When I was practicing law as in-house counsel at a technology company here in San Francisco, our VP of Sales and I spent over a month negotiating a very large licensing deal with our soon-to-be biggest client.
The VP of Sales brought in the sales lead. I did all the heavy negotiation-and-contract-drafting lifting.
When the deal closed, the VP of Sales earned a $75,000 commission payment (on top of his already healthy base salary).
In appreciation of the work I did for him, the VP of Sales bought me an iPod, with “Thank you” engraved on the back.
It was 2004. And iPods were very big back then.
But, it was an iPod. He got $75,000, and I got an iPod.
Now, do not confuse me for begin ungrateful. That’s not the point of this post. Rather, this experience got me thinking. While I was appreciative of the gift, and of course appreciative of the salary I already received to do my job … it opened my eyes only further to the multitude of ways you can make a lot of money in this world. To the multitude of careers out there in the world.
What’s very unique and strategic about the Leave Law Behind Program we teach, and also somewhat frustrating and drawn out for my clients, is that we do not right away focus on what new (non-law, alternative) jobs to pursue.
Strategic … and (initially) frustrating
This approach is unique and strategic because we want our job search to first be informed by our Unique Genius.
We do not just want to go from one job we don’t like (lawyer) to another job, that may sound kind of interesting, but which we may also not really like that much.
We first need to focus on gaining a deep understanding of our skills and strengths and enjoyments, our Unique Genius, and then let this sincere catalog of what we’re good at inform the next steps we take.
Takes some time and introspection, but almost guarantees we end up focusing on jobs that we really like and that align with our skills.
But this approach can also be frustrating. We attorneys want to know right now what this process will result in. We want to know right now how the end game will play out.
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.
Last week, I publicly declared that I was a writer.
And guess what? The world didn’t end. I wasn’t ridiculed. No one said I was arrogant or pompous or simply mistaken.
In fact, I received a lot of supportive emails. I received a lot of emails from attorneys saying they felt like they were writers too. I received a lot of emails from our community telling me that they were many things other than a lawyer.
Looking back, while I veered away from doing my creative writing while in law school, it was actually during law school that I came across a fantastic magazine that at least kept my love for creative writing alive: The Sun.
This isn’t the UK tabloid newspaper. The Sun is an independent, monthly, magazine full of personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs. And each issue has a whole section dedicated to short writings from its readers. They describe themselves as “an independent, ad-free magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to evoke the splendor and heartache of being human.”
And the Sun is now hiring.
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,
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”,
Today, I want to introduce you to a job. It is a legal job as an attorney for a cool startup called Hire an Esquire. The description and hiring manager Jules Miller’s contact info is at the end of this post.
For some of us, this could be the legal job we’ve always wanted that is in line with our Unique Genius. For others, this could serve as a way to leave the firm as an interim measure to one day leaving the law altogether.
But before we email our resume to Jules at Hire Esquire, there are four things we should do first:
1. Explore our Unique Genius. First and foremost, we need to take the time to explore our strengths, skills and enjoyments … so we can then see if our skill set is even a fit for this job.
Let’s feel confident about what we are good at, and also be honest about what we don’t really excel at. We must understand where we add value, and be honest about where we add less to the conversation. We must really highlight what we enjoy doing and be honest about those things that we find boring or frustrating.
As some of you may know, I was interviewed for yesterday’s feature on Slate.com titled “You Can Do Anything With a Law Degree: That’s what everyone says. Turns out everyone’s wrong.” (read it here)
The article explores the misconceptions around the perceived broad usability of a law degree. Writer Jim Saksa (former-lawyer-turned-freelance-writer) encourages readers to critically assess as best they can if law school is the ideal path for each of them. He also explores the difficulties lawyers face in making a career shift and securing non-legal jobs. At press time, the article is one of the “Most Read” on Slate.com and has over 600 comments. I am excited to be included and I applaud Jim for bringing awareness around this topic.
I did a careful reading of the article and while a lot of points resonate with me, I also wanted to highlight some viewpoints that I feel are important for us to get our arms around to inform our progress as we explore leaving the law behind.
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:
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.