Why realizing law school wasn’t really for us might be the best thing we can do

Before we even think of leaving the law, let’s first try to get a handle on a fundamental question: Why did I go to law school?

With the cushion of hindsight, let’s take some time and critically think about this. We need to ask ourselves, as well as our friends and family (who were around us when we made the decision to attend law school) what was our mind set, what reasons did we put forward, what pros/cons did we list? As much as it may hurt, we need some honest answers and recollections, from ourselves and our loved ones, as to what our mindset was at that time. More specifically, we need to determine whether we critically thought through this big decision or, rather, did we just go to law school because we had nothing better to do/we didn’t want to find a job/we admired lawyers/we thought we’d make a lot of money.

The goal here is not to get down on ourselves, but rather to identify whether law school itself, or the “beaten path” of OCI, the firm life, making partner, etc, is really something for us. If our reasons for going to law school were not that strong,

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Why you might just need to change your plans

Many of us who consider leaving the law feel that we may have lost our way.  We feel like we’re just in a weird stage.  We often look around and wonder if this is it.  We don’t think we’re as cool any longer.  We wonder if we’re doing the right thing.

To take this further, some of us now think that our window of time may be expiring.  That the clock of our final countdown is ticking fast.  It could be a particular birthday on the horizon.  It could be falling short in a recent comparison with our (ostensibly) successful friends.  It could be just this general, vague, foggy feeling that we’re not living up to what we thought we would accomplish.

If we’re not a partner yet, we think we should have been made partner by now.  If we’re not an equity partner yet, we think we should have been made equity partner by now.  If we are an equity partner . . . we wonder why we are still unhappy.

This problem will persist so long as we continue to stick to outdated, unrelated plans.  Many unhappy attorneys judge their success based on what their friends think is success or what their family thinks is success or on what they themselves thought success should be .

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The real truth behind job security

I spoke with a very unhappy attorney last week.  She is dying to leave her job and leave law altogether.  The firm life saps her of energy.  She dreams of a more flexible schedule and satisfying day-to-day life.

But she stays.  For job security.

The refrain I hear the most from attorneys who wish to leave the law, but cannot muster the courage to do so, is that they cannot contemplate a lack of job security.

What does security really mean?  When we talk about “security”, we really mean financial security.  We really mean having enough cash so that we can survive (and live reasonably well) for a certain period of time – 12 months, 24 months, 36 months – without a job or consistent income.

Having a job at a law firm or with the government does mean you receive a paycheck every two weeks.  But it doesn’t mean you are necessarily secure.  As we’ve seen in the past few years, things can change very quickly.

If you’re unhappy practicing the law, don’t let an illusory sense of security prevent you from living your dream.  The only security in your life comes from you .

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You don’t have to be an “entrepreneur” to leave law behind

I was never an “entrepreneur”.  I was not that guy running lemonade stands at age 14 or working in my parents’ garage on a software company at 24.  I enjoyed college, trudged my way through law school, and sent a ton of resumes out for “traditional” jobs.

It wasn’t until 2004, when I read Rich Dad Poor Dad, that something triggered inside of me.

At that time, I seemingly had a great job, that any lawyer would love:  I was VP Operations and In House Counsel of a growing software company.  But after reading Rich Dad Poor Dad, I realized that I was just a small cog in a growing corporate wheel.  I realized I was not getting the tax benefits of being on my own.  And I began to think more critically about where I wanted to go in life.

I saw where my professional trajectory was heading, tech executive and lawyer, and while on the face of it this sounded great, it became apparent that this just wasn’t for me personally.  It just wasn’t in alignment with my unique genius.  I began to realize that my skills,

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You can do anything with a law degree

With the shrinking legal job market and decreasing job satisfaction for many attorneys, this long accepted truism may no longer be that accurate . . .

. . . that is if you stay in the law.

Leave the law, however, and (ironically) you’ll see how your law degree (and all the training that comes with it) helps you excel in the business world, from mundane matters to high level strategy.  From writing concise emails to speaking clearly on the phone to managing projects well to motivating colleagues to identifying real life, business issues to crafting creative solutions to projecting an air of confidence.  Many of the skills we all possess that we all take for granted are often in short supply in the general population.

You can really do anything with a law degree . . . if you leave the law.

