The issue many of us unhappy attorneys run into when attempting leave the legal profession for an “alternative career” is we have no idea where to begin.
By its nature, leaving the law is kind of a formless, unstructured exercise.
Sure, there is precedent of some kind in that other lawyers have left the law and we can read their stories.
But even though their stories may be inspiring, it still can be so difficult to muster the courage or find the motivation or suffer the desperation that these (now ex-) lawyers faced. Each of our situations is still unique.
And then besides just finding which step to take first, we are held back by so much more: Managing the weight of our student debt, our (sometimes) tortured relationship with money, the fear of relinquishing our identity as a lawyer, finding the time in our busy week to devote to identifying our Unique Genius, or dealing with the doubters in our life who don’t understand how an esteemed lawyer could ever be unhappy.
So we don’t do anything.
We may google “alternatives to legal career” or “non-law jobs for lawyers” or “how to leave law”, and we may complain, or think about a richer life, may read this blog, but in actuality, we feel paralyzed.
So we don’t do anything.
Let’s do something
Do we really want to leave the law? Then let’s begin.
To give us a structure that we can work from, I’ve laid out 21 detailed steps for us to use in leaving the law. Let’s read and do the below steps. As we go through them, comment below or email me [firstname.lastname@example.org] and tell me how things are going.
1. Understand what this really means. Leaving the law takes work, discipline, some comfort with the fact that not-all-can-be-figured-out-all-at-once, faith in the process and tuning oneself to feel the vibrations of opportunity.
2. Think only of ourselves. Let’s not think of careers, or which job to go to next or which job will pay the most or which job has the most stature or how we’ll craft our resume or who will actually hire us or what non-law jobs are out there.
Do not think of any of that.
Rather, let’s just prepare, for the first, or one of the first, times in our life, to think of ourselves. Just ourselves. Yourself. Think of what we like and are good at and enjoy and let that inform what we do next.
Be selfish. Be myopic. Be focused.
3. Let’s let influencers other than money define which new career path we want to take. Money (and security and stature and pleasing others) has always informed what we’ve done so far.
We already let those factors lead the way in our decision to go to law school … and look where they got us.
Of course we want to make money, and need to pay the bills. Money is a fantastic tool to enable us to live the life we want and deserve. We love money.
We’ll keep our day job to pay our bills, but as for next steps and how we’ll make money in the future, let’s not worry about that yet.
Why? Because we’re going to change things now, finally. We’re going to change our relationship with money. We’re going to change our relationship with seeking a job.
Now we’re going to let our skills and strengths and what we like to do inform what we do next. When we do what we’re good at, the money will follow. Trust.
4. Plan our finances. Take out an excel sheet (do not just do this in our head or on the back of an envelope) and plan what we can and cannot do financially for the next 12 to 18 months.
Forecast into the future. Discuss scenarios (keep our job, quit our job, become Of Counsel, take on contract work, etc.) with our family and our spouse and see what we can and cannot afford to do. We have responsibilities.
5. Do not be concerned about finding our passion in life. It can often stress us out when we try to find our passion or purpose or some other lofty goal.
Because we just might not have one.
Let’s let what we’re good at and enjoy doing inform what we do next, not some passion. If we can find it great, but if we can’t, that’s okay. We can still be happy and successful and worthy.
6. Build on Step 2 – let’s begin to ask for compliments. Let’s begin to find our Unique Genius by asking our friends and family to do one thing: Compliment us.
What am I good at?
What have I always excelled at?
What am I known for?
What do I enjoy doing?
Let’s poll our network (5 to 10 people, across various stages and phases of our life) to get a feel as to what we are really, really, really good at.
Go high level, get really detailed, get obvious, get corny, get sappy, whatever.
Have our network email us all of these traits that make up our Unique Genius strengths and skills, and just get them down on paper.
7. Organize the Unique Genius traits. Just like a research memo, now let’s write the Unique Genius traits out and organize them on paper.
Organize all of these traits and sub-traits into a manageable 3-5 buckets, with main strengths (“Insightful”, “Interpersonal”, “Dependable” and so one) and sub traits for each (“Creative problem solver” and “Very good listener” and “Meets deadlines”).
Create a manageable structure of our skills and strengths.
8. Read them. Feel them. Digest them. Make these Unique Genius traits ours. Speak them out loud into a mirror. Let’s feel really, really good about them. Sincere about them. Authentic about them. Confident about them.
And realize that these skills and strengths we thought we could use only as a lawyer are actually transferable to other types of jobs. Really.
9. Turn these 3-5 Trait buckets into a narrative.
What is our story?
When someone (hiring manager, informational interviewer, friend at a tech startup) asks us “So, tell me about yourself?” or “So, tell me why you’re applying for this (non-law) job?” we can fall back on our Unique Genius traits and say:
“I’m so happy you asked …” and jump into our tight, solid, authentic, sincere, confident narrative: “When I think of my skill set, and how I can contribute to this new job, I have bucketed my skills set into the following three traits, which I think are in fairly good alignment with the requirements of this job description. Let me briefly explain …”
10. Research jobs that align and require our Unique Genius traits. Search and speak to people about the multitude of jobs beyond just Transactional and Litigation.
Search for jobs (project manager, account manager, focus group moderator, management consultant, corporate trainer, HR manager, compliance, VP Operations, business development, and on and on and on) and read these job descriptions carefully and see which ones we think would call for our skills and strengths that make up our Unique Genius traits we have in our narrative.
11. Find people in these jobs for an informational interview. Reach out to them (over email or phone)
12. Meet them for coffee (or lunch or somewhere else, in person)
13. Do two things when we meet them.
Ask them about their day to day job so …
(i) we can research if we like this job (if we don’t like their job, we can cross it off our list and move on to the next one), and
(ii) If we do like their job, ask this person to introduce us to other people in the space with this type of job.
At the end, say something like, “Angela, I know Jim suggested we meet, and I really appreciate you taking time for your busy day to meet with me, but I want to let you get back to your office. Before I do, though, is there anyone else in your space you think I could talk to learn more?”
Do not necessarily ask for a job.
14. Meet more and more people for coffee
Do more and more research.
For the job areas we think we won’t like, cross them off our list.
For the job areas we think we do like, let’s ask for more and more people to meet with.
Some people will not follow up or want to meet. Others will.
Ask for more and more people to meet with.
Over and over again.
15. Build up our network.
16. Build up our courage.
17. Research and create and find opportunities that align with our skills and strengths. Become more and more certain about which jobs align with what we are good at and enjoy doing. Create contacts at organizations that will help facilitate the right introductions.
18. Feel confident in any decision we make.
19. Begin anew
20. Help others do the same.
21. Write a guest post for this blog detailing how we left the law.