I’m always on the lookout for stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of people first realizing they want to do something different to those people who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.
Here is the story of Sheila Agnew, a Leave Law Behind reader, former family law attorney and now published author. She has a compelling life story, of leaving the law … going back to it … and now finding her Unique Genius as a writer. I hope you enjoy.
In 2003 I was a new, lateral, commercial litigation associate at a fairly small firm in downtown Manhattan. On my first Tuesday morning, a senior partner stepped into my office:
“Welcome to the firm Susan. How are you getting on?”
“Fine,” I said.
I didn’t point out that my name wasn’t Susan. I didn’t care enough to bother.
“Wonderful,” he boomed, “we’re quiet in commercial litigation at the moment but there’s lots of work for you in matrimonial litigation. There’s a case going to trial in a few weeks.”
It was not my dream as a little girl to grow up to be a divorce lawyer.
I love hearing stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of people first realizing they want to do something different to those people who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.
Lately I’ve received a lot of emails from younger attorneys, maybe just a year or two out of law school, who already know they want to do something else, but have no idea of what to do next.
Here is the story of West Kraemer, a Leave Law Behind reader, Florida attorney and recent ex-lawyer and newly minted programer and entrepreneur. He has some personal experiences I think you’ll find very interesting and actionable.
I left law behind to become a programmer, making websites and pursuing my dream of one day becoming an independent entrepreneur.
There are a few lessons I took from my transition that I would like to share, which would have smoothed my transition had I known them at the beginning of this process. I hope these lessons can help your transition go as efficiently as possible as you begin your process of leaving the law as well.
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.
This week, I am very excited to have former BigLaw attorney now author Amy Impellizzeri come by Leave Law Behind to answer a few questions that seem to always come up for many of us looking to leave the law.
And Amy is perfectly positioned to help us out. Amy practiced for thirteen years as a corporate litigator at Skadden Arps in New York City. She left the law, became a start-up executive and now is a full time author.
Her most recent book is a non-fiction piece, Lawyer Interrupted, published through the American Bar Association. I was honored to be interviewed by Amy for the book, along with others in the space like Liz Brown and Marc Luber. It’s an extremely informative, well written and entertaining description of what it takes to leave the law (buy the book).
So, without further ado, let’s ask Amy some of our pressing questions!
How can an unhappy attorney “give up” all they worked on to become an attorney (law school,
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.
It was in the garage on a recent Saturday that I was reminded of what I want to be in life.
As my wife and I tried to package items to give away or throw away, and as our kids scoured the shelves and bins for old toys they had forgotten but now wanted to (all of sudden desperately) play with again, my daughter came across a box full of papers.
The box held school work and essays and projects I had completed in grade school, that my parents had saved (and given to me when they recently cleaned out their garage!)
One essay was from fifth grade. 1985. The assignment was to write a script for a radio show in which an historical figure is interviewed. We students had to set the stage, create the characters for the show and weave in the narrative of the historical figure’s life.
I chose Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant. I got an A. It was pretty good (even if my handwriting was pretty bad).
My eight year old daughter picked up the report, turned the pages,
“If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap. If you want happiness for a day—go fishing. If you want happiness for a month—get married. If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime—help others.”
– Chinese proverb
I received an email from a reader last week. The subject line read “Thank you”. She wrote in to tell me that ever since law school she knew the law wasn’t for her. She did not enjoy law school, but nonetheless still finished. And she has been miserable in her few years practicing. She did not like the work of being a lawyer and she and her boss did not connect in a meaningful way.
So she just quit. Gave notice. Gone.
And she spent that day reading Leave Law Behind and it has calmed her down and let her know she wasn’t alone and made her feel like a real live person again and she wanted to thank me for that.
I have received many emails like this over the years.
The issue many of us run into when attempting leave the law is we have no idea where to begin.
By its nature, leaving the law is kind of a formless, unstructured exercise.
Sure, there is precedent of some kind in that other lawyers have left the law and we can read their stories.
But even though their stories may be inspiring, it still can be so difficult to muster the courage or find the motivation or suffer the desperation that these (now ex-) lawyers faced. Each of our situations is still unique.
And then besides just finding which step to take first, we are held back by so much more: Managing the weight of our student debt, our (sometimes) tortured relationship with money, the fear of relinquishing our identity as a lawyer, finding the time in our busy week to devote to identifying our Unique Genius, or dealing with the doubters in our life who don’t understand how an esteemed lawyer could ever be unhappy.
So we don’t do anything.
We may google “alternatives to legal career” or “non-law jobs for lawyers” or “how to leave law”,
The following post was written by Leave Law Behind reader, Chris Jones, formerly of Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft and now VP of Content for AppointmentCore, a scheduling automation software company.
Take it away Chris …
Every year, I try to do something that scares me.
In 2011, that meant jumping off the world’s highest bungee bridge in South Africa.
In 2012, I put on a parachute and jumped out of a plane.
In 2013, feeling that my fear of heights was more or less conquered, I turned inward and focused on something that’s always been scary: saying no.
Last year, in 2014, I confronted my fear of vulnerability and performed 10 minutes of standup comedy.
This year’s challenge was something just as scary and just as rewarding: leaving the law behind. While each of these personal challenges of the past five years presented a new fear and a new opportunity for growth, both bungee jumping and leaving BigLaw especially reinforced my understanding that fear is illusory and that big challenges can only be conquered through small steps toward a goal.