Leave Law Behind is back, after a bit of an extended holiday. When we last spoke in the Fall, we heard a lot about “giving thanks”. Blogs, books, social networks, the media – there were reminders, advice and lists of how to be more thankful, more appreciated, more self-aware of what we have. This of course is appropriate for Thanksgiving time.
And this is appropriate throughout the rest of the year. Throughout the rest of our day-to-day lives. And it’s essential if you want to leave law behind.
Now, let’s be real – it can be difficult to be thankful and full of appreciation. Even in our relatively privileged lives, the forces around us are replete with examples of what we don’t have yet, of what we are not yet, of what we have yet to accomplish. This makes it very easy to focus on the gaps we have: It’s easy to dwell on the fact that we haven’t yet made equity partner . . . and not beam with pride that we are a long way from that nervous, law school graduate we once were years ago.
And giving thanks is not just a fluffy,
There is no doubt about it, when we leave the law, we mess something up. A lot of stuff. We miss the boat on some things. We are too early with others. We will never understand how this-and-that works. We’ll feel that we are becoming short on cash. We’ll suffer from self-doubt. People we admire and love may think we’re crazy. We will miss the structure and stature of the firm life.
We won’t be perfect.
But no one is. We weren’t when we began the law, and we definitely are not now, especially when branching out into a world of the unknown . . . and full of potential. And you don’t need to be perfect or wholly ready to leave the law. You just need to be honest (with yourself) and courageous (to take a babystep).
Leaving the law behind is a messy and anxious and unnerving act. It’s also thrilling and relieving and eye-opening. Let’s not let our consistent need for perfection and validation get in the way of creating our path to happiness and self-worth.
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It can be very difficult to escape the fact that our society ranks an individual’s success almost exclusively on the basis of fame, fortune or power. The more you have, the more successful you are.
You don’t need to look far to see how this is reinforced time and time again. It could be the recent Super Lawyer rankings. It could be that profile you read of the guy who was #7 at Facebook or #4 at Mint or #12 at Google. It could have been the Vanity Fair New Establishment list. It could be the recent eulogy of the maverick football owner or brilliant tech visionary.
Making money and gaining influence are great things. But as we focus exclusively on fortune, fame and power, something always has to give (and this is usually our time, our health, our relationships, our happiness.)
As we leave the law behind, or leave our current practice of the law behind, we are provided with a great opportunity to find the time and space to land on other lists: Top Parent, Top Spouse, Top Friend, Best at Just Chillin’,
We work for money. We need to pay our bills and support our families and live the good life we strive for.
We also work to be recognized. We have spent a lot of time and effort becoming a lawyer, and while a salary is a good reflection of our worth, a kind word goes a long way as well. It just feels really good when you are recognized.
A lot of our unhappiness comes from simply not being appreciated. At the highest levels, this manifests itself in being passed over for partnership or required to take a reduced (or stick with an un-changed) salary. More day-to-day, this unhappiness and reduced confidence is often marked by silence, specifically the lack of unprompted feedback from clients, colleagues and associates. Sometimes you wonder How the hell am I doing? Sometimes you just want someone to say Real nice job, I love how you handled that.
Of course, the appreciation will come. And do not lament the dearth of compliments now; just know that the gratitude is likely there . . . and the public recognition is right around the corner, from someone important,
Before we even think of leaving the law, let’s first try to get a handle on a fundamental question: Why did I go to law school?
With the cushion of hindsight, let’s take some time and critically think about this. We need to ask ourselves, as well as our friends and family (who were around us when we made the decision to attend law school) what was our mind set, what reasons did we put forward, what pros/cons did we list? As much as it may hurt, we need some honest answers and recollections, from ourselves and our loved ones, as to what our mindset was at that time. More specifically, we need to determine whether we critically thought through this big decision or, rather, did we just go to law school because we had nothing better to do/we didn’t want to find a job/we admired lawyers/we thought we’d make a lot of money.
