I shot this short video for you (it’s less than 3 minutes long) describing the best advice for leaving the law …
… and if you prefer reading, I jotted below some of the points I talk about in the video.
Recently my family and I attended a fantastic free science fair event at the baseball stadium at which the San Francisco Giants play.
We were part of a group of thousands of people on a sunny Saturday, getting to not only play and run around on the baseball diamond, but also to participate in tons of science experiments and activities set up on the field and throughout the stadium: Local companies, museums, science institutes and non-profits set up tents and stands educating us all about insects, chemical reactions, robotics, the environment, physics, curing diseases, traveling to Mars and more.
The best advice
One of the participatory exhibits about gravity encouraged my daughter and me to hook a small “ship” made of wooden popsicle sticks powered by a rubber band wound propeller to a thin plastic zip line a few feet off the ground and watch it go.
I came home one evening this week after work and was eagerly greeted at the door by our dog. My wife and kids were out of town, and our dog had been home alone for a while, and she wanted to get outside.
Let me first tell you something about our dog: she’s a big 72 pounds, a Golden Labradoodle we rescued from the SPCA, is the sweetest thing alive and has tons of energy. Tons of energy. All she wants to do is run, sniff something, go to the bathroom, and then run and run and run more and more and more.
I do love her energy. And it’s actually been a forcing factor in getting me to run more. Almost every day, we jog our neighborhood loop in the morning, and then again in the evening. When she sees me walking towards the closet where I keep my running shoes, she knows it’s jogging time.
But this evening I did not feel like running. I was tired. I was hungry. And I was nursing a sprained ankle from my Sunday basketball game. There was no way I could run. I would only be able to walk her.
Right now, what value do we (unhappy, disgruntled) attorneys provide?
A lot actually.
We have specific knowledge (case law, what a client can do, what a client cannot do), we provide strategy (how to approach and navigate a case, what damages to ask for, how to best negotiate), and we ensure execution (getting documents drafted and finalized). And on and on.
People (partners and clients primarily) value all of this that we do.
Partners value it because the client has paid them to get all of this done and if they didn’t have us to do it all, they would have to find time to do it, or not be able to do it at all (and then have to forfeit the client’s money).
The client values all of this that we do because they need all of this for some important reason (to grow their business or personal situation, to protect their business or personal situation, to plan for the future, etc.)
And because we provide value for doing all of this, we are paid by the partners (from the client’s money) for the time it takes to do all of this.
One of the biggest hurdles we face in leaving the law is money.
Some of us make a lot of money as attorneys. Some of us do okay, and are able to pay our bills and our student loans and get by. And others of us are out of a job, or jumping from contract gig to contract gig, and money is a major source of our anxiety.
And whatever the case may be, we are unhappy or dissatisfied or out of sorts and want to leave the law but we feel that we can never make enough money if we were to leave and take a non-law job.
What we really make
According to the New York Times, first year BigLaw associates make around $160,000 a year.
According to CNN.com, most of the rest of us make $62,000 a year.
And in conversations with many of you, the salary figures are all across the board.
And so are our expenses – we have student loans of $100,000 to $200,000, mortgage, rent, kids’ college tuition, car loans,
Last week, we discussed why we unhappy, dissatisfied attorneys need to forgive ourselves for all of the things for which we had previously been hard on ourselves.
Our true self is not to be unhappy. Our true self is to be happy and full of self worth using our skills and strengths to add value to others.
It sounds great. And it is really true.
Now let’s act
And we also need to act. We all need to put things in motion, we all need to visualize, we all need to manifest … in order to bring about this true self.
It’s not necessarily hard work. It’s not necessarily work that’ll take forever.
But it is work that takes action … incremental, confidence-building action.
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.
I began law school in the Fall of 1996 here in San Francisco.
Around that same time here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Netscape went public (1995), Yahoo was founded and began hiring (1995), and Google was founded and began hiring (1998).
I can’t tell you how many times I have thought to myself why in the heck did I go to law school when I could have gotten a job, any job, any entry level job (and stock options) in one of these companies and made my riches by the time I was 27.
Like many of us lawyers who strive for perfection I was very hard on myself for not excelling in this thing called life. I would rip my insides up, compare myself to others who did “make it” and wish I had taken another path in life that didn’t involve going to law school.
But I don’t think this way any longer.
I forgave myself
I don’t think this way any longer because I forgave myself.
More specifically, I let go of feelings of resentment I had towards myself for things I had done,
While many of us want to leave the law altogether, some of us still want to consider finding a way to practice the law in a non-traditional, temporary, or part time way.
Those of us who are Moms and Dads want to know how to do this in order to be more present with their children. Those of us who are sick or disabled want to know how to do this in order to find ways to work that meet our special needs. Those of us who are just burnt out with the BigLaw lifestyle and want to leave the law want to know how to do this as a way to segue out of the law without losing a steady stream of income.
But for many of us, there has never been a real good fit between what we are looking for in an attorney job and lifestyle and what the current set of firms and organizations out there provide.
This is changing.
There are now many more alternatives. To help us understand the new companies and entities that are popping up to provide lawyers and clients with a new way to do and receive legal work,
As I’ve written about before, my five year old son is devoted to one thing in his life right now … Star Wars Legos toys.
These Lego sets and ships he entertains himself with on his play table (and that I help construct) are not that simple to complete. That’s why Lego provides a detailed set of instructions for each ship. These instructions can run over 60 pages and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours to complete. The instructions help turn a disparate set of multi-colored pieces into a gleaming, proportioned, fully integrated Lego toy to admire and play with.
It can be a lot of hard work following those instructions to the detail. I feel so accomplished and productive when I’m done.
So recently, I was a bit startled when I saw that my son had partially deconstructed and adapted what I had worked so hard to build, into some crazy, cockamamie ships and sets.
He added Gunguns to the Wookie Gunship. He moved around the trees of the Ewok Village. He had Luke and Anakin both flying in the Interceptor with red (and not the standard green) missiles.
My son is five years old and this year he discovered Star Wars.
And the main way he enjoys Star Wars is through playing with his Star Wars Lego toys.
The Ewok Attack set. The Battle on Saleucami set. The Phantom ship. The Jedi Interceptor. He loves ‘em.
And he’s actually pretty good at building them. It can be tough for a young child to fit the pieces together, and he’s gotten a lot better. He can fit the feet of figures on the Lego pieces so they stand upright, he can get the small red lights to fit on the end of the blaster guns, and he can get the spears to fit in the Gungan hands.
But some pieces still give him trouble, and one in particular bedeviled him tonight: he just couldn’t get that arm piece, with that rounded knob, to fit back into the socket of the figure’s torso.
I wanted him so badly to do it on his own. I wanted the full strength of his fine motor skills to kick in,
Last week, I publicly declared that I was a writer.
And guess what? The world didn’t end. I wasn’t ridiculed. No one said I was arrogant or pompous or simply mistaken.
In fact, I received a lot of supportive emails. I received a lot of emails from attorneys saying they felt like they were writers too. I received a lot of emails from our community telling me that they were many things other than a lawyer.
Looking back, while I veered away from doing my creative writing while in law school, it was actually during law school that I came across a fantastic magazine that at least kept my love for creative writing alive: The Sun.
This isn’t the UK tabloid newspaper. The Sun is an independent, monthly, magazine full of personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs. And each issue has a whole section dedicated to short writings from its readers. They describe themselves as “an independent, ad-free magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to evoke the splendor and heartache of being human.”
And the Sun is now hiring.