How Kate Left the Law (readers write in)

 January 3, 2019

By  Casey Berman

[CASEY’S NOTE:  The following is a guest post by a Leave Law Behind reader, Kate Morthland (Linkedin Profile), full of detailed tips and guidance as to how she left the law for a career in Public Policy.]

I make most of my life decisions based on unrelenting intuition.  If I have a “gut feeling†about a dog, I adopt said dog.  If I “feel†like making a career change, I make it.  If I make a terrifying realization in the middle of law school that I do not want to be a lawyer- I chart my own path.


Looking back, I couldn’t be happier that I utilized my skills I attained in law school for an alternative career as a policy analyst.  I am living proof that “legal skills†are incredibly transferable. Ponder this– If you are an attorney standing in front of a courtroom, you have amazing public speaking skills.  If you are a mediator, you have superb negotiation skills. The skills you learned in law school and practice daily are rare gems that can bolster your resume. The trick is messaging. We all know the law leaves little room for creativity, so many people feel stuck or that their skills cannot transfer because they lack the messaging skills to rebrand their legal skills for the job they want.  Plus, the legal world rarely provides lawyers with any education to alternative career options. It’s Courtroom or Bust!


You want to know a secret?

As you sit here reading this, you possess every skill to be whatever you want.  You have strong public speaking skills, you can analyze under pressure, you can think on your feet, manage high work volumes, and many other skills that will have employers drooling over you.  Even if you want to quit your job and become a yoga instructor; believe in yourself. You put yourself though law school. That alone is an outstanding feat. You have the resiliency and hard work to be whatever you want to be!


Taking inventory of how amazing you are is one of the first steps to leaving the law.  You are more viable than you will ever know. This was incredibly hard for me to learn.  I remember googling “leaving the law†and browsing the Leave the Law Behind (LLB) website.  The blog provided me with all the confidence I needed to push forward with my dreams. LLB gave me the skills and confidence I needed to chart my own path.  I finally had a community of accomplished people in the same boat I was. Casey, along with each guest blogger, are building their own future, brick by brick, while providing the comforting reassurance that you don’t need to tear down the wall to build it back up.  You have all the skills necessary!


With that said, I felt it imperative to jot down some lessons I have learned from my own journey of leaving the law.


Lesson 1: To leave the law, you must take inventory of your skills and utilize/emphasize your strengths

Law school and the legal field arm you with incredible tools that are highly transferable in many career fields.  You learn how to be a great writer on law review. You learn how to be a proficient public speaker as a member of trial team.  You learn how to multitask and manage your time. By the time you graduate (hopefully) you can analyze and simplify complex issues.  These are highly sought-after characteristics in most job markets.  When you take the legal out of “legal skills,†you are left with amazing qualities that are highly transferrable. The tricky (and fun) part is branding yourself for the job you want with the skills you already possess!


In the middle of my second year in law school, I knew I wanted nothing to do with the law.  This feeling terrified me.  I hated how competitive my classmates were. I developed an intense fear of being wrong. Absolutely everything in law school was a high stake, anxiety filled gamble.  And to put a cherry on top, visiting attorneys warned us our hardest day in law school was our easiest day in practice.


Umm…no thank you.


So here I was, 100K of student loan debt looming over my head, and trying not to vomit when thinking about my entire future profession.  I was sitting pretty on the bell curve but had zero passion for anything to do with the courtroom.  I knew there were other career options out there, but they were reserved for people that “couldn’t cut it†as an attorney and no one really talked about other career avenues.  It was courtroom or bust, and I couldn’t fit my hexagonal peg into the square hole of the law.


So, I forged my own path, and with fantastic career coaches, professors, (and the supportive LLB posts and emails) who understood my eclectic career choice, I started to build on my strengths and brand myself.  I knew I wanted to work in legislation.  I love negotiating and writing law.  I am fascinated with how legislation must fit into old law like a puzzle piece.  I enjoy analyzing how a simple sentence can change law entirely.  When I found my passion, I worked backwards and filled my time building on the traits what would propel me in the position.


To be a viable applicant in the legislative/ public policy realm, one must be a great writer, speaker, and problem solver.  I became an editor on law journal to increase my writing skills.  I joined a transaction team to work on my public speaking and problem-solving skills.  I used my time in law school to build these traits, so I could easily transfer into my dream job.


