I love to have readers write in and share their successes, struggles and experiences.
The following was written by a current member of the Leave Law Behind Program, who as we speak is in the process of leaving the law behind. She reflects on a topic so many of us struggle with and fear facing … leaving the law in spite of our law school debt.
I know you’ll find this essay insightful, personal and motivating. I’ve re-read it multiple times and learn something new each time. I’m hoping she will write more for us!
How I Overcame My Fear of Debt in the Face of Leaving the Law
After financing my law school education in full, I had no idea what I needed to do to pay my debt down. I told myself that my only option was to survive at my firm as long as I could until the debt was paid.
The next two years were spent trying to work as many hours as possible to get a bonus that would help lower my debt. I didn’t do a lot of things for myself, and I told myself that I couldn’t have nice things because my debt load was so high.
I am not sure how it got this way. Between you and me. It didn’t need to get to this point, and I want to correct it.
I’m an unhappy attorney who is trying to leave the law for a non law job. I am trying to change my life for the better. Please can you and I start over too?
I have to admit, I have always felt that you didn’t want to be with me. There was always just enough of you in my life … but you never seemed to like being with me. It was as if you were forced to be with me. You didn’t flow to me … you were dragged to me. I wondered why we never had that much fun together.
And you never seemed to want to stay long with me. You have been fleeting and unreliable. It always felt like you were in a hurry to leave me. And so I then worried if you would ever come back.
But now you are an immovable weight to me. Law school debt. Bills to pay. I don’t feel like you support me …
One of the major obstacles you may have in leaving the law is your not-so-healthy relationship with money.
- You feel money is scarce and fleeting.
- Or you’re afraid it will leave you.
- Or you think it’s hard to earn.
- Or you feel you’re not worthy of a lot of wealth.
- Or you feel weighed down by your student debt.
Or you may have been programmed growing up that money is the root of all evil.
It’s actually not.
Money is actually the root of all good.
Money is what builds roads and erects churches and schools and buys food and saves wildlife and creates new innovations and empowers charities and pays people’s salaries and elevates grassroots campaigns and empowers you to be the best you can be.
Money is just energy that can be used for fantastic good.
What is evil is not money, but the love of and desire for money … at expense of all other things (this is from which greed, power, and excess originate).
So as we leave the law,
The biggest obstacle most of us think we face in leaving the law is overcoming our fear of lack of money.
I just worked on this in detail with a client last week:
- She is afraid she won’t make enough money to support her family if she leaves the law.
- She is afraid she will lower her future earning potential if she leaves the law.
- She is afraid she won’t be able to live her current lifestyle if she leaves the law.
So let’s use this as a moment to take a step back and revisit what money really is.
A long time ago, before we had money, we traded.
I grow apples. My apples have within them the energy from the sun and the energy from my pruning and farming and tending and nurturing.
You’re a carpenter who makes tables. Your table also has the energy the sun emitted to the tree, as well as your energy in crafting and shaping and sanding the wood into a table form.
I need a table on which to now eat my apples with my family.
Right now, what value do we (unhappy, disgruntled) attorneys provide?
A lot actually.
We have specific knowledge (case law, what a client can do, what a client cannot do), we provide strategy (how to approach and navigate a case, what damages to ask for, how to best negotiate), and we ensure execution (getting documents drafted and finalized). And on and on.
People (partners and clients primarily) value all of this that we do.
Partners value it because the client has paid them to get all of this done and if they didn’t have us to do it all, they would have to find time to do it, or not be able to do it at all (and then have to forfeit the client’s money).
The client values all of this that we do because they need all of this for some important reason (to grow their business or personal situation, to protect their business or personal situation, to plan for the future, etc.)
And because we provide value for doing all of this, we are paid by the partners (from the client’s money) for the time it takes to do all of this.
Last week we discussed specifically how we can get over our fear that we can never make as much money in a non-law job as we do now as an attorney.
We now know that as we explore and identify and become comfortable with the skills and strengths we have that make up our Unique Genius, we then are in a great position to align with a job whose requirements call for these skills and strengths. This in turn then allows us to take the first step to professional alignment and clarity and happiness.
And we can make good money doing it.
To give this a bit more color and context, I thought today, it might bode well for us to get a handle on what money really is.
A very quick history of money
In short, money is a physical medium of exchange. We people can conveniently, reliably, and securely use money to acquire something (a product, a service, a set of labor, an experience) that we value.
A long, long time ago, before the invention of money (and yes,
One of the biggest hurdles we face in leaving the law is money.
Some of us make a lot of money as attorneys. Some of us do okay, and are able to pay our bills and our student loans and get by. And others of us are out of a job, or jumping from contract gig to contract gig, and money is a major source of our anxiety.
And whatever the case may be, we are unhappy or dissatisfied or out of sorts and want to leave the law but we feel that we can never make enough money if we were to leave and take a non-law job.
What we really make
According to the New York Times, first year BigLaw associates make around $160,000 a year.
According to CNN.com, most of the rest of us make $62,000 a year.
And in conversations with many of you, the salary figures are all across the board.
And so are our expenses – we have student loans of $100,000 to $200,000, mortgage, rent, kids’ college tuition, car loans,
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,
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”,