The goal here is not to get down on ourselves, but rather to identify whether law school itself, or the “beaten path” of OCI, the firm life, making partner, etc, is really something for us. If our reasons for going to law school were not that strong,
Many of us who consider leaving the law feel that we may have lost our way. We feel like we’re just in a weird stage. We often look around and wonder if this is it. We don’t think we’re as cool any longer. We wonder if we’re doing the right thing.
To take this further, some of us now think that our window of time may be expiring. That the clock of our final countdown is ticking fast. It could be a particular birthday on the horizon. It could be falling short in a recent comparison with our (ostensibly) successful friends. It could be just this general, vague, foggy feeling that we’re not living up to what we thought we would accomplish.
If we’re not a partner yet, we think we should have been made partner by now. If we’re not an equity partner yet, we think we should have been made equity partner by now. If we are an equity partner . . . we wonder why we are still unhappy.
This problem will persist so long as we continue to stick to outdated, unrelated plans. Many unhappy attorneys judge their success based on what their friends think is success or what their family thinks is success or on what they themselves thought success should be .
I spoke with a very unhappy attorney last week. She is dying to leave her job and leave law altogether. The firm life saps her of energy. She dreams of a more flexible schedule and satisfying day-to-day life.
But she stays. For job security.
The refrain I hear the most from attorneys who wish to leave the law, but cannot muster the courage to do so, is that they cannot contemplate a lack of job security.
What does security really mean? When we talk about “security”, we really mean financial security. We really mean having enough cash so that we can survive (and live reasonably well) for a certain period of time – 12 months, 24 months, 36 months – without a job or consistent income.
Having a job at a law firm or with the government does mean you receive a paycheck every two weeks. But it doesn’t mean you are necessarily secure. As we’ve seen in the past few years, things can change very quickly.
If you’re unhappy practicing the law, don’t let an illusory sense of security prevent you from living your dream. The only security in your life comes from you .
I was never an “entrepreneur”. I was not that guy running lemonade stands at age 14 or working in my parents’ garage on a software company at 24. I enjoyed college, trudged my way through law school, and sent a ton of resumes out for “traditional” jobs.
It wasn’t until 2004, when I read Rich Dad Poor Dad, that something triggered inside of me.
At that time, I seemingly had a great job, that any lawyer would love: I was VP Operations and In House Counsel of a growing software company. But after reading Rich Dad Poor Dad, I realized that I was just a small cog in a growing corporate wheel. I realized I was not getting the tax benefits of being on my own. And I began to think more critically about where I wanted to go in life.
I saw where my professional trajectory was heading, tech executive and lawyer, and while on the face of it this sounded great, it became apparent that this just wasn’t for me personally. It just wasn’t in alignment with my unique genius. I began to realize that my skills,
With the shrinking legal job market and decreasing job satisfaction for many attorneys, this long accepted truism may no longer be that accurate . . .
. . . that is if you stay in the law.
Leave the law, however, and (ironically) you’ll see how your law degree (and all the training that comes with it) helps you excel in the business world, from mundane matters to high level strategy. From writing concise emails to speaking clearly on the phone to managing projects well to motivating colleagues to identifying real life, business issues to crafting creative solutions to projecting an air of confidence. Many of the skills we all possess that we all take for granted are often in short supply in the general population.
You can really do anything with a law degree . . . if you leave the law.
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It’s just not a great model, ticking off increments of a sixty minute period. It is not efficient and clients doubt its value. And it’s just not much fun.
There are so many other ways to make money
- Create a service that people subscribe to and provides recurring revenue (build a members website)
- Provide consulting and be rewarded through a success based fee (be a broker or advisor of some kind on a deal or project)
- Take a commission on a transaction (web based affiliate marketing)
- Receive ongoing payments from the sale of an asset you have created (write a book).
Your unique genius + providing value + a good amount of time and patience = a new, satisfying way to make money.
When you leave the law, you find that you can make money in ways most lawyers will never have previously considered.
Use that hour for something else.
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