What do you want to do? …Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way …If you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is … you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much.
—Alan Watts, British philosopher, writer, speaker, and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for Western audiences
This article was published in the September issue of the ABA Law Practice Today. And like that audience, if you’re reading this here, there is a very good chance you do not like practicing law.
You are likely bored by it. Or don’t like the adversarial nature. Or want a more collaborative profession. Or want to make more money in ways other than the billable hour.
You likely don’t consider yourself a good attorney. Maybe you even feel like a “fraud.” And you just want to identify a career that will call on your strengths and empower you to be more confident,
I spoke with a client last week who recently left the law. A former estate planning attorney who just recently transitioned to lead the direction and management of planned giving for a local university.
In his new role he helps provide the strategic direction and long & short range planning to support the development of major gifts and alumni relations related to cultivating and soliciting donors.
Sounds pretty cool, huh? 🙂
It’s close to his dream job. “Planned giving” is an area he identified early on in our process that was in alignment with his skills and strengths, his Unique Genius, and also something he cared a lot about.
He did explore and interview in a number of other areas. His Unique Genius seemed to align with Strategy jobs and Project Management jobs. He got interviews through his network at a Fortune 500 company and a small startup.
But he just didn’t see a fit with these paths.
A (sincere, authentic, aligned) cold email
So I asked him how, then, did he get an introduction to the university which ultimately just hired him.
I could feel him smile over the phone.
My daughter is a big fan of the Peanuts cartoons. She shared one strip with me. She said that reading it made her think of the lawyers we help to leave the law.
Charlie Brown and his sister Sally are waiting at the school bus stop one morning, lunch bags in hand. Sally looks at the cars driving by and asks “Who are all those people driving by in those cars?”
Charlie Brown says “Those are people going to work.”
“Work?” Sally says
Charlie Brown explains “They used to wait for the school bus, like we’re doing … Now they have to go to work every day for the rest of their lives”
Sally says: “Good grief! Whose idea was that?”
Right, whose idea was that?
So many of us did what seems like everything “right” in your life. We did everything we were supposed to do.
We got the grades. We made (or tried very hard to make) our parents proud. We pursued safety and security and avoided the unknown and risk.
We applied to, got accepted by and graduated law school.
I spoke with a coaching student today. We’re beginning to work on her Unique Genius and she told me that she didn’t know which way to think any more. She was thinking so many thoughts.
She is excited to actually begin to leave the law because she is so unhappy as an attorney. She is motivated to find other non-law jobs out there that could align with her skills and strengths. She is happy to visualize a future where she doesn’t have to litigate and fight each day.
But she also thinks she should maintain the only professional identity she knows. She has doubts whether she could actually make it in an alternative career. She thinks that if she leaves the law it is proof of her weakness, that she couldn’t “make it” as a lawyer.
And I told her that maybe the point is to think less, and feel more.
What are our emotions telling us?
Maybe this is just how it starts. Maybe there is no big bang, or aha moment, or inspiration or external force telling us to begin to leave the law.
Maybe your leaving the law just started when you first felt that pang of unhappiness.
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.