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:
It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
E.L Doctorow, American Novelist
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from Leave Law Behind readers is “What is my next step”?
Now, we’ve taken some steps to get to this point:
We have found the courage to admit to ourselves that we’re unhappy.
We have found the time to google search “unhappy attorney” or “JD alternatives” or any of the other terms that led you to this blog and others.
We have found the time to read and sometimes we’ll muster the honesty to email in and tell me your story or inquire about coaching or just to vent (I read every email).
And what we’re after is the next step. “Where do we go? What should we focus on? Where should we turn?”
A guiding light
Many of you have asked me to create an online course to help us all leave the law behind,
This past Saturday night my Golden State Warriors played a playoff basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And I was a nervous wreck watching it, yelling at the TV when the Warriors messed up, pumping my fist when they scored … all the while in a burger restaurant with other people, my wife and my two kids.
And I felt I had good reason for my anxiety. The Warriors played inconsistently – leading in the first quarter, missing many shots in the second quarter, losing by 5 at halftime, committing bad turnovers, playing out of synch. It was hard to watch.
I was at my most nervous when the Warriors were losing 94-87 with only 5 minutes and 48 seconds left in the game. With the Thunder’s Steven Adams at the line for his second free throw, I clenched my fists and let out a muffled scream.
My 9 year old daughter finished her bite of burger, looked at me, and asked me “Daddy, is this fun for you?”
First off, it’s always hard to take when your children are smarter and more mindful than you are.
Our Unique Genius is something I like to write about a lot.
Our Unique Genius are those skills and strengths and enjoyment that come so naturally to us, so authentically to us, so easily to us that we don’t even think of them as a skill. We just do them.
Unique Genius is something I am always working on for myself. It’s something I am always talking with my coaching students about.
It’s something that is the crux of leaving the law: Instead of pursuing jobs and a career based on not-the-most-fulfilling reasons (money, status, title, security, what other people think is right), we can use our Unique Genius to help inform and identify a more authentic and aligned and happier career path and job search.
For me, throughout my life I have kind of had an idea of what I was good at (speaking, writing, interpersonality).
But, admittedly, I never had a firm grasp on what it was. I didn’t ever think that critically about it.
And that’s because I didn’t really need to think that much about it –
I love hearing stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of people first realizing they want to do something different to those people who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.
Here is the story of Alexandra Devendra, a Leave Law Behind reader, San Francisco, California attorney and former BigLaw lawyer who took the steps to leave the law and just recently formed her own consulting business. Alix has some personal experiences I think you’ll find very interesting and actionable.
For me the biggest obstacle to leaving the law was what I call the BigLaw blinders. Even though I knew I wanted to change careers, it was hard to even imagine what else I might do.
Working with Casey helped. A lot. His process for discovering your Unique Genius helped me understand what my skills and interests are, and I began to research different jobs and careers that might be a good match for me. I also followed his advice and started keeping a journal, where I jotted down ideas that eventually developed into what I’m doing now: legal design.
We had a fanciful bowl that my wife loved, a red and orange and yellow glassblown design all swirled together, that featured prominently on a shelf in our kitchen. It had a small bowl-like cavity in the middle surrounded by a flat decorative ring-like exterior.
It was much, much more artful than useful. In fact we never used it at all. But it was very nice to look at.
So needless to say my wife was very disappointed when I broke it about a year ago.
I attempted to move this beautiful glass piece without completely drying off my hands, I lost the grip and the bowl clanged on our counter top and broke into three pieces. My wife shot me a very disapproving look before she banished me from the kitchen and began to clean up and mourn over her favorite dish.
It was the last I saw of it.
Until last week. We bought our son a small fish for his birthday this year. Last week I found him and my wife cleaning out the fish’s small tank on the kitchen table. And while the tank was being cleaned,
We want to know what non-law job we will get. We want to know how it will all work out. We want to know how and when we’ll be happy.
We need certainty. We’re lawyers, and we are naturally (or we were trained to be) risk averse, and we have people in our life who may not understand why we would want to leave, and we have student loans we need to pay down and we can’t risk time without a salary.
And if we can’t find out what our future holds for us now, right now, then we don’t know, we’re just not sure, maybe we won’t do this whole leave law behind thing after all.
We want certainty.
But let’s look at this another way.
What if in the beginning of an engagement, our clients came to us and said:
“Will this plea deal get done? And if it does, what will I be able to do?”
“Will I get custody, and if I do, will it be full or partial?”
“Will we sign this agreement? And if we do,
Each week I receive emails from Leave Law Behind readers. Some are interested in coaching, some have questions about that week’s post, and some just want to share their journey and be heard. I read and respond to every email – it’s one of my favorite parts of this job.
One reader recently wrote in to tell me that she is exploring leaving the law because she just doesn’t know who she is helping. She does not have a particular connection to the client. She does not have a particular connection to the firm’s partners. She can’t pinpoint who she is actually helping with her work. And if she is helping someone, she doesn’t know exactly how. She doesn’t see the good in what she does. She doesn’t feel appreciated.
It got me thinking about one of the major mindshifts, one of the major keys, to not only leaving the law, but to living a meaningful, wealthy lifestyle.
And that is to focus on helping others. To do something, create something, sell something, that can help people at scale (help many people) or in magnitude (help at least some people in a significant way).
I’m always on the lookout for stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of people first realizing they want to do something different to those people who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.
Here is the story of Sheila Agnew, a Leave Law Behind reader, former family law attorney and now published author. She has a compelling life story, of leaving the law … going back to it … and now finding her Unique Genius as a writer. I hope you enjoy.
In 2003 I was a new, lateral, commercial litigation associate at a fairly small firm in downtown Manhattan. On my first Tuesday morning, a senior partner stepped into my office:
“Welcome to the firm Susan. How are you getting on?”
“Fine,” I said.
I didn’t point out that my name wasn’t Susan. I didn’t care enough to bother.
“Wonderful,” he boomed, “we’re quiet in commercial litigation at the moment but there’s lots of work for you in matrimonial litigation. There’s a case going to trial in a few weeks.”
It was not my dream as a little girl to grow up to be a divorce lawyer.
I came home one evening this week after work and was eagerly greeted at the door by our dog. My wife and kids were out of town, and our dog had been home alone for a while, and she wanted to get outside.
Let me first tell you something about our dog: she’s a big 72 pounds, a Golden Labradoodle we rescued from the SPCA, is the sweetest thing alive and has tons of energy. Tons of energy. All she wants to do is run, sniff something, go to the bathroom, and then run and run and run more and more and more.
I do love her energy. And it’s actually been a forcing factor in getting me to run more. Almost every day, we jog our neighborhood loop in the morning, and then again in the evening. When she sees me walking towards the closet where I keep my running shoes, she knows it’s jogging time.
But this evening I did not feel like running. I was tired. I was hungry. And I was nursing a sprained ankle from my Sunday basketball game. There was no way I could run. I would only be able to walk her.