I read an article about a panel discussion at the recent International Bar Association conference in Sydney, Australia focused on what happiness means for lawyers.
The speakers discussed how attorneys can measure their happiness in ways beyond the traditional yardsticks of money and job title and professional stature.
One such new measure is “self-actualization”. One panelist explained further:
“Self-actualization is about achieving your potential, becoming what you want to be, making something of yourself.
I encourage people to aspire to something, and sometimes when I ask lawyers: ‘What are your aspirations? What do your aspire to in your practice and in your career?’, sometimes they really give me a funny look because their practice is all about meeting other people’s expectations.
“They actually don’t have any aspirations of their own in their lives, and I think aspiration is a necessary ingredient for happiness and success.”
Looking back on when I was in the law as in-house counsel, I now realize that many of my aspirations were reactive … about just not messing up: not missing an important element in a licensing agreement,
I stayed as an attorney longer than I wanted to, in part because I wanted to make sure I got a return on my investment.
The investment I made in going to law school and becoming a lawyer.
I felt like I would be giving up if I left the law. I felt I would have wasted all this time if I left. I felt the tuition and debt I took on would have been all for naught.
I know that I spent money and time and effort and ego in becoming a lawyer, and you better believe that I wanted to make sure I got the most out of it that I could. I wanted to continue to practice until I saw this return.
Yet all the while, I did nothing, and I wasn’t happy as a practicing attorney.
It was then that I realized the truth … that it is very, very difficult to know with certainty when this return is or will be realized. Every week, attorneys with 20, 25, 30 years of practice write me to tell me how miserable they are. Isn’t that enough time to determine if the investment has panned out?
My 7 year old son and 10 year old daughter are so curious and inquisitive. Exploring, asking, wondering, probing, arguing.
It got me thinking that I have let my curiosity lapse.
Of course, I’m 43 years old and know more than they do.
But this isn’t about me knowing more than my children, so I don’t have to be inquisitive.
Rather, it’s about how we attorneys have been trained to forgo the curiosity that drives our personal creativity and wonder, and replace it with what makes a good lawyer: risk aversion, persuasion, diplomacy, attention to detail.
I encourage you to reactivate your curiosity. It’s key to leaving the law.
That’s what I talk about in today’s video (it’s short, a bit over 4 minutes):
I went back and looked at the work I had done with all of the people that I have helped to leave the law.
They were once in your position, only dreaming of quitting their attorney job, and then we began working together and they transformed their life.
Like the 40 year old mother of two who transitioned from her government litigation role and become the director of Operations at a technology company.
Like the unhappy career BigLaw litigator who shifted careers and become the editor and team leader of an intellectual property periodical.
And what struck me was while all of these unhappy attorneys were diverse in so many ways, there was one particular trait they all developed.
That’s what I talk about in today’s video (it’s short, a tad bit over 3 minutes):
And PS If you stay til the end, you’ll hear a special announcement which can really kick start you to explore leaving the law.
Click here to learn more about how you too can land your first non-law, alternative job: http://leavelawbehind.com/land-alternative-non-law-job-coaching
We’ve accomplished a lot of difficult things in our lives as attorneys.
We scored well on the LSAT.
We passed our law school exams, and then the bar.
We’ve done the hard legal research, we’ve written the lengthy briefs, we’ve drafted the detailed agreements and we’ve argued persuasively against opposing counsel and before judges.
And for many of these tasks, we wished we could have just snapped our fingers and had this work drafted, proofread and completed.
But since there is no magic bullet, we did the next best thing – we tried to get leverage in some way. We got study guides or got the help of a tutor or joined a study group or fired up Lexis or pulled in an associate to help us.
But leaving the law is different. It’s hard to motivate to leave. It’s hard to admit we want to do something else. It’s so hard to change.
How to get leverage to leave the law
Leverage is the use of something else in order to gain the maximum advantage.
It’s why the Phoenician sailors began to use the wind and the Egyptian pyramid builders used levers and pulleys.
This past year, my wife, my 10 year old daughter, my 7 year old son and I dramatically revised our diet. For health and behavior reasons, we changed almost everything about how we eat.
We cut out gluten. We reduced our dairy intake. We drastically lowered our sugar eating and drinking. We cut out as many chemicals and processed food as possible.
Sounds great? Yes. Easy? No way.
