How I learned a major aspect of leaving the law from riding on the subway

 November 7, 2014

By  Casey Berman


I take the subway to my office each morning. In San Francisco, public transportation is called the MUNI. I catch my MUNI train at the West Portal Station and ride underground to the Embarcadero.

Usually it’s uneventful. Trains run (fairly) on time and it gets you where you need to go.

And then there are the days when things don’t go so right. Trains are late. An accident happens. Every car that comes through is packed and you have to wait for the next one. Maybe you do catch your train, but it’s a herky-jerky, uncomfortable ride. The drivers don’t seem to care at all.

And then there are the (very infrequent) rides that are really kind of different and even enlightening.

Last week I took a T train downtown, and all the way from West Portal to Forest Hill to Castro to Church to Van Ness to Civic Center to Powell to Montgomery and then to Embarcadero. It was one of the nicest subway rides I have ever had.

It was the driver who made it nice. I couldn’t see his face, as he was secluded in the forward section of the train, but his voice, personality and empathy shown through as he spoke through the car speakers.

When we arrived at each stop, he listed in detail what attractions, landmarks, stores or bus connections were nearby above ground. He made sure to brake gradually and slowly so as to avoid abrupt stops that can often send one reeling and falling over. When we had to stop in the middle of the tunnel, he gave us accurate updates as to when we’d be moving again. He talked about the World Series Champion Giants. He told us at each stop that “Remember, Muni loves you!”

As he spoke, I found myself not ignoring him, but actually waiting to hear more. I looked forward to what he’d say next. I began to smile. I saw other riders smiling. A crowded, fluorescent-lit subway car all of a sudden became a real nice place to be.

And then it hit me. It was a nice place to be, because throughout the trip, this driver helped. Not only did he help me get where I was going, but he also helped me enjoy my trip. He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary except to care. And that little thing he did made the trip that much different.

And the great thing is he liked to help me enjoy my trip. He was good at helping me enjoy my trip. It came natural to him to help me enjoy my trip.

And then something else hit me. Leaving the law behind is really about one thing: finding a new, different, alternative way to help.

A job, any job, is just about helping people (in exchange for money). Graphic designers help people create imagery and style. Copywriters help people draft new content for their marketing pieces. Cell phone companies help people communicate wirelessly. Accountants help people file their taxes accurately. Lawyers help people by providing counsel and advice.

And leaving the law is for all of us just about finding a new, more satisfying way to help (and ultimately get paid for it).

Right now, we don’t like being lawyers because we don’t like who we are helping. (“I can’t stand my client”) We don’t like what we are helping (“I don’t really like this cause”). We don’t like what we have to do in order to help (“I wish I didn’t have to work weekends”). Or we feel that we don’t really help that much at all (“I really don’t know what I’m doing, I’m a fraud, and people will find out soon enough”).

We are not helping, or not helping how we want to, and we don’t like it.

So how do we begin to help (and leave the law) in a way that works for us? Here are three ideas to try:

1. Focus on what comes naturally to us. Let’s take the time to explore our Unique Genius – those skills, strengths and enjoyments that align with us so well, we may not even think of them as skills and strengths. There is a good chance that a lot of our unhappiness as lawyers is attributable to us not using our Unique Genius day to day.

But there is someone out there who can benefit from some skills we possess. We can help them.

2. Don’t worry about a job. When we want to leave the law, we rush to think about the next step: What job could we do next. It’s understandable. It’s exciting to think about it. And our fear of risk and uncertainty wants us to find a very stable position as soon as possible.

In order to find out how we can help best, let’s now worry about a job. That can be distracting. Or lead us down the wrong path.

Instead, let’s keep our current job (for now) and really focus on just helping. Just helping. One small, easy to do babystep. How can we help people the best, and enjoy it.

Volunteer. Help someone close to us. Help a client pro bono. Do something that interests us and also helps others. Let’s just do anything where we can help someone with our skill set and enjoy it and build confidence and excel.

3. Focus just on ourselves. Many of us are busy. We can’t volunteer. We can’t do pro-bono work. We’re tired. We’re stretched. We want to leave, we want to help. But looking at our calendar, it won’t happen any time soon.

Fine, I hear you. Then let’s help others by first helping ourselves. And let’s begin to help ourselves by being honest with ourselves, and building a small measure of momentum by authentically and sincerely asking ourselves the following tough, introspective questions (confidentially email me – casey@leavelawbehind.com – your answers if you’d like):

  • Why did you go to law school (really)?
  • If you couldn’t call yourself a lawyer (say at a cocktail party or BBQ) how would you feel? Why?
  • How do you feel about money? Where do you think this feeling or outlook comes from?
  • What skills do you have, that come so naturally to you, you don’t even think of it as a skill?
  • Who are you trying to make proud or impress? Why? Should you even be focused on impressing these people?

Leaving the law is really just finding a new way to help the world … a way we enjoy and are good at.

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  1. 100% right. I say this all the time – I never felt like I was really helping my clients in the law before and now, since leaving the law, clients can’t tell me enough. Spot on post.

  2. Leaving law in 2012 was the best decision I could have made. I only wish I had left in 2003 or never ever have gone to Law School. I’ve never hated anything so much in my life and battled depression and anxiety which I had never dealt with before. I’m now pursuing my passions acting and fashion and while it isn’t easy nothing is as horrible as being an Attorney.

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