The main reason why I left the law is because I wasn’t really that good at it. I’m not looking for pity or using this as an excuse. I’m just being honest with myself. The skills that were required in my practice of the law as in-house counsel – attention to minute detail, detailed contract review, compliance, human resources and employment law, to name a few – were not skills I was very proficient at or possessed in great quantity.
Nor did I really enjoy my practice of the law. I didn’t enjoy always having to be the “adult in the room”, ensuring that any actions and projects and proposals and promotions put forward by Sales, Biz Dev and Customer Support were in line with our company policies, our partner agreements or regulations. I didn’t enjoy always having to react to an event and put out fires; I wanted to invent and brainstorm and be tasked with creating new things for the business … and not having to ensure our current initiatives were in compliance.
Of course these were my unique experiences, and everyone has their own take on their practice of the law and enjoys or is frustrated by their practice of it in their own way.
This blog is almost four years old. The spirit and adventure of Leave Law Behind began in 2004, when I myself left the law for good. And it started to really take shape in earnest in the summer of 2009, when I was asked by the career services office of my alma mater, UC Hastings, to participate in a speakers series around “alternative legal careers”.
2009 was deep in the recession, and what I thought would be a lightly attended affair turned out to be an almost packed room. To prepare, I had put together a short slide presentation called “Leave Law Behind” (my wife’s idea). I spoke of the issues that caused me to want to leave the law, the ways I built up my personal courage to do so, how I actually took that first step and my exploration of my own Unique Genius. I gave some pointers and ideas of next steps. I spoke with people one-on-one for almost an hour afterwards. The pain and anxiety and desire to leave the law were palpable in that room. I knew there was a need here, and I wanted to help. Leave Law Behind was born.
My friend, Dan Lukasik, who runs the Lawyers with Depression website, asked me to post some information on his up-coming webinar “Getting Work Done While Depressed”, coming up on Friday, February 7th, 2014 at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Here is more from Dan.
If you’re a lawyer that struggles with depression, you’re not alone. Studies show that lawyers suffer from depression at a rate twice (20%) that of the general population. When put in perspective, that means that 240,000 of this country’s 1.2 million lawyers are struggling with depression right now.
These findings are not about sadness, the blues or even burnout, but true clinical depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, to be diagnosed with major depression by a health care professional you need to have some of the following symptoms most of the day, every day:
Feelings of sadness, emptiness or unhappiness
Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities, such as sex
Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
Tiredness or lack of energy,
It’s courageous to admit to ourselves that we may want to leave the law, that we’re not happy continuing as a practicing attorney. It is a sign that we have the ability to know ourselves, that we aspire for more than we are currently achieving, that we are strong enough to take on new challenges.
It’s the first step most of take in our journey to leave the law.
The second step is where we sabotage ourselves. Since we’re so desperate to leave our law job, since we’re so excited about the opportunity to do something else, since we’re on a high that we’ve had our “aha” moment, we want to act. And so we then begin to think of, dream about and comb indeed.com for actual new jobs.
It’s understandable. A new job is exciting, a new job holds promise, a new job will provide us a new version of the self-identity we’re desperately short of, a new job will validate our need for change, a new job will set us free.
But it actually won’t … at least not yet. And here’s why:
While we are excited to leave the law behind, most of us only want to do so if we can guarantee one thing: We leave the law perfectly.
We want to make no mistakes. We want to guarantee our path to freedom. We will boldly steer from our current course … as long as we know we’re going in the exactly correct direction.
We lawyers play it safe and try to be perfect. In law school, we competed against real smart classmates and faced a steep grading curve and battled to get an OCI interview. For our clients, we regularly advise of worst-case scenarios and assist with risk management and are taught how to identify and avoid issues and concerns. And in our personal lives, we look for job security and dependable career paths and well-respected firms.
Many of us are always keeping score and we always want to score high. As such, we attorneys often aren’t inclined to try something new.
And to drill into this further, we do not try something new (like leaving the law or trying something new within the law) because we realize that we may not succeed at it.
