma mater, University of California, Hastings College of the Law here in San Francisco. The event focused on highlighting for students across the Bay Area what alternative careers can you do with a JD.
JD = MBA?
After the talk, I answered questions from many students. A 1L, who is an undergrad math major, loves to code in his free time and, deep down, wants to become a software engineer, told me his dream job is to work at Twitter or AirBnB right down the block.
But he ended up going to law school because it felt then that law school was the right and responsible thing to do for this life. He said a JD is like a “pseudo MBA” and with his student loans, he can (for the time being) afford to live in San Francisco.
He followed up with me via email and described how anxious and confused he felt remaining in law school. In theory, he liked the idea of getting a JD, but he didn’t really feel the degree was aligned with what he wanted to do in life.
About twenty attorneys just like you showed up last night here in San Francisco for the first Leave Law Behind live event.
Munching on Mediterranean food and sipping wine in a historic subterranean theater, we had a two hour coaching program going through each step to leave the law.
And throughout it all, we faced, discussed, wrestled with and reduced the main thing blocking us from leaving the law behind: Our fears.
So many fears …
- Fear of going to a “non-law” job we end up hating
- Fear of entering a non-law industry we aren’t good at
- Fear of making less money and capping our lifetime earning potential
- Fear of disappointing our friends and family
- And the big one … the fear of the unknown
Afraid of the unknown. Not being able to 100% fully control our fate.
We are afraid. So we wait. We procrastinate. We delay.
I know that fear very well. I resolutely determined that I wanted to leave the law in April of 2003.
When I was practicing law as in-house counsel at a technology company here in San Francisco, our VP of Sales and I spent over a month negotiating a very large licensing deal with our soon-to-be biggest client.
The VP of Sales brought in the sales lead. I did all the heavy negotiation-and-contract-drafting lifting.
When the deal closed, the VP of Sales earned a $75,000 commission payment (on top of his already healthy base salary).
In appreciation of the work I did for him, the VP of Sales bought me an iPod, with “Thank you” engraved on the back.
It was 2004. And iPods were very big back then.
But, it was an iPod. He got $75,000, and I got an iPod.
Now, do not confuse me for begin ungrateful. That’s not the point of this post. Rather, this experience got me thinking. While I was appreciative of the gift, and of course appreciative of the salary I already received to do my job … it opened my eyes only further to the multitude of ways you can make a lot of money in this world. To the multitude of careers out there in the world.
We attorneys have been taught to control as much of our external surroundings as possible. We (try so hard to) mitigate risk, forecast new revenue, identify issues.
But the only thing we can really, truly, fully control in our life is how we react to things. We can control how we feel and how we act and how we respond to external phenomena.
But we cannot control others … other people, other circumstances, other perceptions.
And to try and control these other things will only continue to frustrate us. And it’s this frustration that makes so many of us so afraid about the prospect of leaving the law. We know there are elements of this leave-the-law process that we cannot fully control.
So we don’t do it.
We convince (trick) ourselves to remain unhappy in a misaligned attorney job that is familiar to us, rather than explore opportunities that, while we can’t tightly control, have the potential for growth and purpose.
We have persuaded ourselves that we have no choice.
There is always something we can do
But it’s far from hopeless.
One of the biggest obstacles we face in leaving the law is that we think it is going to be a lot of hard work to do so.
We fear we won’t be able to do this work … so therefore we don’t do anything. We remain miserable in our job as an attorney, but at least we didn’t add more to our to-do list.
What people who successfully leave the law for non-law, alternative careers begin to understand is that there is a difference between hard work … and inspired action.
We all think we work hard. And you do. You make sacrifices. You work long hours. You exert energy. You force yourself to work hard in order to survive.
But when you force yourself to do something, it’s because you feel you should. Because you feel you have to. You have to survive.
But when you make a commitment to yourself to leave the law, you’ve made a pact with yourself to do more than just survive.
You’ve made commitment to go beyond just working.
You’ve made a commitment to not force things any longer.
It’s Thanksgiving, so we’ve likely been taking this time to (as best we can) be thankful for all we have in our life, and to not dwell on what we don’t have, or what we still want.
This can be very difficult to do.
And it is made only more difficult when we think of how we do not like being a lawyer any more.
How can we possibly be thankful for our law school debt? Or that annoying partner in our firm? Or the anxiety of feeling like we don’t really know the law and that we might be a “fraud”?
The martial artist and philosopher Bruce Lee said “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
Being grateful for what we have is KEY to living a successful, productive, happy life. It’s KEY to leaving the law. Even when things look bleak for us as attorneys, we need to summon the strength to still be appreciative.
I shot a short video to show how we attorneys looking to leave the law can do just that: http://leavelawbehind.com/how-to-be-thankful-for-our-law-school-debt.
This week’s video was inspired by an email I received from a new subscriber to Leave Law Behind.
She signed up for a free consult with me, and said how excited she was to have found our community.
She told me how she has been trying to change her life, and leave the law, but has had to do it all alone. She’s been unhappy, anxious, regretful, and confused … all by herself.
She didn’t know about all of us. Now she does.
I shot a short video to just let you know, and reiterate, that if you are feeling alone, please realize we are all in this together: http://leavelawbehind.com/what-we-need-to-remember.
I met with a client last week. We celebrated … she recently left the law!
But now she was struggling with the (apparent) uncertainty of her new life.
While she loved being away from the grind and the anxiety and the long hours of a lawyer, and she was excited about the new, “non-law” work she was doing now … she still felt she was missing something.
She said she felt like she was “floating aimlessly”.
I told her she now has permission “to float”.
And that floating was actually a good thing, and not to be feared.
I shot a short video to tell you more about what I mean: http://leavelawbehind.com/leave-the-law-permission-to-float.
“The world gives to the givers and takes from the takers.” — Joe Polish, Entrepreneur and founder of Genius Network Interview Series
I write each week because I enjoy it. It makes me feel good.
It’s also become my art form. How I like to express myself.
And writing is also something I do for me. When I write, it’s because I want (or need) to work through an idea. To understand a concept. To grow into something.
And I write because I like to give. People have given to me. And I give to others. This is a better place because we can all receive help and provide help.
And I am proud that the free content I provide is good enough to help many of you leave the law on your own.
So now, let’s think of who you can help.
No, I don’t mean helping the client you don’t align with. Or helping the associate you’re competing with. Or helping the partner you’re actually afraid of.
Working for them is not really help. It’s fear driven reaction.
What I have heard a lot from clients, readers and members of our community was the need for a live, in-person event.
A safe place for us to gather together, be with like minded people, learn how to leave the law, and hear stories and tips directly from people who have successfully done just that.
And just like you have fears that prevent you from moving forward and leaving the law … I guess I had a fear or a blocker or … something standing in my way. Every time I would think of planning a live Leave Law Behind event, some invisible boogeyman or insecurity or fear would get in my way.
And so I never planned anything.
No more. I’ve broken free of this fear.
In a few weeks, on Monday December 4th 2017 from 6p to 8p, I’ll be hosting my inaugural Leave Law Behind live event in downtown San Francisco at the historic Shelton Theater.
If you’re in the Bay Area, or you will be, I would encourage you to attend.
I will be coaching you in person how to leave the law.