You provide value now, as a lawyer. You guide clients, you assist colleagues, you affect policy.
And even if you feel dissatisfied with the practice of law altogether, or just with something specific about how you do it day in and day out, you still likely have the moments of joy and satisfaction that come with providing value to someone. It brings results, it feels good, it validates.
Yesterday, in a great post, Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity (a web site and blog that aims to help people live unconventional lives and make money online) writes how providing value is really the same as just helping people. “Value means helping people,” he writes. “Provide something valuable and people will be eager to support your work.”
With this in mind, to leave law altogether, or just markedly change how you currently practice it, take a small baby step and just focus on how you create value. Or, in other words, just focus on how you help people.
Because the skills you use to help people through your practice of law can likely also benefit a larger audience beyond it.
[Thanks to Julie Samuels for the idea behind this post. Julie is one of those lawyers-who-left-law-as-she-knew-it-behind-and-took-an-alternative-route-and-now-loves-what-she-does. Follow Julie on Twitter.]
The best and brightest apply and attend and graduate from law school. We are well-educated, well-meaning, articulate, creative, interpersonal, motivated, savvy and effective.
So it can be quite ironic that once we begin to practice law, much of what we are good at can often not be utilized to its fullest . . . if at all. What we do each day can in large part be disconnected from the skills we excel at.
As (South Park) Johnnie Cochran implored in the famous Wookie Defense, that does not make sense.
There is a major disconnect. Our skills are being misallocated.
Click here and let’s discuss your first baby step.
Okay, maybe a bit dramatic, but it speaks to those who may be getting hung up on the “leave” in leave law behind (and thus not doing anything at all about their situation as an unhappy lawyer).
As we all know, it can be difficult to leave things, to enter the unknown, to take a risk. It’s scary stuff.
Let’s face it – you never really leave the law. It’s always a part of you. You will always have the training, the experiences, the frustrations, the client interactions, the wins (and losses), the war stories you have experienced while being a law student and a lawyer. And this is all good stuff. Stuff that can serve as the basis for what you want to do next.
The idea of leaving works for some, and not for others. If the idea of leaving something, anything, is scary or perceived as risky to you, don’t dwell on the fear. That only sabotages you. Call it something else. Just don’t call on it too late.
Thanks very much to the LLB reader who sent in the recent New York Times article about “career associates”: full fledged lawyers, who do full fledged lawyer work . . . but are excluded from the partner track, have reduced salaries (while working less hours.) This new tier of employees enables law firms to keep talented people on board while cutting costs.
What a perfect (and ironic) opportunity – having your “leave the law” plan actually funded by your law firm: Make money, still pay the bills, spend more time with the family, spend more time planning your new business or venture.
Of course, one must first battle with the inevitable sabotage (a demotion will harm my career trajectory, my friends, family and colleagues will point and laugh, I can’t look at myself in the mirror, there is nothing else I can really do).
But once one realizes that there are other ways to satisfy one’s self worth, this is a golden opportunity to leave the law behind.
Go ahead, get demoted.
Your brain is either motivating you or sabotaging you. (Thanks to Kristine Castro for this great way to look at things). So carefully audit what you have thought, are thinking and will think. Critically assess what your mind is doing. You are either inspiring yourself or weakening yourself.
Who am I fooling? I really can’t do anything outside of the practice of law. Sabotage.
Let me take a small babystep today. Motivation.
I’ll never be able to afford to leave the law. Sabotage.
The money will come. Not sure how just yet, but it will come. Motivation.
There is nothing else I’m trained to do. Sabotage.
Brain, let’s think: What am I good at? What do I really, truly enjoy to do? Motivation.
When your brain thinks something . . . anything . . . don’t accept it at face value. Assess what you are really telling yourself. As Emo Phillips said “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”
The beauty of this equation is in its starkness.
If you are good at what you do, you can always find a way to support yourself. If you are good at what you do, you can always make a living.
Feels good to hear that, doesn’t it? So here’s the courageous part. If you’re unhappy with what you currently do (even if you’re good at it), take a shot and leave. If you are just bored, leave. If you want to explore other areas, then leave. If you like the area of law you practice, but want to supplement it with some “real life” experience (operations, sales, entrepreneurism), leave for a while.
Your current job (or one just like it) will likely be waiting for you if you want to come back.
And remember, leave smart. Go in-house with a current client (and leave the possibility open to return to your firm.) Branch out with your own firm (and be sure to network and send business to colleagues and competitors alike.) Leave law altogether with that new website or consulting practice or hair-brained idea (and be sure to have a nice cushion to cover start-up costs).
And if it doesn’t totally work out,
You may remain a (disgruntled) lawyer due in (very large) part to the (ostensible) prestige and status (you think) it carries.
One of the major surprises you will find in leaving the law behind is the ability to satisfy your ego doing something else you actually enjoy, are good at and that comes naturally to you.
Once you have seriously begun to leave the law, you won’t be able stop.
Leaving the law is equal parts ambition, motivation, frustration, creation, reflection, relaxation, satisfaction. For certain periods, it requires solitude. Other times it feeds off of collaboration.
It needs (and creates) courage.
Leaving the law is difficult and takes a long time to do.
But it is also unstoppable. Once you’ve begun, you won’t be able to stop.
Sometimes things just don’t go well. Sometimes you’re in a funk. Things don’t click. Things don’t gel. Nothing turns out right. Things are off. Sometimes it’s so hard to just practice the daily requirements of the law that you can’t even think about the courage required to leave it.
The anxiety about money rears its ugly head. The insecurity about your life plan comes back in full force. Everyone around you is doing better than you are. You can’t shake that miserable cold.
Two things to remember. First, the funk will go away. You will (still) be able to buy nice things. You will satisfy your ego. You will celebrate the success of others. You will stop coughing.
Second, and more importantly, this funk is necessary. It’s necessary to be smacked around, challenged, called out, reduced. It’s a threshold moment in the movie we call your life. It’s your performance during these challenging times that endear you to your ticket paying audience.
It is enlightening to judge your character based on how you handle yourself during these times. It also provides nice clips for a trailer . . .
“Yeah, it’s okay, it’s not horrible, it’s alright, I mean . . . it’s cool.”
You may think of yourself as a great, fun, generous, exciting person.
You may consider your job, however, to be just okay. And since you spend a good part of your life at your job, if your job is just okay, then it may be safe to say that a good part of your life is, likewise, just okay.
Imagine your eulogy: “He/She was such a great person. Miss him/her so much. His/her life? Well . . . it was . . . okay, yeah, not horrible. I’d give his/her life a 5.5 overall. Maybe a 6.”