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,
Annie Little, a blogger and writer at Attorney at Work, asked me and a number of other lawyers and bloggers to write about numerous topics on the law and alternative careers to the law. Annie had me focus on the question “How valuable is your law degree“.
For the most part, the value of a law degree is often determined in relation to what it can get us practicing lawyers.
Some are very tangible and measurable: A clerkship. A BigLaw job. A high salary. A career path.
Others are more intangible: Stature. Ego. Self-Worth. Exclusivity.
But when we leave the law behind, and stop practicing, the value of a law degree in a world of non-lawyers may be no less important. But the value can just be a bit more difficult for us to ascertain.
In a world of non-lawyers, having a law degree means we’re smart. Really … no fooling. Non-lawyers perceive lawyers as being smart and intelligent. And if you wear glasses, that only increases your smarts quotient.
In a world of non-lawyers,
We are unhappy as lawyers now. We’re just not clicking in life as much as we’d like to. We’re in a funk. We are not as optimistic as we want to be. We’re wondering where all of our potential went.
I have had and still have a lot of moments like this. Self doubt, anxiety, malaise, fear. I wonder how I got to this place. I wonder if I still have more time to “make it”. I wonder why everyone else seems to have it all figured out. I wonder why I’m not as happy as I thought I’d be. This isn’t how it was supposed to be!
And then my thoughts invariably creep back to law school, and I invariably come to the same conclusion, that this unhappiness must in large part stem from my decision to go to law school.
Law school wasn’t the best moment for me. While some of us may have liked and excelled in law school and while some of us may be lukewarm about it, I can’t say it was my best time. I floundered. I lost confidence.
For many of us, no matter how unhappy we are as an attorney, or how little hope we have, or how much confidence we lack, or how little satisfaction we get, we still can’t leave the law. And we can’t leave the law due in large part to our past investment in law school.
Law school was such a big commitment in our lives. It was a long, serious portion of our lives. It was an expensive portion of our lives (which we may still be paying off). It was a defining moment in our lives.
And we want a return on this investment and commitment. We want to prove that we did the right thing. We don’t want to admit that the time prepping for the LAST, and those three years of going to law school, and the time spent prepping for the Bar was some kind of mistake.
But it might have been. It just might have been. If we’re unhappy practicing law and we want to leave, then, yes, in hindsight, going to law school might not have been the right thing for us to do.
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?
This article originally appeared on Above the Law.
As we discussed in the first article of this series, through Leave Law Behind, I work with many intelligent attorneys who nonetheless are unhappy and want to leave the law behind and do something else. They want to change their life and their work and their focus with the goal to be more satisfied, more confident and happier.
I tell them the first step in leaving the law behind involves getting a handle on their money situation; to become as confident and exact as possible in understanding (i) their expenses, as well as any (ii) safety net and other sources of financial support they can call upon if needed.
The second step in leaving law behind? Before getting one’s resume ready or applying for jobs or networking, the second step often involves getting over law school. Or in other words . . . cutting your losses. Or to be more blunt: Move on. Stop living in the past. Stop thinking you need to eke out more of a return on your law school investment. Focus on the road ahead.
Yesterday I was interviewed by Beryl and Mel, the founders of Wired for Success, a UK based videoblog. We had a great conversation, and a few of the topics we discussed include:
– The five main steps in leaving the law
– Why it takes a long time to leave the law . . . and why that’s a good thing
– The reasons that led me to law school, and the reasons that led me to leave the law
– Why we all suffer from that confidence knocking demon voice in our heads, and how to not let it get us too down
– Why a serious look at your personal money situation will actually make you more confident and motivated
When you have some time, head on over to Wired for Success and watch the interview. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly to discuss any ideas you may have.
I hope it motivates you to take a baby step today.
I was on a Twitter chat on Tuesday run by Alison Monahan with a number of thought leaders in the field (Jennifer Alvey, Heather Jarvis, Katie Slater, Ms. JD and others) discussing the topic of whether in today’s economy law school is still worth the investment of time and money.
Through the wide ranging conversation, we began to discuss what skills it takes to make it in the workplace, either in law or outside of law, and Katie Slater (former BigLaw finance lawyer and now coach who helps lawyers discover the next level in their careers) reiterated a great point: Law school is not necessarily a place of skill acquisition. Rather this is done by actually practicing law in the workplace.
It can be easy for us to expound on the skills we learned in law school: Analytical skills, issue spotting, writing skills, persuasion, interview abilities, and on and on. But we all know that we were not able to apply these with any regularity or professional focus until we actually began working as lawyers. And once we began working,
Once we have determined that leaving the law is for us (click here for the first step), the greatest danger is sabotaging our enthusiasm before we can even begin to leave. As we pump ourselves up about the potential for new opportunities and satisfaction and happiness and money in our future, we can often get bogged down in thinking about the past . . . in particular, in thinking about our investment in law school and our long standing identity as a lawyer.
Let’s first begin with law school. We went there. We studied. We got through it (somehow). We spent a lot of time and effort and money to gain that JD. Throw in the Barbri courses and the anxiety over the bar exam and now our yearly bar dues and it’s easy to see that we have invested a lot. Makes us think . . . I’d hate for all of that to go to waste. Makes us think . . . Well . . . maybe we should just stick with this law thing after all.
Next, our identity as a lawyer. Being a lawyer still carries a certain status.
Many of us who consider leaving the law feel that we may have lost our way. We feel like we’re just in a weird stage. We often look around and wonder if this is it. We don’t think we’re as cool any longer. We wonder if we’re doing the right thing.
To take this further, some of us now think that our window of time may be expiring. That the clock of our final countdown is ticking fast. It could be a particular birthday on the horizon. It could be falling short in a recent comparison with our (ostensibly) successful friends. It could be just this general, vague, foggy feeling that we’re not living up to what we thought we would accomplish.
If we’re not a partner yet, we think we should have been made partner by now. If we’re not an equity partner yet, we think we should have been made equity partner by now. If we are an equity partner . . . we wonder why we are still unhappy.
This problem will persist so long as we continue to stick to outdated, unrelated plans. Many unhappy attorneys judge their success based on what their friends think is success or what their family thinks is success or on what they themselves thought success should be .