I received a lot of good emails from readers after the “What to Consider When Considering an In-House Counsel Position” article was published last Friday in Above the Law (thank you). Many were interested in the leave law behind coaching services. Others wanted to know more about what it meant to be an in-house counsel. And still others asked for my thoughts about a real life job decision they were about to make.
And as I read through the emails (and I replied to them all) I noticed a consistent theme, particularly from those in the latter group about imminent job and career decisions to made. I noticed that many were planning on making decisions (leaving the law, taking a break from it all, jumping to a new job, quitting the firm job, planning a job search) without really considering whether this new decision would be a fit for their individual strengths, their passions, and their interests. They are not thoroughly and properly planning to leave the law. Rather they are contemplating moving from one thing they don’t like (the firm) to a new thing . . . without spending the time and the personal due diligence, to vet as much as possible whether this new thing has a high potential to turn out to be a good thing.
I ran into a friend (and Leave Law Behind reader last week), and he asked me why I had taken him off of this email list. I said I had done no such thing, and that I just hadn’t sent out a blog post in a while.
It is always nice to hear about someone looking forward to your emails, and his comment got me thinking as to why I had taken this break from writing and emailing a post over the past few weeks. After some reflection, two reasons came up.
I have fortunately had a lot of good work – a new client, some great projects, some travel. My attention has been focused on this new business.
And, to be honest, I also did not feel that I was producing good blog content. I didn’t really like what I was writing. I felt like the draft posts were forced and just not that helpful. I felt stumped, and a bit unmoored. So I stopped for a while. I closed the Word doc in which I compile these drafts, made a note to come back in a week or two, and I focused on other things.
[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,
But there needs to also be the will. There needs to be the execution. It needs to actually get done.
There can often be a lot getting in the way of our will. There are hurdles that prevent us from taking that first step and actually getting stuff done and making progress.
And to make it more confusing, many of these hurdles are unseen. We know we are stuck, but we often can’t clearly identify what is getting in the way.
These murky things can be reduced to a few obstacles. I share them with you now.
– We are actually not compelled enough to leave. We love the security of our current job, the stature it brings and while we complain and may want to leave the law, we may really not mean it.
– We are waiting for others to provide a guaranteed path. It’s easy to wait and see what risks our entrepreneurial friends or big companies take . . . so we can then follow up and fill a job or role once the company has a reached some stability.
– We suffer from the Imposter Syndrome.
Many of us want to leave our law job right now. This is understandable. We are frustrated, not happy, not enjoying our day-to-day. We are not doing what we want.
But we are getting paid. We can pay our bills, we can pay down our student loans (and any other debt), we can hopefully put some away for retirement, we can possibly build up our savings.
As this blog has stated over and over, there is no way around the fact that done right, leaving law behind is a long journey. While the rewards are huge, it’s a process that takes a lot of trial and error and self-analysis. It takes planning and courage and a lot of help.
Which is why a great place to start in leaving the law is to examine how your current job can help you take your first baby step. Besides just paying your bills, your current job can help fund:
– A career counselor (contact me or Jennifer Alvey or Katie Slater)
– A legal job recruiter (ask for Lindsay)
– An independent contractor on elance or odesk who can help you build your first website
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,
A favorite blog of mine is the The Minimalists. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are both former professionals who left the corporate track and now write about how to do and strive for more in life by buying and wanting less. In their post from this week, they talk of how being anchored is a truism that may not make much sense any longer for many of us: “An anchor is the thing that keeps a ship at bay, planted in the harbor, stuck in one place, unable to explore the freedom of the sea. Perhaps we were anchored—we knew we weren’t happy with our lives—and perhaps being anchored wasn’t necessarily a good thing.”
Going through college and law school, I often aspired to being “anchored”. It was considered a compliment. It meant that I had my head on straight and that I was focused on the right path, that I wouldn’t stray. To take it further, it meant that an education and profession based in the field of law would lead to success.
I’m realizing that many of my individual needs and motives as well society’s expectations that originally anchored me in the career of law now do not really have my personal happiness,
It can be very difficult to escape the fact that our society ranks an individual’s success almost exclusively on the basis of fame, fortune or power. The more you have, the more successful you are.
You don’t need to look far to see how this is reinforced time and time again. It could be the recent Super Lawyer rankings. It could be that profile you read of the guy who was #7 at Facebook or #4 at Mint or #12 at Google. It could have been the Vanity Fair New Establishment list. It could be the recent eulogy of the maverick football owner or brilliant tech visionary.
Making money and gaining influence are great things. But as we focus exclusively on fortune, fame and power, something always has to give (and this is usually our time, our health, our relationships, our happiness.)
As we leave the law behind, or leave our current practice of the law behind, we are provided with a great opportunity to find the time and space to land on other lists: Top Parent, Top Spouse, Top Friend, Best at Just Chillin’,
Most of us would not take, nor recommend taking, legal advice from someone not licensed to do so.
But many of us often do take general life advice from people (family, friends, co-workers) not necessarily qualified to do so. We take relationship advice from those hopelessly single. We look for motivation from people who deep down are afraid. We seek inspiration from those who actually lack courage. We look for support (say, in leaving the law) from those who really yearn only for security.
Familial ties, longstanding rapport or respected authority does not always guarantee the most suitable advice . . . for you.