Most likely, you did. As did law school, your legal training, and the social mores of the industry.
But don’t despair, it can be revived. I have proof.
Two weeks ago I attended and spoke at the Catapult 2013 conference in San Francisco. It was held by the remarkable Alison Monahan and Lee Burgess of the Law School Toolbox and Girl’s Guide to Law School. (I encourage you to sign up at catapult2013.com for future events they put on). The conference was focused on empowering law students and young lawyers to take control of their careers and think creatively about the future … right up our alley!
One the most interesting panels consisted of practicing lawyers who actually (believe it or not) currently enjoy their job. The panel was so insightful because each shared how long it took, and how much trial and error and experiences and mistakes they had to go through, until they found or landed in the law job they currently like. Many discussed how they pursued and worked in one area of law (litigation or patent law) because they thought it would be a good fit,
You simply have not made it a priority.
When I ask an attorney what his or her priorities are, he or she will inevitably say family, friends, happiness, peace, health, and stimulating career.
But when you look at what attorneys spend most of their day doing, it becomes clear that their job is their priority. This is true because what we spend our time on is the best reflection of what we prioritize. While family, friends, happiness, peace, health and stimulating career may be important, the job is where a lawyer spends most of the work day (and weekend).
But oftentimes this job is one we don’t especially like. A job many of us attorneys feel doesn’t provide much of a future. So when we drill down further, we see that this actually doesn’t mean that the job itself is our priority. Rather, it most often means the paycheck the job provides is the priority; the cash and the security it affords are a lawyer’s priorities.
That is understandable. Bills need to be paid. Children need to be raised. No one wants to live in a box.
But many of us also are beginning to realize that we do not want to live an unhappy,
1. You need to do it yourself. While preparing for finals, I often deceived myself into thinking that I was actually studying, when all I really was doing was sitting through a study group or copying someone else’s notes or buying packaged outlines. While I thought I was doing the work for the exam, I was only going through the motions. I wasn’t doing the hard work, I wasn’t digesting the information, I wasn’t familiarizing myself with the case law, I wasn’t understanding exactly what the professor wanted.
The same goes with leaving law behind and making this life transition. You can read as many self-development blogs or buy as many coaching books or listen to as many inspirational quotes as you want. But until you actually begin the hard work of changing your current situation (assessing your money status, exploring your unique genius, getting over your fears, actively networking) your progress and results will likely be limited. No one can leave the law behind for you.
2. It takes a lot of hard, incremental, focused work. In law school, successfully cramming for an exam in the final weeks of the semester was almost impossible (trust me,
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by Hanna Clements-Hart of Beacon Coaching and Consulting. Hanna, a former BigLaw attorney who left the law behind, is now a San Francisco based strategic and career coach who works with attorneys and other professionals to understand their inherent strengths and maximize the value of these strengths in the context of new professional and personal opportunities or challenges.]
I remember when I got my first “big firm” job out of law school, how thrilled I was with my salary. It was New York City in 1995, and I was making close to $100k – more than my father had ever earned as a professor. He was delighted, my non-law school friends were impressed, and I was launched.
For a while, I liked being a professional – dressing in suits and working in a swank midtown office. I felt cool ordering dinner on the client and special in the back of my Town Car being driven home – never mind that if I hadn’t been working late I wouldn’t have needed a car home. I was not terribly interested in the work – the details very stressful.
I was recently speaking with a member of the Leave Law Behind community, and we were fleshing out a nice action plan for her to use in order to leave her job by the end of 2013. It all is falling into place:
- She has the deep, burning, sincere desire to leave law altogether and no longer practice
- She has a fairly good handle on her financial situation and cash flow needs and is reducing the anxiety she feels about money, the overwhelming need for security and being tied to a job mainly for the paycheck
- She has little-to-no hang-ups about the time and financial investment she put into law school and is ready to move on
- She has begun to work on fleshing out her unique genius to better understand her strengths, skills and passions (and how best to critically match these skills to potential new jobs, ventures and start-ups)
- She understands that she needs to “get out there” and begin networking, meeting people, creating opportunities and hitting the pavement – she has a few leads already and now is building up the courage to reach out to them
- She has a steady job at a mid-sized firm that continues to pay her bills
So what’s wrong?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by a current criminal defense attorney as he looks back on his time in law school and his practice . . . and as he looks ahead to leaving the law altogether.]
