For so long, we were normal. Ever since we could remember, we got good grades. We did well at our extracurricular activities. We had energy, independence, ambition, goals.
We happily did what we were told. We pleased most everyone. We were liked. We moved through life at a nice clip. We had a plan.
And now as practicing attorneys … well … this isn’t always the case. Just like that, we’re kind of now the odd ones out.
We’re not ourselves. Our confidence as an attorney, and as a person, is lacking. Our direction seems off. Our sense of hope is not strong. We may even feel desperate. We’re down.
We’re going a little crazy.
We feel our schedule is no longer our own – we know too well that pit in our stomach when the partner hands us that assignment on a late Friday afternoon.
We feel we’re not good at some essential aspect of our job – we feel that we’re weak negotiators or we really hate to litigate or we’re horrible at managing a trial calendar or we just can’t build up a client base or we just can’t cite case law like we feel we should,
When I speak with a prospective coaching client, I make it a point to discuss in detail how we actually (step by step) leave the law behind.
This is because we often think leaving the law cannot be that easy. We think we can’t do this. We think we can’t excel. We think it won’t actually happen. We think leaving the law must be difficult.
The good news is that it’s not. Leaving the law is not difficult. It just takes a lot of hard work. And it must be done properly. It must be done patiently. It must be planned.
But leaving the law is easy to comprehend. Because there is a structure to it.
Five main steps. All taken gradually. Baby steps. Small, non-sexy, but nonetheless formative baby steps.
The baby step is how we build courage (I can do this). It is how we build motivation (I can do this again and again). And it is how we experiment and try things and successfully fail (Ugh, I actually can’t do this part,
While leaving the law takes a lot (of courage, effort, desire, confidence, momentum, hard work, flexibility, mindfulness) most of all, it takes time. A bunch of it.
And for many of us, time is hard to find.
We have trials to manage. We have court hearings to attend. We have agreements to draft. We have hours to bill. We have new clients to find. We have fires to put out. We have emails to catch up on.
And we have family obligations. We have workouts to complete. We have weekends to enjoy. We have sleep to catch up on. We have dinners to eat. We have children and spouses to love.
And so, understandably, we find it so difficult to get motivated to leave the law … as unhappy as we are in the law, come 3pm in the afternoon or after dinner or on the weekend (if we’re not working Sundays) we are just so tired or overwhelmed or obligated to do other duties that being inspired to act by the 5 Steps to Leave the Law Behind is the furthest thing from our minds.
An amazing thing happens at a certain point with my coaching clients. As we explore our Unique Genius, we begin to get comfortable and more confident with our true skills, and strengths, and with what we really enjoy as a person.
Through our Unique Genius exercises, we of course identify many of the traits we’d associate with being a lawyer (leadership, synthesizing information and issue spotting, negotiating, advocacy and counseling, writing clearly and succinctly). And we also identify many skills and strengths we may knew we had … but may not have actively thought about in a while (kind, loving and trustful, a dependable rock, great personal style, loves computers, full of life).
And as we get comfortable with these real skills and strengths of ours, we then turn our attention to the multitude of jobs and opportunities in this world … beyond the limited litigation and transactional law and academia silos that we know of. And we begin to understand how our skill set fits really well with many of these new non-legal opportunities.
We begin to see that our leadership skills can serve us well as an executive of some kind (CEO,
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.
This blog is almost four years old. The spirit and adventure of Leave Law Behind began in 2004, when I myself left the law for good. And it started to really take shape in earnest in the summer of 2009, when I was asked by the career services office of my alma mater, UC Hastings, to participate in a speakers series around “alternative legal careers”.
2009 was deep in the recession, and what I thought would be a lightly attended affair turned out to be an almost packed room. To prepare, I had put together a short slide presentation called “Leave Law Behind” (my wife’s idea). I spoke of the issues that caused me to want to leave the law, the ways I built up my personal courage to do so, how I actually took that first step and my exploration of my own Unique Genius. I gave some pointers and ideas of next steps. I spoke with people one-on-one for almost an hour afterwards. The pain and anxiety and desire to leave the law were palpable in that room. I knew there was a need here, and I wanted to help. Leave Law Behind was born.
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?
Many of us unhappy attorneys are tired, exhausted and frustrated with the practice of law. We are confused as to how, after all of the work we did in law school, all of the loans we took out, all of the hard work we did as an associate attorney, we now sit 3, 5, 8, 12 or more years in and wonder “I’m not happy. How did this happen?”
So, we decide, yes, we want to leave the law behind and do something else. We want to find another job that pays well, that provides us with meaning and self-worth. And we are encouraged by that oft repeated advice “You can do anything with a law degree.”
And so we begin to think of other things to do, anything. But soon, this optimistic phrase that is supposed to encourage us can actually begin to stress us out. First, it’s human nature, that if we have too many choices, it can be difficult to choose just one. We waffle, we are indecisive, and so instead of relishing the vast opportunity of choices a law degree and legal training put at our disposal, we often times become paralyzed by these potential choices.
As many of you may know, I am a big fan of Mike Dooley. A former international tax consultant with PWC, he’s the mind behind the Notes From the Universe (sent Monday through Friday to almost 500,000 subscribers), was featured in the film and book The Secret, is the New York Times best selling author of Manifesting Change, and is just an all-around good guy full of good energy.
I look forward to the note each morning, as a source of inspiration, laughter and perfectly timed guidance (subscribe here for free). They serve as little nuggets of motivation and always encourage me, in my work, how I relate to family and friends and in my writing.
I wanted to share one of my favorite Notes of all time with you.
The one thing all famous authors, world class athletes, business tycoons, singers, actors, and celebrated achievers in any field have in common is that they all began their journeys when they were none of these things.
Yet still, they began their journeys.
Many of us hate our job, or despise our micro-managing boss,
As many of you may know by now, Leave Law Behind was featured in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal online (WSJ subscribers can read it here, or scroll down below for the full article).
It was very exciting and gratifying to be interviewed. It also was very validating and comforting to know that a major news outlet tried to shed some light on one of the greatest challenges we lawyers looking to leave the law face: How best to turn our “legal skills” into more transferable and expansive “attractive professional skills”.
In addition to finding ways to re-position our resume, we also face the challenge of convincing others in our lives that we are unhappy with our job and life as a lawyer, and that we need a change. Many people we surround ourselves with (family, friends, work colleagues) think we have it all and admire our status as an attorney and think we’re crazy (and possibly entitled and spoiled) to even want more in life. Sometimes they get mean when we aspire for more. Other times they imply we have wasted time in law school and in practice. And some times they just don’t help out at all.