So let’s say we begin to leave the law. We get a handle on our financial situation, we explore our Unique Genius, we get over … er somewhat mitigate … our fears, and we actually gain the courage to reach out to someone in our network for an informational interview over coffee on a weekday afternoon.
We rehearse our scripts, we sneak out of the office so no one wonders where we are going at 3pm. We know that the purpose of the informational interview is to research this person’s job and if we like what we hear, we want to see if we can get some leads of other similarly situated people we can talk to. We’re after opportunities. We are after possibilities. We are after expanding our net. We’re after abundance!
This person, let’s say a friend of a friend who works in tech (or branding or private equity or insurance or sales or marketing or HR), has generously agreed to take time out of his or her schedule to talk about him or herself and give us some insight into what their job is like. Sounds like a great plan.
We get seated, coffee tastes good, we’re full of energy, focused, surprisingly not-so-nervous, feeling confident until he or she asks:
“So tell me, why do you not want to be a lawyer anymore?”
And just like that, we’re immediately stumped. We’re tongue tied. We don’t really know.
Now hopefully this is a question you’ll have gone over and been truthful about as you explored your Unique Genius and why you even applied and went to law school in the first place. But if you didn’t touch on this question, or tried to and still can’t come to a good answer, that’s okay. Let’s explore one right now.
I think an answer to “Why do you not want to be a lawyer anymore?” is that it’s not that you don’t want to be a lawyer any longer. It’s just that you have realized that your skills set (your Unique Genius, your strengths, your enjoyments, what you’re confident at doing) is not really in-line with being a lawyer. You can sincerely explain that you are at a point where you know yourself well enough, have done enough lawyering, and you want to apply your skills and strengths in a more concrete way at a job, you want to optimize your enjoyments and interests, in another way (i.e. a non-legal job).
You can also tell this person that in life, you often find out what you like … and equally as valuable is finding out what you don’t like (or aren’t good at). And for many of us, it’s difficult but almost refreshing to say, that the law is not for us. And we’re ready to move onto something else, something else we feel we’ll be better at.
And here’s the kicker: contrary to conventional wisdom, a lawyer’s skills set IS highly applicable to and appropriate for, non-legal jobs. Many companies and non-profits and organizations are looking for and need people who are excellent at issue spotting, solving problems, calming clients, meeting deadlines, writing, upselling services, forming logical plans, retaining close customer contacts, performing deep analysis, comprehensive research, leading teams, being really smart, distilling complicated terms into simple language and helping people, etc., etc.
In short, turn a negative (“I don’t want to be …”) into a positive (“I think I’m actually better suited for …”). And then flip that abundance switch to on.
Like this approach? Have something better to propose? Think it’s crazy? Let us all know in the comments below. And the first three people that leave a comment below get a free 20 minute phone call with me to talk about whatever they want.
I like the approach, but I think part of the problem is that it’s difficult to get people to believe you. The common response is something like “maybe you’d like to practice law in a different firm. . .” or “maybe you should use your law degree for . . .”
It’s really difficult to explain to people that: 1) Yes I have a law degree; and 2) yes, i’ve been practicing for over twenty years as I can’t figure out how to get out; and 3) I don’t want to use my law degree for anything. I don’t even want to admit that I have a law degree. I very badly misdirected my career, I’m afraid, for which I have nobody but myself to blame, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that.
I find the answer that it’s simultaneously boring and stressful to be an answer most people can identify with.
I was just thinking about this the other day – I had been asked that question during an interview for a non-JD-required position and (as Yeoman mentioned) wasn’t believed one bit when I explained all of the positive things I was looking for…leaving out entirely the actual answer to the question about why I was looking to leave legal practice.
Why do I want to leave? I want to leave because constantly looking at and for problems and risks as part of my job is turning me into a Negative Nancy in non-work areas of my life. It’s making me grouchy and stressed out, and generally an unpleasant person to be around. I want to leave because I want the problems I solve to be a real solution that moves things forward, rather than merely puts a bandaid on an ulcer. And I want to take that forward momentum home with me at the end of the day, and not the problem itself. I don’t want to simply “win;” I want to grow.
Only when I explained that to the interviewer did I get more than an “uh-huh, yeah” on the other end of the phone.
Anna ran up against one of the very common aspects of this topic, which is that people have an idea about lawyers and that’s their idea. The idea is that: 1) they don’t work; 2) they get paid vast sums of money for not working; and 3) they get vast sums of money for not working. Repeat number 2 and 3.
People just don’t want to believe that you aren’t rich and don’t work. Frankly, other lawyers believe that other lawyers are rich and don’t work. A fair percentage of the time when you approach anyone with the idea that you want out, people can’t believe it as they want to be rich and they don’t want to work.
I’ve expressed my desire to close friend and family who simply come back with other law jobs I might be interested in, or maybe I’d like to move firms, or maybe I’d like to start my own firm. No, I don’t want to do any of those things as they’re all law jobs. And I’ve actually applied for other jobs only to have the interviewer come back and tell me that I wouldn’t be interested in them, as they’re not law jobs. That was the very point.
That won’t happen every time, but a law degree is like a scarlet JD branded to your forehead. That’s all a lot of people are going to see about you.
One thing I notice as a theme in these comments is the response that comes from already having applied to a job or are talking to someone who doesn’t care/have a vested interest in seeing you succeed.
Start off small. Start thinking about non-work ideas and non-acquaintances that you might be able to practice on. Go make mistakes with strangers because, normally, I don’t care what they think about me when I leave.
I started by reaching out to a local angel investor network and started attending their monthly meetings. Generally speaking, I think many would be surprised by the open-ness of people who are not gatekeepers (HR screeners who know nothing about our backgrounds and skillsets) and who are used to dealing with hard-working smart people all around them.
While none of us will wow everyone, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the reaction I received being a JD/MBA. It got me a few consulting projects on the side (some legal related, others not), and *cross my fingers* I’m hopeful that something from these startup company relationships will bear fruit.
Just my $0.02…YMMV….
This is certainly a great answer, Thanks!
“It’s really difficult to explain to people that: 1) Yes I have a law degree; and 2) yes, i’ve been practicing for over twenty years as I can’t figure out how to get out; and 3) I don’t want to use my law degree for anything. I don’t even want to admit that I have a law degree. I very badly misdirected my career, I’m afraid, for which I have nobody but myself to blame, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that.”
What Yeoman said and Anna too. The transition is very difficult. I wish I had never become a lawyer.
This was very good information! I have struggled with this question during the interviewing process. Mainly, because no one really believes that I no longer desire to practice