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,
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.
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,
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.
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,