How I Overcame My Fear of Debt in the Face of Leaving the Law

I love to have readers write in and share their successes, struggles and experiences.

The following was written by a current member of the Leave Law Behind Program, who as we speak is in the process of leaving the law behind. She reflects on a topic so many of us struggle with and fear facing … leaving the law in spite of our law school debt.

I know you’ll find this essay insightful, personal and motivating. I’ve re-read it multiple times and learn something new each time. I’m hoping she will write more for us!

How I Overcame My Fear of Debt in the Face of Leaving the Law

After financing my law school education in full, I had no idea what I needed to do to pay my debt down. I told myself that my only option was to survive at my firm as long as I could until the debt was paid.

The next two years were spent trying to work as many hours as possible to get a bonus that would help lower my debt. I didn’t do a lot of things for myself, and I told myself that I couldn’t have nice things because my debt load was so high.

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The email you are struggling to write

Dear Soul,

I have to admit, I’m a little embarrassed writing this to you. I don’t often get “touchy feely” or think about my “soul” or “spirit” that much, so to sit down and put this note together for you is taking some effort.

As an attorney, I really only think in terms of the tangible, of the measurable, of what’s evident. I try to avoid, or at the very least, prepare my best, for the unknown, the risky. I have faith in logic, science, precedent, and the objective …

… oh man, who am I kidding? That sounded pretty good, didn’t it? I mean, I’m reading this now and it sounds authoritative!

But it’s not the whole picture of me.

I’m more than a negotiating/litigating/redlining/billing/rainmaking robot.

Ah, now I get it … I now know why I was compelled to write this note to you.

Something is missing. I feel something is missing. Something is off with me. But I don’t know who I can tell this to.

Sure, I can tell a few people in the office here, but the conversation usually devolves into us just complaining about bad clients,

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The litmus test for leaving the law

Many of you have spoken with me on the free consults I provide for Leave Law Behind readers and then have moved onto joining the Leave Law Behind Program.

And one of the first questions I ask on these calls is “Why do you want to leave the law?”

This week, I asked that same question on a call to a fellow Leave Law Behind reader and he answered “I don’t want to turn out like my boss.”

It’s a good litmus test. Look at the attorneys around you, the attorneys you work with, especially those a few years and a few titles ahead of you.

What is their health like? Are they enjoying themselves? Do they have the values and principles you want to maintain? Do they spend quality time with their family? Are their priorities in line with yours? Do they work with meaning and purpose?

If not, take this realization seriously, because this is your future staring clearly right at you.

Learn how to overcome your fears to leave the law behind by scheduling a free phone call with me, Casey.

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You are on the right side of history

You are reading this right now because you want to leave the law.

You want to leave because of the anxiety you suffer as an attorney, or because you are bored by the subject matter of the law, or because you feel no or little connection with your clients or the firm, or …

But many obstacles block you from leaving.

And one of the main barriers you face in leaving your law practice behind is that the legal community has never really embraced or been open to its members admitting they are unhappy. To revealing they want to leave. To exploring alternative, “non-law” careers.

As such, you can’t share your unhappiness with others in the firm. You don’t want to disappoint your colleagues or friends or family by leaving.

You suffer from the social taboo that you should just grin and bear it and be happy as an attorney and push down any feeling you have that practicing the law isn’t your life purpose.

Well … I’m happy to say that this is all changing, and we’re all going to be the beneficiaries.

An example of this is the talk I’m giving on Monday March 1 2018 at the Bar Association of San Francisco (along with fellow coach Elena Deutsch of WILL) called Alternative Careers: Take Action Toward the Life You Desire”

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The reason why you are procrastinating and not leaving the law

Recently I had a government form I need to fill out. I received the notice a while back, glanced at it briefly and then filed it away and put it off until last week (completing it a day before the deadline).

I realized that I took so long to complete the form because I had a number of blockers (or fears) getting in my way:

  • I just don’t like bureaucracy and forms and paperwork. It’s just not part of my Unique Genius. I get overwhelmed when I think of stuff I need to fill out. I can say “that’s just me” but really it’s a belief system I have.
  • I was annoyed I even had to fill this out. I’m a dutiful citizen, but I still can’t help feel that a government form gets in the way of my work, my family time, and my life. I mean, c’mon, there is too much paperwork in our lives already!
  • Also, I don’t like actual paper. I am a digital person nowadays … I was going to have to print up these forms, I would need to write a hard copy check,

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The reason you are in the situation you are in

My son and I were in line at my neighborhood cafe here in San Francisco when he pulled on my sleeve and told me to look up.