Lesson 2: Listen to yourself- ALWAYS

I will be completely honest with you.  I failed 2016 Illinois Bar Exam. I failed by fifteen points and at the time it was the most excruciating event that I have ever experienced.  I still remember not being able to catch my breath when I opened the e-mail: “I regret to inform you that you have failed the Illinois Bar Exam.â€


I’m sure you are thinking, wait, why did she take the exam if she didn’t want to practice?  Well, I can finally answer that question with painful honesty and much required wisdom. The answer: because everyone else was taking the exam and everyone expected me to.  I knew I didn’t want to practice, but not taking the bar exam after you graduate law school equates to buying a thousand-dollar airline ticket and not boarding the plane.  I didn’t want to be a “failure†in the eyes of my family or friends. Due to intense societal pressure, I stopped listening to my intuition and started listening to my ego.


While trying to accomplish what everyone else wanted of me, I lost the intuition that propelled me through law school.  As a result, I failed the bar and myself.


It was essential for my health and happiness to be courageous enough to stand up for what I wanted to do in an environment that looked down on thinking outside the box.


Lesson 3: Be a consistent courageous force 

This lesson continues to be the most difficult.  After failing the Bar Exam, everyone asked, “Are you going to take it again?â€


I had to find the courage to say, “no.â€


The responses to “I am not taking exam again,†were tough to swallow.  Responses varied from “why†to “you won’t find a job without the bar exam†to stunned and confused silence.


I had to learn to be consistently courageous with my career choices.  I used these questions to provide honest responses.  The more I answered, the better I felt about my career path.  I started to water down everyone’s doubt and trust my intuition again.


The idea of jumping of the proverbial legal ship is scary.  You’ll be judged.  You’ll be talked about at work. Your family will not understand you or worry about you.  I wish I could tell you that these things won’t happen, because they will.   And for those of you working in the law for power or prestige this lesson will be the most difficult to learn.


This transition will be painful in a way that you won’t expect.  You won’t really mourn for the life you are leaving behind. (I certainly didn’t!)  You will finally feel like you are making a right choice for yourself, but reactions from others might make you feel low and unsure of your choice to leave the law.  Which, from experience, can be draining, frustrating, and even debilitating. You must be ready to make yourself a priority and build your confidence. This step is vital to your success.


Now, I am aware that I am an avocado toast indulging, brunch loving, expensive coffee drinking millennial.  But, to combat these negative energies, you MUST practice the millennial coveted “self-care.†I swear by it.  Build your confidence by taking care of yourself. I did this by running and meditation. Running always cleared my head and made me feel better.  Meditation slowed down my anxiety and allowed me to think of my next steps. I made these hobbies into mandatory daily rituals, no matter how little time I thought I had. Whatever it is that you decide, whether it be dancing, journaling, or cooking, make it a priority.  The stronger and happier you are with yourself, the easier it will be to handle the pessimistic environment when you leave the law.


How much time have you devoted to thinking about your job, friends, or clients instead of your personal health?  Embarking on this professional change is about YOU. To make this change, you must spend more time understanding and loving yourself.  Where you are now is an investment to your future. Treat your body, heart, and mind as such.


Trusting yourself and your passions are a journey.  Not only do you need to be courageous, you must be consistently courageous.  To be courageous, you must believe in your choices, despite what others may say about them.  You must protect your choices and defend them with unabating resiliency. I still have family members ask why I don’t practice, even after I am well established in another field.  I still find myself in conversations with attorneys which are latent with condescending tones as they respond to my career path.  I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me that they would think I am any less successful than them.  I am always challenged to trust my instincts, but it reminds be to remain consistently courageous with my choices.


If you are reading this, chances are that you are ready to jump ship too.  Somewhere in your gut you just know.


Trust yourself and remain consistently courageous in your journey, wherever in your professional life you may be.  It is never too late to change.


Kate Morthland works in the public policy industry.  She lives with her husband (who recently left the law to join her in the legislative arena), two cats, and a golden retriever named, “Cheese.â€Â Kate mentors students from her alma mater wishing to leave the law early.   She would like to establish an educational pilot program at her alma mater that provides non-traditional law career opportunities to law students. You can find her at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-morthland.

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