Leaving the law is absurd. You may call it ridiculous. Some may think it’s unreasonable. It’s just not rational.
I mean, c’mon, this is your job. This is how you pay your bills. This is what you went to school for. This is what people have expected of you.
And you make good money. And you can buy what you want. And you like the title. Leaving all of this is just absurd.
Which is great. This is just how it should be.
Because if it wasn’t absurd, it might not be worth talking about. It might not be worth even thinking about. It might not be worth attempting. Because, as Einstein observed, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
So there is hope, for you, and for that idea you have . . . to set up that website, to open that store, to live off savings and travel the world for a while, to begin that small legal practice, to found that consulting business.
The very absurdity of leaving law is such a compelling reason to consider it.
Got a great response from the last blog post, a lot of you out there shared some great “new rules”.
Here are some more:
- You can always make money from your passions . . . it just takes some time.
- Freedom, and time, can be more important than money.
- I need to be able to take a jog on a Wednesday at noon.
- Invest money and time in yourself.
- People will pay me for my time and expertise.
- I can get customers and clients on my own.
- My favorite – leap and the net will appear (my mother bought me a refrigerator magnet with this saying).
- And my second favorite, about life, from the E.L. Doctorow quote – “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
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Some of the “rules” you follow and adhere to day-to-day might be outdated or holding you back, such as:
- Job security should be a major requirement.
- A steady, W2 paycheck is good.
- Take the safe route.
- Being a lawyer is everything to me.
By what other rules do you find yourself living? I’m sure there are more you can add.
What might be a new “rule”?
- Plan to have no plan.
- Be committed to being uncommitted.
- Start thinking and working on an alternative life while you still hold down your day job.
- You don’t have to be fearless to make dramatic changes in your life.
- Being a lawyer is not everything to me.
- I want to wear jeans to work.
- I want to be able to sleep late in the mornings and work regularly from 3pm to midnight.
- I want to see my kids more.
Of course, the adoption of any new rules is not meant to be an excuse for sitting home all day and re-watching Dazed and Confused.
When you envision your life as a movie, with you the hero or heroine and main star and an audience of ticket payers watching your every step and listening to your every line, you allow yourself the freedom to enjoy every minute of your life, and find the courage to perform feats most people wouldn’t.
Stuck in traffic? The audience is watching you look cool with your elbow hanging out the window listening to tunes.
In the middle of a stressful settlement meeting? The audience is rooting for you and on the edge of its seat to see how you will perform.
Hesitant to make a dramatic life choice? You’d better make that courageous move (in love, work or otherwise) . . . or they might just get bored and walk out.
Imagine yourself as the main star of the movie that is your life and use the pressure, anxiety and confidence that comes with it to accomplish amazing things.
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A small baby step in leaving the law is to create a bucket. A bucket is a new legal person, entity, component, space or building block that you can create to begin the process of redesigning your life. It’s a start.
Creating a bucket is easy. Just think it up and it is (“. . . a coaching practice for lawyers . . .”). Give it a name, and it is even more tangible (“. . . Leave Law Behind . . .”). Print up business cards, set up a website and you can see it even more clearly. Mull it over, think it through, nurture it, share it. Create it. Fill it. Empty it. Ship it – get it out the door. Change the contents. Rename it. Create more than one. Re-ship it.
The sole purpose of a bucket is to be filled . . . with work, clients, products, money, satisfaction and hope.
It takes nothing to create. But it puts a stake in the ground. It makes things happen.
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I came across this interesting post from Beyond the Underground, What Do You Like Best About Being a Lawyer?
What do you like best? What keeps you practicing the law?
- Helping people?
- Helping the underdog?
- Fighting for a cause?
- The intellectual challenge?
- Being a source of advice and counsel?
- Being a vehicle for change?
- Knowing an area of law really well?
- Enjoying the stature of my position?
- Making money?
If you don’t like practicing the law, or don’t like being in the firm, or wish you had more personal freedom, could you still achieve some or all of the above even by doing something else?
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At first, it can be very hard to leave the law, or continue to practice law and leave your current job. The unknown is very hard to grasp and confront.
So how do you bridge that gap? How do you get the wheels started on a new career, on a new day-to-day schedule, on a new you? One way is contract legal work.
Now, before you succumb to the traditional reservations about contract work (the work is not stimulating, it will blemish my resume, I can’t stoop that low), do note that along with all of the major shifts in the legal industry, contract legal work is becoming its own practice area. As an example, my friend Onna Young (whose coaching practice Life After Debt is a must for anyone wrestling with debt issues) forwarded me a Meetup group in Los Angeles of contract attorneys. They meet once a month, share stories, a drink and referrals.
And with today’s technology, being a contract attorney is much more than working in your pajamas from your dining room table with a Yahoo or Hotmail email address. Today, you can so easily throw up a nice looking site,
It’s very easy to become overwhelmed. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by trying to make it to the gym a few times a week or trying to get the kids out of the house to school in the morning or returning phone calls from college friends or managing multiple brief deadlines or . . . or . . .
So it can be extremely overwhelmingly to even consider completely leaving law behind, or even leaving the firm behind or just modifying how you practice law. The long term goals, the time it will take, the discipline and courage needed, the urge to procrastinate, the obstacles to overcome . . . makes you tired and overwhelmed just thinking about it.
This is where babysteps come in. Babysteps are the antidote to being overwhelmed. I am very happy that my good friend Aaron Ross, founder of Pebblestorm (“Make Money Through Enjoyment”) has reintroduced this trusted (but oft ignored) practice of taking one step at a time. Don’t let the seemingly gargantuan tasks of leaving law, or recreating your practice as you’d like it to actually be, paralyze you: You don’t need to get everything done tomorrow.
I went to law school and I wish I hadn’t.
I have thought that before. I wonder how many others have as well.
But it really does no good to feel badly about our decision to go to law school and choose law as a career. What’s done is done. We are now . . . right now . . . yup, right now . . . living our own life movies. We are the star in the movie called our lives and the audience is watching, has paid a ticket to watch, and is on the edge of its seat to see what we do next, how we face our challenges and come out ahead and be cool, or rich, or happier, or more free, or . . .
Nor does it help to think of what you could have done differently. It’s 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 – do I apply to law school . . . or apply for that sales job at that little tech company Yahoo or Google? (or for more recent graduates, YouTube, Twitter or Zynga). I can’t, and I won’t, beat myself up (anymore) over the fact that I chose to go to Hastings because it was closer to my house .
What was the coolest thing you did today? Close a multi million dollar deal? Score a huge new client? Make partner? Have your picture in the paper?
If any of the above happened to anyone in the last few days, please let me know, as I’d love to just hear the story.
For the rest of us, who didn’t have an outsized business success or make a bucket load of cash or party with their favorite celebrity recently, the art is in finding coolness in your normal day activities.
Like your commute – you may drive or bus through a particularly nice or interesting part of the City that tourists flock to but you take for granted.
Or your work – you may have written that last document in no time on a cool looking, lightweight netbook that you later sent to your Dropbox folder and accessed even later on your iPhone for a quick review while ferrying home on the Bay.
Or your down time – maybe you had a nice drink at a cool bar wearing your favorite suit and tie or outfit and just felt like a bad ass.