What if I told you that 10 years from now, your life would be exactly the same? I doubt you’d be happy. So, why are you so afraid of change?
– Karen Salmansohn, Author
The fact is, many of us are totally miserable being lawyers and want to leave the law so badly … but we just don’t know how to.
Some of us are restricted by limiting beliefs that make us feel that our self worth is tied to being a lawyer …
Some of us are held back by our caring about the opinions of others, and not wanting to rock the boat or go against the grain …
Others of us feel we can’t afford to do so …
And some of us feel we cannot do anything else but be a lawyer … even if that means we remain an unhappy one …
… and many of us worry about our inability to leave the law and the possibility that we’ll continue to live a miserable life.
So we have 2 options:
Recently I put together a survey for readers to answer a few questions. I wanted to get an idea of what’s top of mind for all of us, what types of issues we’re dealing with, and what new products or services we all thought might be best for us all. You can see the survey here.
One thing that comes up a lot is frustration: Feelings of lost potential. A perceived disconnect between who we are and who we want to be. Dissatisfaction with our job. Lack of meaning in what we do. A feeling that our JD is not transferrable to any other industry.
And many other issues: Money is tight. We have family pressures. We don’t know exactly what to do. We’re at a stalemate. We don’t have the time to explore anything else. We feel guilty for wanting to explore something else. We feel like we’re going crazy.
It doesn’t look good.
But it is.
What if life is rigged in our favor?
There is a great blog I follow.
Some of us lawyers want to leave the law: We are unhappy and dissatisfied with our work situation. We suffer long hours. We find our day-to-day lawyer tasks mostly uninteresting. We are demotivated because we are not included in the partner track discussions. We feel we receive little-to-no mentoring. We are weighed down by high student loans.
And maybe most important, we feel that our professional skill set is not really in alignment with the duties and responsibilities required to be a lawyer. We are not fully confident that we can be a real good lawyer. It’s turning out that what we are good at doing and what we enjoy doing isn’t what an attorney does. We’re pretty sure that this lawyer gig is really not for us.
But we don’t leave the law because we have sincere doubts that any of our legal job skills are transferrable to any non-legal jobs. We find it unrealistic that someone outside of a law firm would even consider hiring a lawyer like us. We don’t believe that we have any marketable skills that a non-legal business would want.
But we do.
If you’d like to leave the law, but are not making it a priority to do so, then you may need to artificially stimulate your motivation. A good way to do that is to imagine what you would do if a trusted fortune teller (ala Nate Silver) confirmed that, yep, you’re going to be laid off from your job as an attorney 12 months from now.
What would you do?
In case you’re stumped, I have six steps for you to start working on right now. Baby steps that are fun, preparatory, motivating and will help position you to leave the law and create a fantastic career and life.
1. Review your finances. Before you do anything, make sure you have a solid understanding of your financial situation: What your monthly expenses are. What one-time expenses you have coming up in the next year (taxes, health related). What new expenses you may have (private school, summer camp). What your debt situation is. What you can do to positively change big ticket expenses, like your mortgage. What you or your spouse can do to make some money on the side.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by Gabe Rothman, who left the law (twice) and now performs Salesforce.com integration consulting. Read more about Gabe at the bottom of this post, and come meet Gabe on October 2 at the Leave Law Behind event.]
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
– George Santayana
As any of you who, like me, have worked with Casey and/or read this blog know, Casey is a fountain of useful advice on this topic, a supportive and omnipresent Jiminy Cricket lighting the path away from self doubt, away from your addiction to your professional identity, and toward personal fulfillment. In that regard, I was honored when Casey asked me to contribute my insights and experiences to LLB.
After five years working in litigation with two different law firms, one failed attempt to leave the law behind, and countless hours of soul searching and second guessing; after numerous missteps, backsteps, and baby steps, I’ve succeeded in leaving the law behind. After years of hoping that things would change, that the law could make me happy, that it would stop taking and giving nothing in return,
[Sign up here to attend the free live, in-person Leave Law Behind event on Tuesday October 2nd at 6pm in downtown San Francisco. Come join us.]