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There is more to an hour than just billing it

It’s just not a great model, ticking off increments of a sixty minute period.  It is not efficient and clients doubt its value.  And it’s just not much fun.

There are so many other ways to make money

  • Create a service that people subscribe to and provides recurring revenue (build a members website)
  • Provide consulting and be rewarded through a success based fee (be a broker or advisor of some kind on a deal or project)
  • Take a commission on a transaction (web based affiliate marketing)
  • Receive ongoing payments from the sale of an asset you have created (write a book).

Your unique genius + providing value + a good amount of time and patience = a new, satisfying way to make money.

When you leave the law, you find that you can make money in ways most lawyers will never have previously considered.

Use that hour for something else.

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You got great skills

One constant theme emerged from the emails I received after last Friday’s Leave Law Behind phone chat:  We often, if not all of the time, only think of ourselves as attorneys.  We focus on our title, not our underlying skills and talents.  We think that we can only be one thing.

It can be difficult to think of ourselves as anything but a lawyer – we worked hard to get through law school, we have paid a lot of money to gain the degree and license, we have spent a lot of time building up our practice, we have put a lot of effort into positioning ourselves strategically within our firm or organization.

This emphasis on title, however, serves as a major hurdle to leaving the law – once we convince ourselves that being an attorney is our sine qua non to income, self-worth and (perceived) satisfaction, than not being an attorney is . . . well . . . unnatural, just plain scary, crazy or akin to professional suicide.

In order to leave the law (or to make you happier in your practice of the law) describe yourself through your skills and talents,

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10 babysteps to help you leave the law behind

Leaving the law is not hard.  But gaining the courage to face the fear of leaving the law is.  Here are 10 easy-to-do babysteps to begin your journey of leaving law behind.

1.    Determine if you really need to leave the law:  When you think about your current unhappiness or dissatisfaction, take a second and really assess whether these can be attributable to your practice of the law.  Are you unfairly scapegoating the law? It there something else going on?  Or should you really consider leaving the law?

2.    Join me next week:  If the latter, then attend the next Leave Law Behind phone chat (this Friday July 8, more details to follow shortly).

3.    Begin working on and exploring your Unique Genius:  Your Unique Genius is a skill or a talent you are so good at, which comes so naturally to you, that you don’t even consider it work.  And, surprise, this is likely a talent that you can make money off of (even though such a concept may currently boggle your brain).  Aaron Ross of Pebblestorm recently put out a Unique Genius Assessment worksheet that is a great guide – download it here.

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Beating the F-word

While there may be a number of factors that keep us from leaving the law, one dominates:  Fear.

While we toil at a job we don’t like, and dream of more freedom and satisfaction elsewhere, we also craft in our mind terrifying, gut wrenching scenarios we fear would occur if we were to leave the law, scenarios that scare us into staying put right where we are.

It could be that quake-in-the-boots talk we fear one day having with the managing partner when we plan to leave the firm.  It could be that keep-me-up-all-night anxiety we fear worrying about how we will ever pay the bills once we are on our own or practicing in a different way.  It could be that what-will-they-say-and-think insecurity we fear about how others will view us once we have left the law.

Whatever it is, the F-word and our imagination are a combustible mix, preventing us from taking the first step to explore leaving the law.

To beat this fear, we only need to take one step, a small step, an under-the-radar, actually-easy-to-do baby step, to begin the process.  And before we know it, we’ll have taken many little baby steps,

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Don’t worry about the “how”

We all have goals and dreams.  Short term (win the motion) and long term (become financially independent).

However, when you are only focused on the specifics of “how” these goals and dreams will come about, you can lose focus on the ultimate desired result.  When these goals don’t happen exactly as we had planned or in the time frame we had scheduled or with the people we now know, this makes us anxious.  We get bummed out.  We re-think our plan.  We doubt.  We second guess.  We lose concentration, motivation.  We get bogged down.

To leave the law, don’t worry if the next baby step you take is going to bear tangible fruits.  Don’t be on the constant lookout for immediate results.  You will get to where you want to get – it may be through an alternate channel or on a different schedule or with the help of someone you have yet to meet.  And over this time, this goal may change and ultimately look completely different than you had originally envisioned. 

When you don’t worry about the details of the “how”, you get to focus on living the dream. 

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