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.
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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.
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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.”
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160+ on the LSAT. Law school acceptance letter. That AmJur in Con Law. OCI summer job. Finishing top 15%. Passing the bar. Job offer. Nice salary.
More or less, what you wished for, what you thought about, what you envisioned and what you have worked for since applying to law school has materialized.
And, what you wish for now, what you think about now, what you envision now, what you work for now, will come about as well.
Wish, think, envision and work wisely.
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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.
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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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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,
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,