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.
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,
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).
It’s courageous to admit to ourselves that we may want to leave the law, that we’re not happy continuing as a practicing attorney. It is a sign that we have the ability to know ourselves, that we aspire for more than we are currently achieving, that we are strong enough to take on new challenges.
It’s the first step most of take in our journey to leave the law.
The second step is where we sabotage ourselves. Since we’re so desperate to leave our law job, since we’re so excited about the opportunity to do something else, since we’re on a high that we’ve had our “aha” moment, we want to act. And so we then begin to think of, dream about and comb indeed.com for actual new jobs.
It’s understandable. A new job is exciting, a new job holds promise, a new job will provide us a new version of the self-identity we’re desperately short of, a new job will validate our need for change, a new job will set us free.
But it actually won’t … at least not yet. And here’s why:
So let’s say we begin to leave the law. We get a handle on our financial situation, we explore our Unique Genius, we get over … er somewhat mitigate … our fears, and we actually gain the courage to reach out to someone in our network for an informational interview over coffee on a weekday afternoon.
We rehearse our scripts, we sneak out of the office so no one wonders where we are going at 3pm. We know that the purpose of the informational interview is to research this person’s job and if we like what we hear, we want to see if we can get some leads of other similarly situated people we can talk to. We’re after opportunities. We are after possibilities. We are after expanding our net. We’re after abundance!
This person, let’s say a friend of a friend who works in tech (or branding or private equity or insurance or sales or marketing or HR), has generously agreed to take time out of his or her schedule to talk about him or herself and give us some insight into what their job is like.
In my criminal procedure class years ago as a 2L at UC Hastings, we were visited by an undercover policeman who patrolled the nearby Tenderloin neighborhood. He described to us in detail his day-to-day tasks, experiences and routines. He talked to us specifically about the legal procedures he followed and we were able to ask many questions about his real life encounters to supplement the cases and theory we discussed in class.
And right before he left, he used the old combat adage to describe his job: Being a policeman in San Francisco involved suffering through long periods of boredom punctuated by short moments of excitement. There was a lot of drudgery and monotony, he said, but it’s the moments of challenge and adventure that made the job worth it for him.
While leaving the law is not nearly as risky as being an undercover cop, what the police officer said that day in class has always resonated with me. When we leave the law, there are a lot of unglamorous elements: We need to talk with our spouse about money issues, we need to actually forecast our living expenses on an Excel sheet,
I remember the exact moment I realized I wasn’t happy practicing law. I was sitting in my office on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for the phone to ring. The partner I worked for had made it a habit to ask me to come to the office on weekends and wait for him to call. It was a very nice and spacious office above the 30th floor, with a view of downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River. The visitors’ chairs were nicer than any chair in my parents’ house in Brooklyn or any chair I could have afforded before or after going to law school. The large wood desk conveyed prestige and expertise. The bookcases contained very impressive leather bound books that I was yet to read. The view of the Freedom Tower construction was spectacular.
It wasn’t easy for me to make it to big law. I wasn’t born in America, my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my law school education, I didn’t go to an Ivy League undergraduate school, and English was not my primary language. I had many excuses I could have made for myself, and many that I did make. Everyone was so proud when little old me,
This article originally appeared on Above the Law.
As we discussed in the first four articles 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 is about not letting our past undermine our future. More specifically, this step involves resolving any lingering demons law school may hold over your head (squeezing out more of an ROI from my law school “investment”, ensuring my identity is tied to being an attorney, what else would I do if I’m not a lawyer,