Leave Law Behind is a blog and community where we support each and share ideas of how we can leave the law. As I mentioned in a recent comment to a reader, that’s because many of us have realized that we do not want to be lawyers any longer. For many of us it was a mistake to go to law school in the first place. For many of us, our skill set is not in alignment with the role’s requirements.
Many of us are not confident in what it takes to be a lawyer. Many of us are not capable in, nor do we enjoy, managing the anxiety and responsibilities and duties that being a lawyer requires. And our working environment in reality does not allow us to find or create paths to lead a career in law that we would like. And the legal jobs that we might enjoy are few and far between, or we feel intimidated even applying to them. In short, for us, the law isn’t fun, it won’t ever be, and we need to change.
But what if all of this talk about leaving the law actually isn’t right for you?
There is a lot that goes into leaving the law. You need to get a handle on your financial situation. You need to lessen your fears of the unknown. You need to explore your skills and strengths in order to inform what job and role you are best suited for. You need to get over your personal identity being solely tied to “lawyer”. And you need to network and meet people and create opportunities that fit your particular skill set and enjoyments.
It’s admittedly a lot to do, and can seem overwhelming. But there is a tangible structure to it, and babysteps to take, that mitigate the over-whelmingness and enable you to build confidence and momentum as you begin to see results.
But there is an intangible factor to leaving the law that is equally, if not more, essential.
Attitude. Your attitude. How you think and feel.
I know, I know – you hear it everywhere. From self development gurus, from Tony Robbins, from the Secret, from that annoyingly happy barista at Starbucks, from the law school friend who made partner in what seems like no time,
Many of us have problems. Issues. Troubling tasks we should meet head on.
One of the biggest problems for many of us is the ever increasing dissatisfaction we have with the practice of the law. The hours are just too much. The career path is unclear. The work is boring. The work is too combative. The drive for more and more billable hours is too demanding.
The barriers to solving these problems
But we run into so many barriers when we even think about leaving the law.
We’re stuck. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know where to start. We are in such control in our professional lives. We provide rock solid advice to our clients each day, but when it comes to ourselves … we sometimes feel helpless. And we don’t like that feeling.
We’re ashamed. We feel guilty that we want to leave law. We don’t want to tell anyone that we want to leave. We fear they’ll say, For god’s sake, you’re an attorney! You make a lot of money and have a cush white collar job.
As many of you know, there is a structure to leaving the law: First, get your finances in order; second, get over your need to continue doing law for the sake of doing law; third, explore your Unique Genius; fourth, continue to face and mitigate your ongoing fears; and fifth, get out there and meet people and have coffees and create opportunities.
But sometimes even this structure can be daunting. Great Casey, thanks for outline, you may say, but what I really need is to just get started in some way. You just need to build some momentum, any momentum. You just need to move forward and see some results. You just need some way to get started.
That is where baby steps come in. The “baby step” is the basis of leaving law behind. The baby step is so essential because leaving the law can be so difficult and overpowering and murky. Leaving the law takes internal exploration, courageous action, and consistent follow up. It involves battling self-doubt, experimenting with ideas and creating opportunities.
As many of you may know by now, Leave Law Behind was featured in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal online (WSJ subscribers can read it here, or scroll down below for the full article).
It was very exciting and gratifying to be interviewed. It also was very validating and comforting to know that a major news outlet tried to shed some light on one of the greatest challenges we lawyers looking to leave the law face: How best to turn our “legal skills” into more transferable and expansive “attractive professional skills”.
In addition to finding ways to re-position our resume, we also face the challenge of convincing others in our lives that we are unhappy with our job and life as a lawyer, and that we need a change. Many people we surround ourselves with (family, friends, work colleagues) think we have it all and admire our status as an attorney and think we’re crazy (and possibly entitled and spoiled) to even want more in life. Sometimes they get mean when we aspire for more. Other times they imply we have wasted time in law school and in practice. And some times they just don’t help out at all.