How to leave the law: Tips from a refugee attorney

 September 24, 2012

By  Casey Berman

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is a guest post by Gabe Rothman, who left the law (twice) and now performs Salesforce.com integration consulting.  Read more about Gabe at the bottom of this post, and come meet Gabe on October 2 at the Leave Law Behind event.]

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat itâ€
– George Santayana

As any of you who, like me, have worked with Casey and/or read this blog know, Casey is a fountain of useful advice on this topic, a supportive and omnipresent Jiminy Cricket lighting the path away from self doubt, away from your addiction to your professional identity, and toward personal fulfillment.  In that regard, I was honored when Casey asked me to contribute my insights and experiences to LLB.

After five years working in litigation with two different law firms, one failed attempt to leave the law behind, and countless hours of soul searching and second guessing; after numerous missteps, backsteps, and baby steps, I’ve succeeded in leaving the law behind.   After years of hoping that things would change, that the law could make me happy, that it would stop taking and giving nothing in return, I’ve packed my bags and bailed.

A month ago I embarked on a new career path at a hi-tech consulting company called Bluewolf.  We consult on business process, sales pipeline process, and various cloud applications, but our bread and butter is custom Salesforce.com configuration and implementation.

Before I get into how I got out, I want to discuss how I ended up a 4th year attorney with a mountain of debt and a strong disinclination to ever work for another law firm as long as I live.  If you are thinking of making this change, I urge you to heed the above advice of George Santayana because you can’t possibly hope to disembark from the path you are on without first examining how you arrived there.

If you’re anything like me a primary factor in your current dissatisfaction is a history of sometimes allowing life to happen to you.  By that I don’t mean to imply some sort of perpetual victimhood, but rather a proclivity towards a kind of “que sera sera†attitude in your career and perhaps other part of your life.  You avoided active decision making because you were afraid that making an active decision would force you to miss out on all the other amazing career possibilities out there.  You assumed you would somehow just magically find your passion in college; in your early career; in law school.  You have short-circuited finding a career you like because you have over analyzed what you think you’re supposed to want.

Well guess what? By not making active decisions you have made the passive decision to forego the same opportunities you were afraid of missing.  Also, let’s clear the air about something else, if you haven’t found it in your career by now, you’re probably never going to find your “passion,†and that’s ok. Finding your passion is for artists, athletes and musicians, so stop looking for it, because you are sacrificing satisfaction in pursuit of perfection. It’s ok for your passion to be a hobby. Stop allowing your career to define you and start defining what you want in a career. For now, don’t worry about what’s realistic; worry about what you want.

What industry do you want to work in? How large an organization? Self employed?  How long are you willing to commute?  How much money do you need (not want – need) to make? Do you want to be out of the office frequently? How much vacation time do you want?

I can tell you that I did none of the above analysis when I made the decision to apply to law school (I say “made the decision†only in the loosest sense of the meaning of the phrase). I had no idea if it was right for me and I ignored the warnings of several of my lawyer friends not to do it. I did it because it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.  I did it because I knew it would please my family. I did it because I didn’t know how else to find direction in my career and I was too lazy/scared to investigate and pursue less concrete options. And most ridiculously, I literally predicated my decision on whether to apply to law school on my LSAT results. I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to law school when I took the test.  $1,000, a Kaplan LSAT prep course, and a 169 later, and I had bought myself a one-way ticket on the dissatisfaction express.  It’s obvious in retrospect that my “strategy†(I am being generous) was destined to fail. It failed me when I decided to go to law school.  It failed me again when I took the first job I was offered after law school.  It failed me a third time when money enticed me to take my second law firm job in a practice area I already knew that I hated.

Before you walk the plank and dive headlong into a career change, be as sure as you can that whatever direction you go is going to be THE thing, as opposed to the next thing. Whatever course of action or thought process led you to law school, do and think the opposite. Stop throwing crap against the wall in the vain hope that something sticks.  Be strategic, do your research, take stock of what you want out of life and let that dictate your next step, and I beg you, give yourself an easy escape route this time.

After graduating from UCLA in 2000, Gabe moved to the Bay to pursue a career in technology just in time to see the bubble burst. After working his way through several jobs – graphic designer and project coordinator, among others – he applied to and ultimately attended UC Hastings Law School, graduating and passing the Bar Exam in 2007. For four years he worked as a construction, real estate and insurance litigator, but ultimately felt dissatisfied with litigation. In October 2011 he came full circle and left litigation to pursue a career in technology, ultimately landing at Bluewolf.

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  1. Always amazes me just how close a kinship the decision making process (of determining to apply and go to law school) seems to be for all of us.

  2. Thanks for your comment Jason. I am glad to hear that my experience speaks so poignantly for others experiencing the same frustrations in their legal career as me. Happy to be resource for others.

  3. “Also, let’s clear the air about something else, if you haven’t found it in your career by now, you’re probably never going to find your “passion,” and that’s ok. Finding your passion is for artists, athletes and musicians, so stop looking for it, because you are sacrificing satisfaction in pursuit of perfection.”

    Thanks for writing that. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing for years and what’s been a major roadblock. It’s nice to see it in print and to have someone else’s experience validate that.

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