Hey Self, it’s Yourself from 2022.
I know this may seem a little spooky to hear from your future self, but I wanted to let you know that this whole “leave the law” thing really has worked out. We are doing really well right now in our alternative, non-law job. We can’t even believe it’s happening.
Well, we can believe it. Because, we’re living it. It’s been 4 years since you decided to leave the law in 2018 and we wanted to write you this short note to say thank you for the courage to leave.
Now don’t get me wrong, we are not sitting on a beach all day, all year.
It’s not all roses. We don’t just call it in each day.
We work … we work very hard.
And yes … sometimes we work weekends.
And there are still deadlines, and stress, and office politics, and angry customers.
And we deal with a lot of issues and projects that are new to us, so we’re often initially unclear what is the best first step.
And we have had a steep learning curve,
We attorneys have been taught to control as much of our external surroundings as possible. We (try so hard to) mitigate risk, forecast new revenue, identify issues.
But the only thing we can really, truly, fully control in our life is how we react to things. We can control how we feel and how we act and how we respond to external phenomena.
But we cannot control others … other people, other circumstances, other perceptions.
And to try and control these other things will only continue to frustrate us. And it’s this frustration that makes so many of us so afraid about the prospect of leaving the law. We know there are elements of this leave-the-law process that we cannot fully control.
So we don’t do it.
We convince (trick) ourselves to remain unhappy in a misaligned attorney job that is familiar to us, rather than explore opportunities that, while we can’t tightly control, have the potential for growth and purpose.
We have persuaded ourselves that we have no choice.
There is always something we can do
But it’s far from hopeless.
One of the biggest obstacles we face in leaving the law is that we think it is going to be a lot of hard work to do so.
We fear we won’t be able to do this work … so therefore we don’t do anything. We remain miserable in our job as an attorney, but at least we didn’t add more to our to-do list.
What people who successfully leave the law for non-law, alternative careers begin to understand is that there is a difference between hard work … and inspired action.
We all think we work hard. And you do. You make sacrifices. You work long hours. You exert energy. You force yourself to work hard in order to survive.
But when you force yourself to do something, it’s because you feel you should. Because you feel you have to. You have to survive.
But when you make a commitment to yourself to leave the law, you’ve made a pact with yourself to do more than just survive.
You’ve made commitment to go beyond just working.
You’ve made a commitment to not force things any longer.
It’s Thanksgiving, so we’ve likely been taking this time to (as best we can) be thankful for all we have in our life, and to not dwell on what we don’t have, or what we still want.
This can be very difficult to do.
And it is made only more difficult when we think of how we do not like being a lawyer any more.
How can we possibly be thankful for our law school debt? Or that annoying partner in our firm? Or the anxiety of feeling like we don’t really know the law and that we might be a “fraud”?
The martial artist and philosopher Bruce Lee said “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
Being grateful for what we have is KEY to living a successful, productive, happy life. It’s KEY to leaving the law. Even when things look bleak for us as attorneys, we need to summon the strength to still be appreciative.
I shot a short video to show how we attorneys looking to leave the law can do just that: http://leavelawbehind.com/how-to-be-thankful-for-our-law-school-debt.
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.