We are all winging it

Of course some are better at it than others, because they’ve been improvising longer at that particular job or role than you have.  But they still are making some of it up as they go along.

One fear of leaving the law is that we will find ourselves not being of service to anyone.  We fear that we won’t be able to help anyone in something other than the practice of the law.

And that’s true . . . initially.  Of course, to begin with, we’ll be starting over.  But you are more than just a lawyer.  You are analytic and disciplined and reliable and trustworthy and intelligent.  Give yourself a little more time in a new field or space and you’ll also be flexible and broad-minded and influential.

You’ll wonder why you every thought you could limit yourself to the law.

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If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting

It cuts both ways.

If you are dynamic and interested and motivated and courageous and helpful, continue to build and develop and grow and share and stay the course.

If you are anxious and frustrated and complacent and fearful and deskbound, you have two choices:  To use today to go deeper and to find purpose and self-expression.  Or to continue to exist on the surface of your professional identity.

You know how the latter will turn out.  Just look at what you did today.

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Why you are really not (just) a lawyer

That is our job or maybe it’s our career path.  But being a lawyer is really just a label, not an identity.  It’s easy to confuse the two.

We like this label because it’s a nice, convenient way for us to tell a story about ourselves, one that we can accept and impress others.  It’s a nice, convenient way to avoid going deep and finding what we enjoy doing, what skills we are really good at, what we really want to do with ourselves.  To do so would be productive and satisfying and refreshing . . . but first would require hard work, admitting mistakes and defining ourselves in a different (initially uncomfortable) way.

And that’s the beauty of leaving law behind.  We can define ourselves in a different, likely more accurate and motivational way.  That is different than labeling.  It’s deeper.

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The fifth step in leaving the law behind: Keep motivating yourself

As Zig Ziglar says, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last.  Well, neither does bathing – that’s why recommend it daily”

To leave law behind, and to continue to grow and develop in the way you want, you have to continuously find motivation in this hectic world of ours.  Some easy ways to do so are:

1.      Say thank you.  Out loud, out the window, in your head, as a whisper, wherever.  Being thankful, anactually saying it out loud, reminds us of all we do have and can do, even when we feel daunted or down or uninspired.

2.      Realize that you are your own startup.  Even while you hold down your current job, when you think of yourself less like a cog in a wheel, less like a dispensable associate, less like just an employee, less like just another guy, and more like a CEO of a start-up business (you), a growing entity with your own financial statements and R&D Department and Executive Team, you realize that every company (very company!) has to start small and that you’re right on track.

3.      Write a manifesto.  While a fancy sounding word, all this means is taking a public step to tell the world what you are about and what is important to you. 

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The fourth step in leaving the law behind: Plan

To leave law behind, you need to plan.  Plan, structure, blueprint, prepare.  Following your passion, doing what you love, leaping and the net will appear – all nice, and true and ideal and possible . . . with lots of planning.

When planning to leave the law, focus on four main questions:

1.    Why am I doing this? Again, let’s make sure you are being true to yourself and not fooling yourself and really exploring leaving law for the right reasons.  And not because you may find yourself in a bad patch or because it seems all of your friends have gone in-house lately or because you feel it’s no longer cool to be a lawyer.  The critical thinking must continue.

2.    Who am I doing this with? Talk to others.  To those that this decision would affect.  It’s your life and your passion and your goals of course, but they may be shared by others, or others may be affected by them.

3.    What resources am I doing this with? Besides health issues, there is no anxiety more difficult, gut wrenching or harder to take than that related to money .

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The third step in leaving the law behind: Hone the informational interview

To leave law behind, you need to meet with people.  Other people are the best way to find out what we want to do with our life, and then help us find the resources to get there.

Of course this sounds obvious, but to leave law behind, we will need to branch out in ways we likely can’t conceive of now.  We need to be open and honest with our tight circle about our goals and needs and aspirations, so those that care about us can begin to brainstorm and network for us.  We need to plan to have coffees and “informational interviews” with at least 8 to 10 new professionals, lawyers, business people, sales people, engineering folks, local politicians and other contacts each month in order to build a valuable support web of like-minded people.  We need to be confident and not desperate to find a job.  We need to gather information and make an informed decision.  It will take a while (6, 9, 12, 18, 24 months) and won’t happen overnight . . but we have the time.  Build it organically and correctly and the opportunities will come into clear view.

Before we get into the details of how to execute on this plan,

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The second step in leaving the law behind: Cut your losses

Once we have determined that leaving the law is for us (click here for the first step), the greatest danger is sabotaging our enthusiasm before we can even begin to leave.  As we pump ourselves up about the potential for new opportunities and satisfaction and happiness and money in our future, we can often get bogged down in thinking about the past . . . in particular, in thinking about our investment in law school and our long standing identity as a lawyer.

Let’s first begin with law school.  We went there.  We studied.  We got through it (somehow).  We spent a lot of time and effort and money to gain that JD.  Throw in the Barbri courses and the anxiety over the bar exam and now our yearly bar dues and it’s easy to see that we have invested a lot.  Makes us think . . . I’d hate for all of that to go to waste.  Makes us think . . . Well . . . maybe we should just stick with this law thing after all.

Next, our identity as a lawyer.  Being a lawyer still carries a certain status. 

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The first step in determining whether we should leave law behind

The first step in leaving the law behind is to determine whether we really want to leave the law behind.  Sounds obvious, but the main gist here is that we often think we want to leave the law, feel unhappy practicing the law, feel we need to make a clean break.  And we think all of this without critically thinking about all of this.

Just like many of us who went to law school on a whim, or because it seemed natural, or because that is just what we did, or without thinking much of it, many of us consider leaving the law without critically thinking about whether that is the right idea.  We are unhappy or unsatisfied or beaten down or low on self-worth.  So our natural instinct is to want to move onto something new, whatever it is, just something new.

Initially when leaving the law, we need to determine if we should (i) leave the law altogether or (ii) just practice the law in a different way.  This is the first fork in the road we face.

So if we truly do want to leave law altogether, we need a plan. 

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The main reason why we may not leave the law behind

It takes too long.  We think, or we know, that it will just take longer than we are prepared to endure for us to leave the law behind and find an exciting job, create a new venture, or pursue small baby steps on the side that lead to more happiness, satisfaction, enjoyment and money.

We want our happiness, and our passion, and our new skill set now (or close to now) because we aren’t happy with what we are currently doing.  But the thought of branching out into the unknown, into the less secure without a definite timetable is scarier for many of us than just to keep doing what we’re doing.

Yes, leaving the law will take a long time.  The same, if not longer, than it took us to get where we are now.  There really is no way around that.  But the secret is not to feel like we are branching out into the unknown or the less secure.  The secret is to have a plan.  A plan we’ll begin sketching out in the next post.

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Rejection is protection

When considering to leave law behind, we’re going to try a lot of new things.  Once we build up the courage, we’re going to try and set up informational meetings, we will interview for other, exciting job opportunities, we’ll potentially partner with other solos to create our own firm.  There are a lot of new things we will try.

And there is a lot of rejection we will face.  Some people won’t want us.  They won’t want to accept us into their club, they won’t want us to be their partners, they won’t want us to participate in the profits, they will turn down our book idea, they will not visit our new website, they won’t refer work to us, they won’t think our new consulting firm will add value.  They will reject us.

And it hurts.  It can be crushing.  And unfortunately, there is no way to avoid it.

But fortunately, there is no way to avoid it.  Rejection is an essential piece to our success.  It protects us from areas we shouldn’t pursue, reveals to us other paths, highlights what we could have done better to prepare and shows us what other opportunities are out there we may not have known about.

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