Why do we think we can’t do it again?
There are things we successfully do now as attorneys that we once were extremely frightened to even attempt. Writing emails to clients. Speaking in front of a judge. Giving presentations. Filing briefs. Turning in drafts to senior partners. Advising clients.
There was a time when doing these things scared us, made us sweat, kept us up at night, occupied all of our thoughts. But we knew we had to do it, we might have been forced to do it, and we took a baby step, or sometimes took a leap, did it once, then again, then again, and over and over again, until we saw what worked and what didn’t work, what we were good at, and where we needed improvement. We gained confidence and improved until it became more straightforward. We became calmer as each success built on each success, as we were applauded for our efforts, or just silently and confidently knew we had done a good job.
Of course some are better at it than others, because they’ve been improvising longer at that particular job or role than you have. But they still are making some of it up as they go along.
One fear of leaving the law is that we will find ourselves not being of service to anyone. We fear that we won’t be able to help anyone in something other than the practice of the law.
And that’s true . . . initially. Of course, to begin with, we’ll be starting over. But you are more than just a lawyer. You are analytic and disciplined and reliable and trustworthy and intelligent. Give yourself a little more time in a new field or space and you’ll also be flexible and broad-minded and influential.
You’ll wonder why you every thought you could limit yourself to the law.
Consumption of information can be fun, educational and motivating. We read blogs like this one, view videos, listen to music. This passes the time, provides entertainment, stems boredom and enhances ourselves.
One thing consumption is not . . . is creative. Creation occurs when we put our mind to work to produce something, to produce something for ourselves to reflect on . . . or for others to consume (and possibly buy or share or promote). As such, a major tenet of leaving law behind is to consistently promote our own creation. In other words, we can’t leave law behind, fully or partially, without create something else to focus on, something else to market, something else to monetize.
What you create is up to you – new ideas, brainstorming sessions, now job possibilities, unique career paths, hobbies, random thoughts, actual pieces of writing, business plans, forecasts, side businesses, new ventures. This creation comes about through many forms of activities, and many are simple and almost without cost – staring out the window, going for a walk, talking with a friend, uninterrupted, sincere thinking, consistent jotting down of ideas, planned productive story/blog writing.
There is one cost: In order to create,
This coming Monday, February 6th at 6pm Pacific at the Book Passage at San Francisco’s Ferry Building, please join me as I interview Deborah Schneider, Esq., co-author of Should You Really Be A Lawyer? The Guide to Smart Career Choices Before, During and After Law School (click here to buy the book on Amazon).
If you are, or know of, a prospective law student, a current law student or a lawyer who’s wondering (a) if they should become, or remain, a lawyer and (b) what they should do with their life, this event shouldn’t be missed.
We’ll discuss how aspiring and practicing lawyers can learn to make better career choices that will lead them to work they love, and answer your most vexing career questions. Whether you’re thinking about law school, currently in law school or practicing law, this program will help bring clarity to any current career confusion.
Once again, the event is scheduled for Monday February 6 at 6pm at the Book Passage at the San Francisco Ferry Building, where Market Street meets the Embarcadero (map).
There is no doubt about it, when we leave the law, we mess something up. A lot of stuff. We miss the boat on some things. We are too early with others. We will never understand how this-and-that works. We’ll feel that we are becoming short on cash. We’ll suffer from self-doubt. People we admire and love may think we’re crazy. We will miss the structure and stature of the firm life.
We won’t be perfect.
But no one is. We weren’t when we began the law, and we definitely are not now, especially when branching out into a world of the unknown . . . and full of potential. And you don’t need to be perfect or wholly ready to leave the law. You just need to be honest (with yourself) and courageous (to take a babystep).
Leaving the law behind is a messy and anxious and unnerving act. It’s also thrilling and relieving and eye-opening. Let’s not let our consistent need for perfection and validation get in the way of creating our path to happiness and self-worth.