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.
Many of us are sad and dismayed about how little our law degree is ostensibly doing for us nowadays. Current law students see the depressing job market and wonder how they will ever pay off their student loans once they graduate. Recent graduates either battle with unemployment or jump from contract job to contract job. Many young as well as seasoned attorneys have that job … but they aren’t happy with it, and wonder “How did I get here?”
And many of us kick ourselves for even going to law school. We rip ourselves up for the decision. In hindsight, we feel that we should have gone for an MBA or taken that job in finance or explored what was happening in Silicon Valley. Or we should have just followed our passion and been an artist or a writer or a teacher (or bartender).
Many of us aren’t happy, and we specifically aren’t happy with our decision to go to law school.
It is true that a good number of us didn’t think that critically about why we wanted to go to law school. We just took the LSAT and applied and then got accepted and we … went.
Unfortunately, leaving the law starts out as a very lonely endeavor. It can be difficult to find others who have done it successfully to serve as role models or sounding boards. It is extremely hard to map out a structure and set of steps to follow successfully. It is not easy to forecast and prepare yourself financially for the potential unknowns.
And your current network of attorney friends, co-workers, colleagues and family will likely be of little or no help. Many attorneys are surrounded by other attorneys. We don’t often plan it this way, but the people we gravitate to, the people we mingle with, the people we (of course) work with and the people we just find in our network are often predominantly attorneys.
And while these people may be fantastic and close to you and care about you deeply, when you want to leave the law, this huge, solid, connected, professional, intelligent, dynamic network is often of little use, because this network of mainly attorneys may not be able to understand or connect to or relate to or open up about why you would want to leave this reality that they have built for themselves.
Being the toughest helps us in our job as a lawyer. We need to negotiate for our client. We need to posture and stand our ground in order to gain concessions from the other side.
Being the smartest helps us in our job as a lawyer. We want others to think we know it all, so they’ll defer to us, hire us or send us referrals.
Being self-sufficient helps us in our job as a lawyer. While we can look to other colleagues for help, we often don’t. We just end up doing it ourselves, to show the partners in the firm that we can get the job done.
While being tough, smart and self-sufficient may be necessary in order to practice the law, these characteristics are often detrimental in order to leave it. To leave law behind, we need to flip our normal train of thought on its head and do the one thing as lawyers we may often never do: Ask for help.
What does it mean to ask for help? It can mean a lot of things, but at its core, it means showing that you are vulnerable. This does not mean being “weak”
I remember the exact moment I realized I wasn’t happy practicing law. I was sitting in my office on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for the phone to ring. The partner I worked for had made it a habit to ask me to come to the office on weekends and wait for him to call. It was a very nice and spacious office above the 30th floor, with a view of downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River. The visitors’ chairs were nicer than any chair in my parents’ house in Brooklyn or any chair I could have afforded before or after going to law school. The large wood desk conveyed prestige and expertise. The bookcases contained very impressive leather bound books that I was yet to read. The view of the Freedom Tower construction was spectacular.
It wasn’t easy for me to make it to big law. I wasn’t born in America, my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my law school education, I didn’t go to an Ivy League undergraduate school, and English was not my primary language. I had many excuses I could have made for myself, and many that I did make. Everyone was so proud when little old me,
It’s true that when you see that opportunity, you need to grab it
And it’s also true that good opportunities (real quality occasions to grow and prosper and develop) often present themselves only a handful of times in one’s life.
And it’s also true that these fantastic opportunities don’t just show up out of nowhere. And particularly for an attorney that is unhappy with his or her practice of law, and wants to explore moving into something else, these (mainly) non-legal opportunities that we lawyers are well suited for (the compliance manager with the promising start up, the teaching job at the university, the HR role at the Fortune 500 company, the copy-writing gig with the legal focused publication, the COO role with the marketing firm, the in-house counsel role for the tech enabled services firm, the campaign manager role for the up-and-coming politician, the policy wonk with the think tank, the VP of Biz Dev role with the global manufacturing firm, the consigliore to the C suite, the well-spoken blogger, the detailed SaaS project manager) present themselves after we have done a lot (a lot) of hard, smart, and courageous work.
This work manifests itself in many (very non-sexy,
Most likely, you did. As did law school, your legal training, and the social mores of the industry.
But don’t despair, it can be revived. I have proof.
Two weeks ago I attended and spoke at the Catapult 2013 conference in San Francisco. It was held by the remarkable Alison Monahan and Lee Burgess of the Law School Toolbox and Girl’s Guide to Law School. (I encourage you to sign up at catapult2013.com for future events they put on). The conference was focused on empowering law students and young lawyers to take control of their careers and think creatively about the future … right up our alley!
One the most interesting panels consisted of practicing lawyers who actually (believe it or not) currently enjoy their job. The panel was so insightful because each shared how long it took, and how much trial and error and experiences and mistakes they had to go through, until they found or landed in the law job they currently like. Many discussed how they pursued and worked in one area of law (litigation or patent law) because they thought it would be a good fit,
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by a current technology transactions attorney and first time guest blogger on Leave Law Behind. Here, he tells us how and why identifying a specific reason that he wants to leave law behind has been helpful in his transition.]
In my journey to leave law behind, it has been helpful to identify and constantly remind myself of the concrete reasons why I want to leave. Of a few that I’ve been able to ascertain, one obvious example is a mismatch of my personal values with those of most in the legal profession.
I parted ways with a small boutique law firm a while back. Although I wasn’t fired, the separation was very difficult. For a period of time after I left I placed a lot of the blame on myself and even began to question my competence as a professional.
A few months later I continued to reflect on the situation, still uncomfortable with how things had ended. I recalled that while at the firm we frequently received junk mail for various CLE offerings. The other attorneys would joke about how uninteresting these offerings seemed to them while I got really excited reading the pamphlets and thinking about learning something completely new and different.
Sunday night anxiety, that dread of Monday and the upcoming workweek that infects so many workers, actually comes early for many of us lawyers. Many of us lawyers work on Sundays. We go to the office because there is so much work to do, so many in-boxes to clean up, so many hours to be billed, so many partners to impress, so much rainmaking to do. So Sunday night anxiety for us lawyers actually could be renamed Saturday night anxiety. Or Saturday morning anxiety.
One client of mine told me that the best part of her weekend was Friday late afternoon. The week was winding down, most people had already checked out for the weekend and a calm usually came over her office and the whole downtown. But she could never enjoy her Saturdays because (you guessed it) Sunday was just another work day.
While it may take a while and a lot of hard work and a re-crafting of yourself and your profession to get to a point where you don’t have to work Sundays, you can use your Sunday work days to help you leave law behind. Here’s some simple ways how: