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 guest post was written by a Leave Law Behind reader, who was formerly of BigLaw and moved into technology. I hope you enjoy!
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.
I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I saw the Bloukrans Bridge for the first time and gazed down to the sleepy river below 708 feet,
One major theme in the feedback from the last post on Leave Law Behind is a sense of loss and confusion of how to even get started in leaving the law.
This is mainly because some of us have already tried to leave law. And it didn’t go well.
Some real life hurdles we face when we try to leave the law
We have sent out resumes to non-legal jobs … we have even scored an interview for some roles … but the hiring manager didn’t like us … or thought we would want too high a salary … or thought we only had legal experience, and not enough business experience … or they didn’t know how to view our skills … or we didn’t really know how to pitch ourselves … or we just lacked confidence throughout it all and it showed …
And we are frustrated. These hiring managers didn’t appreciate how well known our law firm was. They didn’t seem to care how highly ranked our law school was. They didn’t know how hard it was to make law review.
I spoke with some of the winners of last week’s post contest – they carved out time in their schedule to leave the law, sent me a picture of it on their calendar and we spent 30 minutes on the phone discussing whatever was top of mind for them. It was great.
Some were long time, active readers of the leave law behind, so they were familiar with what we discuss here.
They get the idea of planning properly to leave the law.
They knew and had spent time exploring their skills and strengths and enjoyments of their Unique Genius.
They had begun to face their fears of leaving.
They knew that ultimately they would have to “get out there” and begin speaking with people about jobs that may align with their Unique Genius.
They want to leave. They have the desire to act. They understood the process.
We talk ourselves out of it
But invariably, they also talked themselves out of leaving. As their momentum to leave grew, they would begin to riff on one of the below points,
What’s keeping us from leaving the law?
I know, I know … we have a lot to do. We’re not sure where to start. We don’t want to tell anyone we’re unhappy. We don’t know of any jobs that pay as much as we make now. We don’t know who outside of the law would hire us. We have no time. It’s a lot of work.
These, and many others, are the hurdles we face to not take action to leave the law. We have the motivation and the desire and the aspiration to leave … but not the drive to actually act.
We feel this way because we view leaving the law as a chore. An obligation. A necessary evil. Something not fun. Something we have to do.
But it becomes a lot easier to act when we look at leaving not as “we have to” but rather as “we get to”.
Thinking that “we get to” leave the law means it’s an opportunity to change our life. It means we can regain a level of control over what we do day to day in a way we have not experienced in a long time.
It’s the end of December, and many of us are making new year’s resolutions for 2015.
Carrying through with these resolutions, however, can be difficult. This happens because they can be too demanding, unrealistic or vague. By the end of January, our discipline often wanes.
And if we specifically aspire to leave law behind in 2015, I would suggest that we take a small baby step and consider one resolution. Just one.
The resolution I would recommend us to follow is to, in no uncertain terms, speak and think about ourselves in a positive, proud, self-respecting and appreciative way.
The most important goal we can make for 2015 is to celebrate ourselves.
Let’s mitigate the fear-and-doubt narrative we perpetuate each day.
What does this really mean?
This does not mean we are being boastful or arrogant. It does not mean we are being touch-feely. It does not mean we are thinking positive just for the sake of thinking positive.
No, this means something completely different. It means we begin to move our mind away from focusing on all we lack,
Quitting your job as a lawyer is hard. No one should ever tell you otherwise.
As an associate at a law firm, you have a stable career and an almost bullet proof trajectory to making six figures each year. Despite the freak-outs you may have about whether or not this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, the money is good enough for you to live comfortably and pay off your student loans.
Being a lawyer is justifiable. Being a lawyer is rational.
So why would anyone want to leave the law for a startup?
Those of us that leave the law to join a startup have an intense desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to innovative, push the edge, hate following precedent, and we function extremely well in chaotic environments.
Here are 5 reasons why lawyers leave the law to join a startup
1) Your passion lies outside the law
You can always tell what someone is really passionate about by what they do during their spare time.
When Casey asked me to write a guest post, I thought it might be good to critically think about what is driving you to explore leaving the law. Before declaring to the world that you’re ready to leave law, it’s worth confirming whether you’re actually ready or if you’re just expressing frustration with your current situation.
While the latter is definitely the first step (and an important one), here are 5 things to consider to determine if you’re really ready.
1. Is your financial house in order yet?
Obviously, first things first, have some savings.
However, coming in as a very close second: consider your expenses.
Many of us make the mistake of increasing our standard of living each time our salaries rise. We justify this by saying, “I work hard. Why shouldn’t I treat myself?”
I’m definitely not suggesting becoming a monk, but if you’re serious about leaving, the best way to prepare is find ways to increase the space between your paycheck and your expenses.
The reality is that most jobs will pay less than half of what you’re earning as a lawyer (especially early on).
I take the subway to my office each morning. In San Francisco, public transportation is called the MUNI. I catch my MUNI train at the West Portal Station and ride underground to the Embarcadero.
Usually it’s uneventful. Trains run (fairly) on time and it gets you where you need to go.
And then there are the days when things don’t go so right. Trains are late. An accident happens. Every car that comes through is packed and you have to wait for the next one. Maybe you do catch your train, but it’s a herky-jerky, uncomfortable ride. The drivers don’t seem to care at all.
And then there are the (very infrequent) rides that are really kind of different and even enlightening.
Last week I took a T train downtown, and all the way from West Portal to Forest Hill to Castro to Church to Van Ness to Civic Center to Powell to Montgomery and then to Embarcadero. It was one of the nicest subway rides I have ever had.
It was the driver who made it nice. I couldn’t see his face,
When Casey asked me to write a blog for Leave Law Behind, I asked myself what would be most helpful to the LLB community. Having interviewed hundreds of former lawyers, and profiling 30 of them in my book, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have, I thought it might be helpful to offer some specific, practical, realistic advice on how to leave the law for a more rewarding career. I hope these guidelines will help get you through what is rarely a simple or straightforward process.
First, let me tell you a bit about me. In 2009, I was a partner in an international law firm and had been in private practice for a dozen years. Although I enjoyed law at first, as my 20s became my 30s, I found litigation more and more draining. It took having my daughter for me to finally take a somewhat blind leap out of my firm. Despite being miserably sleep-deprived, my maternity leave was the most fun I had had in years. As I developed my new career after a few false starts, I learned so much from interesting ex-lawyers all over the country that I decided to write the book I wished I had had when I was trying,