How leaving the law is like being an undercover police officer

In my criminal procedure class years ago as a 2L at UC Hastings, we were visited by an undercover policeman who patrolled the nearby Tenderloin neighborhood. He described to us in detail his day-to-day tasks, experiences and routines. He talked to us specifically about the legal procedures he followed and we were able to ask many questions about his real life encounters to supplement the cases and theory we discussed in class.

And right before he left, he used the old combat adage to describe his job: Being a policeman in San Francisco involved suffering through long periods of boredom punctuated by short moments of excitement. There was a lot of drudgery and monotony, he said, but it’s the moments of challenge and adventure that made the job worth it for him.

While leaving the law is not nearly as risky as being an undercover cop, what the police officer said that day in class has always resonated with me. When we leave the law, there are a lot of unglamorous elements: We need to talk with our spouse about money issues, we need to actually forecast our living expenses on an Excel sheet,

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What we need to keep in mind as we work yet another Sunday

Is that it doesn’t need to be this way.

Many of us may have worked yesterday. Or are working right now. Or have a few hours of work to do tonight after the kids get to sleep. Our weekend can often times be full of work.

And don’t get me wrong. Some of the most exhilarating, productive, meaningful, passionate work can get done on a Saturday or Sunday. The office (or home office) environment is more relaxed, quieter, less pressured. There may be an exciting event (trial, negotiation, client board meeting) in the coming week to prep for. Or you could just be working on a project you really like with people you really like and use the weekend to collaborate in ways that the busy weekdays do not allow.

But a lot of the work we do on weekends is just that – work. It’s catching up on an inordinate amount of emails. It’s making sure your billable hours are on track. It’s ensuring the partners view you as “dedicated” when you show your face on a Sunday in the office. A lot of the work on the weekends can be monotonous, grueling,

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Little known ways to create that awesome opportunity

It’s true that when you see that opportunity, you need to grab it

And it’s also true that good opportunities (real quality occasions to grow and prosper and develop) often present themselves only a handful of times in one’s life.

And it’s also true that these fantastic opportunities don’t just show up out of nowhere. And particularly for an attorney that is unhappy with his or her practice of law, and wants to explore moving into something else, these (mainly) non-legal opportunities that we lawyers are well suited for (the compliance manager with the promising start up, the teaching job at the university, the HR role at the Fortune 500 company, the copy-writing gig with the legal focused publication, the COO role with the marketing firm, the in-house counsel role for the tech enabled services firm, the campaign manager role for the up-and-coming politician, the policy wonk with the think tank, the VP of Biz Dev role with the global manufacturing firm, the consigliore to the C suite, the well-spoken blogger, the detailed SaaS project manager) present themselves after we have done a lot (a lot) of hard, smart, and courageous work.

This work manifests itself in many (very non-sexy,

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It’s out there, trust me, it’s out there

It’s out there.

You join or found or work on the side with a small company or law firm or consulting firm or organization or a simple web site or blog or something else. Whatever this is – it can be law focused, something totally different, or a mix. This job you do is challenging, and some of it will be grunt work, but the work aligns well with what you are good at and what you enjoy. You are confident at what you do, you actually look forward to what you do, which means you enjoy what you do and you are surrounded by supportive people which means you feel emboldened to take risks and try new things and see what is possible.

It’s out there.

If you like people and are empathetic and love to listen and speak and interact, this job lets you network and go for lunches and coffees … with potential partners and customers and employees. You enjoy motivating your direct reports, and you do a good job at it, and you understand the pulse of the office, and gently nudge and guide the team to a desired positive result.

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How to remove the risk from leaving law behind

I'm going in

 I’m going in.

I spoke with an attorney recently, and we had a great conversation about the issues she faces with the BigLaw firm at which she works. The lack of female attorneys for mentoring. The long hours. The dwindling chances of becoming a partner. Her mild depression as a lawyer. Her unhappiness as a lawyer. The allure of working in tech or marketing (or anywhere else “hip”). The realization that there is a bigger (and more lucrative) world out there than just being a litigator.

It was a great conversation and I’m happy to say that she is encouraged by all of the potential that exist for her beyond the firm and the law.

But she isn’t leaving the law. Nope. No time soon. She’ll be at her firm for a long while. She admitted as much to me.

Why? She feels that leaving the law is too risky. She feels that the potential for some sort of (huge, unmanageable) loss to arise from her leaving the law is too great for her to attempt it. Running out of money. Inability to pay her bills.

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Posted Today on – From the Career Files: The First Step in Leaving Law Behind — It’s the Money, Stupid

As a contributing writer to Above the Law’s Career Center, today they published part I of a five part series I’m writing on how to leave the law.

In  “From the Career Files: The First Step in Leaving Law Behind — It’s the Money, Stupid“, we explore why the first step in properly leaving the law is not polishing your resume or networking or combing through job posting.  The first step is to overcome any money fears we may have and to become as confident and exact as possible in understanding (i) our expenses and (ii) our safety net and other sources of financial support you can call upon if needed.

Please give it a read, and add your thoughts on or email me directly.  Thanks so much.

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Why leaving law behind is like studying for a law school final exam

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,

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Why a BigLaw attorney left the law, and a lucrative salary and lifestyle, behind

[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.

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Why the job you have now (and don’t like) is just what you need in order to find a better job (that you love)

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? 

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Get rid of that Sunday night anxiety once and for all

[Contact me if you’re interested in exploring a one-to-one leave law behind coaching course]

It’s Sunday and for many of us, the weekend is slowly winding down.  We often can’t enjoy the rest of Glorious Sunday because we know that Normal Monday (and our job or commute or routine or boss we may not really enjoy) is fast approaching.

Taking a first step to leave the law creates momentum, confidence and provides a new outlook on your life.  It also makes Monday look not so ominous.  This is just what I talked about this past week in a live interview with Vibrance Radio.  In the thirty minute interview, host Caroline Meyer and I discussed the five, achievable steps to leaving law behind, that the distinct legal skills and inherent talents you have right now are likely very transferable into another role or job, and why you should plan your next career move in part on whether or not you want to wear jeans to work.

Click here to listen to the interview and feel free to read Caroline’s summary notes of the interview here (which are also pasted in full below).

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