Rewards don’t always scale long term
I’m very happy you did not visit our home last fall. The four of us were miserable: We wanted to eat bread. We wanted candy. We wanted to eat our beef jerky.
We had to continually research what we could or couldn’t eat. We had to experiment with new recipes. We had to get used to food that didn’t always taste that good.
And one of the main ways we got through it was incentivizing ourselves with rewards. Don’t eat that food, and you get this such and such prize.
But rewards, and discipline, don’t last that long. They don’t work long term. Our experiment was on shaky ground.
Feeling the benefits
It wasn’t until we moved from rewarding our discipline to focusing on our emotions that this diet change became successful … and easy … and just another (positive) part of our life.
I took Tax Law as a 2L.
I struggled. I was a liberal arts major in undergrad, and was not used to doing problem sets. The professor was renowned, but I was intimidated by him and never went to office hours to improve.
And plus, Tax is just really hard.
I had ignored my homework, so I arrived at school early one morning to get it done before class. I plopped down in a chair at the school cafe, opened up my book, took out the worksheet, and continued to feel totally stumped …
… until I saw a fellow Tax classmate at a nearby table. He sat in the front row, was focused throughout class, answered most questions and was the resident Tax class expert.
He also was a really nice guy. And when I asked him if he had a few minutes to help me with the homework, he happily obliged. He explained the concepts to me clearly and with his help I got them done in less than fifteen minutes.
Wow, I said to him, thank you. If I may ask, how did you get so good at Tax?
We think a lot about leaving the law. But our actions may not match our thoughts, aspirations and hopes.
The good thing is we have our kids around us. Or people that look up to us. Or a conscience that keeps us honest.
These are great forcing factors to help us model the life we really want to live, and not just the life we think we should live, or the life we think others want us to live.
I shot this week’s video to talk to you about how a BigLaw attorney left the law to follow what he enjoys, and how his relationship with his kids really helped push him through his doubts and worries.
Click the below player to watch the video.
I hope you enjoy the video, and please leave your thoughts in the comments below or feel free to contact me directly.
Interested in my one to one coaching? Click here to schedule a free consult to talk to me directly to learn if the Leave Law Behind coaching is a fit for you.
This past weekend my family and I were in the north Boston area for a family event.
Our Saturday was wide open and free. My wife and daughter chose to go on a short road trip with some aunts and uncles to New Hampshire and Maine.
My 6-year-old son and I chose to spend the day at the nearby waterslide park!
Giant whirlpools, body and raft waterslides, a fast paced river tube ride, a basketball hoop in the pool, a water themed obstacle course, hamburgers and fries and ice cream … all cozily contained in a 65,000 square foot, 84 degree indoor biosphere.
It was a blast … so much so that we stayed too long and were late for the family event!
The value this place provides
But amidst all of the fun and noise and chasing and laughing, I did take a moment or two to slow down and be as mindful as I could and observe the scene.
The park’s website said that we would have a “splashtastic” day of “kidfriendly fun”.
That was correct. But I don’t think the owners of this park truly realize the value that their park provided us all:
- Dads and sons were able to bond and be together distraction-free and have fun
- The teenage lifeguards were able to make some side cash and be independent authority figure
- Young children were able to run around freely and safely away from their parents and learn and engage with other kids and on their own
- We were all able to disconnect from our cell phones and quiet our minds and enjoy the moment
- We were all able to run around and burn calories and move our muscles
- We were all able to be around and talk to and play with people of all ethnicities and races
- We were all able to stand under plentiful,
When everything is going very well, it can be surprising to fall into a funk of doubt. But that’s what happened to me recently … and a friend of mine used my own writings to pull me out.
I was speaking with my team here at Leave Law Behind about the work we’ve recently completed: The free Video Mini-Class, the new Online Course, the Ultimate Coaching Program, the new videos we’re producing.
And we discussed all the things we have in store for the future: live events, new products, webinars …
And through all of this excitement, yup, I unfortunately let some cold-blooded doubt creep in.
I thought aloud about how daunting all of this could be. About how I could possibly get all of this done. About whether all of this work would actually help attorneys looking to leave the law. About whether I was the right person to do this.
I further reinforced this doubt with what I thought was some quite irrefutable evidence: I had tried my hand at entrepreneurship in the past, and I had achieved varying levels of success.
So … who was I to think I could really be entrepreneurial again … if I hadn’t been able to fully do it before?