High up on the walls was a large, subtle 180 degree mural of the neighborhood right outside the door: Our area’s hills, valleys, houses, schools, roads. It was beautiful and lifelike and done in such an understated way, that it pulled you in without you even realizing it.

But there was more. If you look very carefully, you can see that the muralist included small phrases and messages and questions throughout the nooks and crannies of the mural. Below the rain gutter of a house. Hidden on a roof.

The one my eyes jumped to was “What kind of stories do you tell?

What stories do you, unhappy attorney, tell yourself?

What stories do you tell yourself … that keep you in the place you are right now?

  • I am [insert religious/ethnic/culture group here] and being a lawyer is just what we do.
  • I was a liberal arts major, so I can’t do anything but be a lawyer.

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An open, deeply personal letter to Money

Dear Money

I am not sure how it got this way. Between you and me. It didn’t need to get to this point, and I want to correct it.

I’m an unhappy attorney who is trying to leave the law for a non law job. I am trying to change my life for the better. Please can you and I start over too?

I have to admit, I have always felt that you didn’t want to be with me. There was always just enough of you in my life … but you never seemed to like being with me. It was as if you were forced to be with me. You didn’t flow to me … you were dragged to me. I wondered why we never had that much fun together.

And you never seemed to want to stay long with me. You have been fleeting and unreliable. It always felt like you were in a hurry to leave me. And so I then worried if you would ever come back.

But now you are an immovable weight to me. Law school debt. Bills to pay. I don’t feel like you support me …

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Imagine one day writing me this email

Last week, I received the below email from a fellow Leave Law Behind reader.

She was suffering as an attorney.

But she kept reading our weekly posts. She kept becoming inspired. She kept taking baby steps.

And she finally left the law!

I asked her if I could publish her letter and share with you. Besides anonymizing her name, below is word for word what she sent me.

And I’m grateful she let me share this with you … she wanted to pay it forward and show everyone that you too can leave the law!

Hi Casey,

We’ve never met, but I want to thank you for all that you have done for me and my career.

A little over a year ago, when I was starting my third year as a litigation associate, I realized my mental health had hit rock bottom. I was crippled with anxiety that was only getting worse with increased responsibility at the firm.

I was ignoring phone calls from angry opposing counsel, hiding under my desk at work during panic attacks,

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“The ultimate measure of a man or woman is not where he or she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

This is one of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes.

It has inspired me to act to drive positive change, for myself and others in my life. It has taught me to embrace the unknown and the uncertain and the difficult as evidence of my growth and progress … rather than to be feared as insurmountable obstacles, barriers or inevitable failure.

Even if our individual goals seem much smaller than those of MLK’s, we can still drive insight from his wisdom.

While you, an unhappy attorney who wants to leave the law, might suffer from anxiety and depression and stress in your work, you actually exist and live and work in a certain level of comfort.

You know what to expect each day. You are making money. You are paying your bills. You have stature in your social circles. You are pleasing the people around you. Things are okay.

Things are not unknown or ambiguous or severely risky.

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A note from your future self

Dear Myself,

Hey Self, it’s Yourself from 2022.

I know this may seem a little spooky to hear from your future self, but I wanted to let you know that this whole “leave the law” thing really has worked out. We are doing really well right now in our alternative, non-law job. We can’t even believe it’s happening.

Well, we can believe it. Because, we’re living it. It’s been 4 years since you decided to leave the law in 2018 and we wanted to write you this short note to say thank you for the courage to leave.

Now don’t get me wrong, we are not sitting on a beach all day, all year.

It’s not all roses. We don’t just call it in each day.

We work … we work very hard.

And yes … sometimes we work weekends.

And there are still deadlines, and stress, and office politics, and angry customers.

And we deal with a lot of issues and projects that are new to us, so we’re often initially unclear what is the best first step.

And we have had a steep learning curve,

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