I went to law school with a goal, albeit unclearly defined. I wanted to do something good. I assumed I would discover that something somewhere along the path. Shortly before graduating from UC Hastings, however, I found myself disappointed. I was entertaining fewer opportunities than I envisioned when spending beautiful college afternoons cooped up in the local Kaplan study center, preparing for the LSAT.
The underwhelming opportunities weren’t due to a lack of effort or achievement, but rather a want of vision. I worked hard and did well in law school, graduating cum laude. I focused on my grades, all the while struggling to keep school’s competitive, compulsive hubbub at a distance. I figured I would work hard, pay some attention to my career prospects, and the rest would fall into place. I wouldn’t get caught up in on-campus interviews or landing the lucrative post-grad position. I would work hard,
I was on a Twitter chat on Tuesday run by Alison Monahan with a number of thought leaders in the field (Jennifer Alvey, Heather Jarvis, Katie Slater, Ms. JD and others) discussing the topic of whether in today’s economy law school is still worth the investment of time and money.
Through the wide ranging conversation, we began to discuss what skills it takes to make it in the workplace, either in law or outside of law, and Katie Slater (former BigLaw finance lawyer and now coach who helps lawyers discover the next level in their careers) reiterated a great point: Law school is not necessarily a place of skill acquisition. Rather this is done by actually practicing law in the workplace.
It can be easy for us to expound on the skills we learned in law school: Analytical skills, issue spotting, writing skills, persuasion, interview abilities, and on and on. But we all know that we were not able to apply these with any regularity or professional focus until we actually began working as lawyers. And once we began working,
In many of the emails I receive from lawyers looking to change course and leave the law, there is one phrase that is repeated often: “I had always envisioned getting into _______.” It could be advocacy, policy, public interest law, hi-tech.
But without fail this fill-in-the-blank is not what the lawyer is actually doing now. They are doing something other than what they envisioned they would do.
It’s not the job or position or role that is important to focus on here. Many of us are doing jobs or have titles we never knew existed or could picture ourselves doing years ago.
Rather, what is important to unpack here is that for many of us, we are performing tasks and taking on responsibilities for our job that we never envisioned because many of these job duties are not in alignment with what we are good at and what we enjoy doing and what comes naturally to us.
We envisioned doing something else than what we do now because simply what we do now is not really what we are best at.
Sincerely exploring what this is (not outright finding it necessarily,
If you are good at what you do, you can always find a way to support yourself. If you are good at what you do, you can always make a living.
Feels good to hear that, doesn’t it? So here’s the courageous part. If you’re unhappy with what you currently do (even if you’re good at it), take a shot and leave. If you are just bored, leave. If you want to explore other areas, then leave. If you like the area of law you practice, but want to supplement it with some “real life” experience (operations, sales, entrepreneurism), leave for a while.
Your current job (or one just like it) will likely be waiting for you if you want to come back.
And remember, leave smart. Go in-house with a current client (and leave the possibility open to return to your firm.) Branch out with your own firm (and be sure to network and send business to colleagues and competitors alike.) Leave law altogether with that new website or consulting practice or hair-brained idea (and be sure to have a nice cushion to cover start-up costs).
And if it doesn’t totally work out,
You may remain a (disgruntled) lawyer due in (very large) part to the (ostensible) prestige and status (you think) it carries.
One of the major surprises you will find in leaving the law behind is the ability to satisfy your ego doing something else you actually enjoy, are good at and that comes naturally to you.