You need to be wrong

If you are still in the law, and unhappy doing so, you may need to modify the questions you regularly ask yourself.

How can I grow my book of business?  Which partner can I better align with?  How can I increase my billables? You may find answers to these questions, but they will be superficial to your goal of happiness.  You may find answers, but they will only keep you lockstep in the belief that remaining in the law is your only choice.

Alternatively, ask questions for which you may have no immediate answer (What am I really good at?).  Ask questions that others may find corny or a waste of time (When do I feel I’m at my coolest?).  Ask questions whose goal is exploring satisfaction and not just production (When do I really have fun?).

Don’t be afraid to answer incorrectly.  It is satisfying (and safe and secure) to at first be right.  It is likely more motivating (and imaginative and creative) to initially be wrong.

Ask away.

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Who are you listening to?

Most of us would not take, nor recommend taking, legal advice from someone not licensed to do so.

But many of us often do take general life advice from people (family, friends, co-workers) not necessarily qualified to do so.  We take relationship advice from those hopelessly single.  We look for motivation from people who deep down are afraid.  We seek inspiration from those who actually lack courage.  We look for support (say, in leaving the law) from those who really yearn only for security.

Familial ties, longstanding rapport or respected authority does not always guarantee the most suitable advice . . . for you.

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False pretenses

Many of you have written in regarding Sunday’s New York Times article Is Law School a Losing Game.  The article discusses in depth how law schools are highly profitable, cash cow businesses.  In order to continue to attract more and more students (and more and more tuition payments), the article describes how some law schools look to prop up their US News & World Report ranking by, among other metrics, finessing and overplaying the employment rate of their graduates.  The article alleges that many law schools promise to aspiring law students a job market that just no longer exists.

A number of unhappy law students, graduates and blogs (Third Tier Reality, Shilling Me Softly, Subprime JD and Rose Colored Glasses) are profiled, many of whom lament entering law school (and incurring the corresponding student loan debt) under the false pretense that a legal education would secure them a legal job.

The ire is understandable, but really a waste of time.

You see, we can protest the way law schools pad their graduation rates, we can become angry at undelivered employment promises we felt we deserved,

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Homesteadin’

Beginning in 1862, the various Homestead Acts provided Americans with new opportunities to own, settle, farm, cultivate and populate what was then a wide open, unclaimed American frontier (Native American interests notwithstanding, of course).  The young country was looking for ways to grow and spread.  There was (literally) a lot of room out there and a lot of opportunity (and risk) for self-starters, dreamers and businesspeople to carve out new lives, new opportunities, new satisfactions and new ways to make money.

The Internet, the online world, the networked globe we now live in, is also wide open and fairly unclaimed.  Even though the number of websites, apps, solutions and platforms has grown exponentially over the years, the Internet is still in its nascent stage, with plenty of room . . . for you, me and all of those little morsels of ideas we may be toying with.

This Homestead analogy comes from Dan Abrams, TV correspondent, legal commentator and online entrepreneur. I like how he put it in a recent New York Times article:

“I like the feeling that I’m on the right side of history.  I think the Internet is comparable to the Homestead Act: Here’s a parcel of land,

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The law is not your friend

. . . if you want to leave it.  The practice of law as you know it (and that little unhelpful fearful lizard brain voice in your head) can make you feel resigned to your fate, pigeonholed, stuck in a niche.  They tell you that you can’t do much of anything else.  They tell you that you can’t be “intellectually stimulated” anywhere else.  They tell you that the other options are beneath you.

The practice of law as you know it and that little unhelpful fearful lizard brain voice in your head want to keep you where you are.  And this may be far, far away from your passion and happiness.

Those aren’t good friends.

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Invest in yourself

One of the “new rules”, investing in yourself simply means diversifying your portfolio.

Lawyers regularly or semi-regularly put money in various assets classes.  Retirement funds holding stocks and bonds.  Maybe real estate.  Maybe a friend’s speculative tech startup.  CD’s.

Depending on our risk threshold, we hope for a return on, and preservation of, this capital.

If you have been successful and have a small nest egg, use this to finance your own personal development.  Leave the law and live off savings as you create the time to find out what is your passion and simply explore.

If the current paycheck is necessary to keep the lights on, stretch a bit and take a portion to hire a coach or mentor or someone else to find your passion and explore other opportunities . . . while you keep your day job.

Invest for a return on yourself.

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Enough money

It’s a great feeling be able to comfortably afford (receive a paycheck) your and your family’s lifestyle.

It’s also a great feeling to take (save) the money and run.

Many do not pencil out how much money they actually need to provide a comfort level to leave the law:  12 months.  24 months.  36 months.

Until the unhappy lawyer sits down and thinks through this calculation, he or she will keep doing what they are doing, and keep getting what they are getting.

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The value in what you don’t like

Finding and monetizing your unique genius – that something that you are so good at, that comes so natural to you that you don’t even think of it as a skill – can take a long time and is a constant cycle of refinement and analysis.
 
It can be daunting and frustrating to find your “passion”.  It is not easy.  Everyone else seems to have one.  It always seems to be changing on you.  It’s murky.  And it requires some personal therapy that can be scary.
 
It can be easier to identify what your passions are not.  It’s sometime easier and a good first step to just be able to confidently say “I don’t like this” or “I just kinda like it” or “it’s okay, I guess” or “yeah, whatever”. 
 
What you don’t like can be your guide to what you do.

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Zero commercial potential

We all want to make money.  We all want to be able to pay the bills, create a nice cushion, enjoy the finer things, give to charity, be admired, rent a boat, travel the world, buy things . . . 

And whether we admit it or not, we likely want to work on something we enjoy.  We want to focus on our passions, we want to make money from what we love doing.  When we do what we love and what we’re good at, it just comes easily, it comes naturally, it makes us happy.

But we’re afraid.  We’re afraid that we can’t make money from what we love.  We think it’s impossible, a dream, something others will laugh at, something to not even be considered.

So . . . how do we make money from what we love?

The first step is to not focus on the money.  Once we start thinking about making cash, we alter the process.  It clouds how we view our passions.  It doesn’t help us in formulating what we are really good at.  We’re too concerned about the money end game, and not focused enough on the small beautiful details that form our unique genius.

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A “predictable last resort”

Just in, from the Onion . . .

Law Schools Now Require Applicants To Honestly State Whether They Want To Go To Law School

September 15, 2010

NEW YORK—A growing number of law schools have begun requiring applicants to specify in writing whether they do, in fact, have some desire to attend law school, or are just using it as a predictable last resort.  “We want to separate those who actually see themselves becoming attorneys from those who just want to put off joining the adult world for another three years,” Fordham Law School director Bruce Green said Thursday, showing reporters an application that asks students to check boxes marked “Really?” and “Seriously? You’re really that into this?”   “We want prospective students to know that they will actually have to study the U.S. legal system.  As in, the whole thing.”   Word of the new requirement has already reportedly caused a 450 percent spike nationwide in applications to graphic design schools.

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