Many attorneys I speak with are exploring new jobs and lifestyles. Some want to continue to practice the law, but just need to leave their current, negative situation. Others want to explore non-legal roles that may be more in line with their skill sets. And still others desire a leave of absence or some time off in order to take stock and plan next steps.
Many jump in right away and shift their mind set towards these new jobs, visiting career sites, enlisting recruiters and polishing resumes.
It’s essential to realize that the most important part of leaving law and getting a job you like and enjoy and are good at is not the actual job. Rather, it’s the criteria you use to select and prioritize this job.
There are many elements to consider when looking at a job: salary, bonuses, lifestyle, stature, skills required, daily enjoyment. And of course for many of us, money (specifically, that initial, advertised salary) always forces it way to the top of the list. And that is fine. We all need money, there is not much more stressful than having no money.
But there are more elements to a job than money.
I was on a Twitter chat on Tuesday run by Alison Monahan with a number of thought leaders in the field (Jennifer Alvey, Heather Jarvis, Katie Slater, Ms. JD and others) discussing the topic of whether in today’s economy law school is still worth the investment of time and money.
Through the wide ranging conversation, we began to discuss what skills it takes to make it in the workplace, either in law or outside of law, and Katie Slater (former BigLaw finance lawyer and now coach who helps lawyers discover the next level in their careers) reiterated a great point: Law school is not necessarily a place of skill acquisition. Rather this is done by actually practicing law in the workplace.
It can be easy for us to expound on the skills we learned in law school: Analytical skills, issue spotting, writing skills, persuasion, interview abilities, and on and on. But we all know that we were not able to apply these with any regularity or professional focus until we actually began working as lawyers. And once we began working,
Last week I took a vacation. Family friends, their kids, my wife, our kids and I enjoyed some sun away from the San Francisco summer fog. Most of our time during the day was spent running in and out of the pools with the kids. And most of our time at night over dinner was spent talking about the kids. The cute things they did when they were babies. The messes they make. The lack of sleep.
And we also discussed the opportunities our children have ahead of them. We talked of their potential to learn and grow and develop.
Which caused me to think about what potential exists for those of us who just don’t seem to fit with the practice of law. As our career options as lawyers begin to harden into shape, as others around us succeed, as our children or nieces and nephews or friends’ children began to grow, it can be easy to wonder if this is all we’re gonna get. We tend to look backwards like the aged (at our unfilled aspirations) instead of forward like children (towards what we have yet to create).
While a generational shift is inevitable and aging has never been easy to deal with,
In many of the emails I receive from lawyers looking to change course and leave the law, there is one phrase that is repeated often: “I had always envisioned getting into _______.” It could be advocacy, policy, public interest law, hi-tech.
But without fail this fill-in-the-blank is not what the lawyer is actually doing now. They are doing something other than what they envisioned they would do.
It’s not the job or position or role that is important to focus on here. Many of us are doing jobs or have titles we never knew existed or could picture ourselves doing years ago.
Rather, what is important to unpack here is that for many of us, we are performing tasks and taking on responsibilities for our job that we never envisioned because many of these job duties are not in alignment with what we are good at and what we enjoy doing and what comes naturally to us.
We envisioned doing something else than what we do now because simply what we do now is not really what we are best at.
Sincerely exploring what this is (not outright finding it necessarily,
It won’t take long for you to scan those around you and feel you are in what seems like last place. Some lawyers you know are partners already, some are in-house at awesome tech companies, some have phat houses, some have so much in their retirement fund, some have established their own firm already, some have more and more and more . . .
We think of our age and marvel at how old we are. We sigh and get down and we ask “Is this it?”
The answer is “Yes”.
But let’s change the tenor and shift that question into a bold declarative statement: “This is it!” You are looking at it, your life, no one else’s. And while we may wish we made changes or did things differently 5, 10, 15 years ago, it won’t help to think that way. Let’s act now.
But that’s easier said than done. There is not much more stressful than that lingering feeling that we are not living up to our full potential. That we are making some money doing something we just don’t like or don’t feel good at. And we often need to act when we most want to resist it.
A favorite blog of mine is the The Minimalists. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are both former professionals who left the corporate track and now write about how to do and strive for more in life by buying and wanting less. In their post from this week, they talk of how being anchored is a truism that may not make much sense any longer for many of us: “An anchor is the thing that keeps a ship at bay, planted in the harbor, stuck in one place, unable to explore the freedom of the sea. Perhaps we were anchored—we knew we weren’t happy with our lives—and perhaps being anchored wasn’t necessarily a good thing.”
Going through college and law school, I often aspired to being “anchored”. It was considered a compliment. It meant that I had my head on straight and that I was focused on the right path, that I wouldn’t stray. To take it further, it meant that an education and profession based in the field of law would lead to success.
I’m realizing that many of my individual needs and motives as well society’s expectations that originally anchored me in the career of law now do not really have my personal happiness,
Leave Law Behind! An Interview With Casey Berman
I recently had drinks with San Francisco native Casey Berman who is the founder of Leave Law Behind, a consulting practice that helps lawyers who are sick and tired of the industry break away and start their own businesses. Now how cool is that – fewer lawyers and more entrepreneurs…brilliant!
I never understood why so many people can’t stand lawyers until I had to hire one myself. Talk about getting ripped off. I think it’s fantastic that Casey found his calling away from law and is now doing so many more fulfilling and exciting things. And now on to our interview!
Read more at Untemplater.
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.
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.
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.