It is easy to find a message from somewhere in our culture celebrating “being different”.
Celebrities and star athletes and politicians all interest us because of their public uniqueness. At a high level, we shower praise on those courageous enough to go for their dream, to fight back for what is right, to do what they love, to make good money, to stand out, to act crazy, to speak their mind, to say what we only think, to break barriers, to fight the system, to drop out of school or the rat race, to do the unthinkable, to be funny or coarse, to push boundaries, to be eccentric, to be themselves.
Be the same
But at our level, our day-to-day, in-the-grind, working-as-an-attorney level, we are often conditioned to be “the same”. To blend in. To think like all the others.
This programming can come from our upbringing. Or from our schooling. Or specifically from law school. Or from the other attorneys we work with and around.
But since we are unhappy attorneys, we are different. We feel different.
We feel unfulfilled practicing the law. We want to do something else.
I was on vacation recently with my wife and two kids. And while it does take some time for me to disconnect from my normal life when we go on vacation, we were able to ultimately arrive at a nice and mindful and fun routine.
One way we did so was by catching up on movies (read: Pixar and Dreamworks kid movies) each night. We watched a number of them including Night at the Museum, Planes 2 and Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
He shouldn’t have listened
The main character of Mr. Peabody is a highly intellectual and accomplished cartoon dog that has adopted a human boy, Sherman.
In the movie, Peabody and Sherman suffer the usual suspects: a bully at Sherman’s new school, bad people who don’t understand why a dog would raise a boy, and history and world influencing mishaps while traveling back and forth in their time machine.
It’s the time traveling part that I found interesting and applicable to us.
In one scene from the Renaissance time,
“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.
Annie Little, a blogger and writer at Attorney at Work, asked me and a number of other lawyers and bloggers to write about numerous topics on the law and alternative careers to the law. Annie had me focus on the question “How valuable is your law degree“.
For the most part, the value of a law degree is often determined in relation to what it can get us practicing lawyers.
Some are very tangible and measurable: A clerkship. A BigLaw job. A high salary. A career path.
Others are more intangible: Stature. Ego. Self-Worth. Exclusivity.
But when we leave the law behind, and stop practicing, the value of a law degree in a world of non-lawyers may be no less important. But the value can just be a bit more difficult for us to ascertain.
In a world of non-lawyers, having a law degree means we’re smart. Really … no fooling. Non-lawyers perceive lawyers as being smart and intelligent. And if you wear glasses, that only increases your smarts quotient.
In a world of non-lawyers,
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.
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.
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).
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,
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,