[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by a current technology transactions attorney and first time guest blogger on Leave Law Behind. Here, he tells us how and why identifying a specific reason that he wants to leave law behind has been helpful in his transition.]
In my journey to leave law behind, it has been helpful to identify and constantly remind myself of the concrete reasons why I want to leave. Of a few that I’ve been able to ascertain, one obvious example is a mismatch of my personal values with those of most in the legal profession.
I parted ways with a small boutique law firm a while back. Although I wasn’t fired, the separation was very difficult. For a period of time after I left I placed a lot of the blame on myself and even began to question my competence as a professional.
A few months later I continued to reflect on the situation, still uncomfortable with how things had ended. I recalled that while at the firm we frequently received junk mail for various CLE offerings. The other attorneys would joke about how uninteresting these offerings seemed to them while I got really excited reading the pamphlets and thinking about learning something completely new and different. For me these CLEs represented not a distraction from the singular focus that made our firm so valuable, effective, and efficient (the mindset of my colleagues) but an opportunity to expand my horizons and better understand the world around me. And taking that time, to expand my horizons, was important to me.
I also remembered how not only were my colleagues singularly focused upon billable hours (how many they had, whether time was billable, how much time in a day they had to devote to billable activities) but that they were remarkably content to be so focused. I, on the contrary, was very unhappy thinking that way. There were many other important things that I wanted to do with my time that didn’t fit into the paradigm of a billable hour: chasing down a crazy idea, sitting and just thinking, writing, developing a new approach to some kind of problem, or meeting with interesting people to hear about their ideas. I didn’t want to have to worry about whether or how much of the time that I spent doing those things, those things that I felt were important, could be attributed to a specific client’s bill in six-minute increments. Those other activities seemed inherently valuable to me.
Many people, and particularly many lawyers, might have concluded that my thoughts were either self-deceiving justification of my laziness or wishful but unrealistic thinking that work should be all fun. I chose to view it a different way. I decided that I was neither lazy, nor incompetent, nor unrealistic: I just didn’t care about the same things that most lawyers did nor did most lawyers care about the things that were important to me. We had (and have) differing values.
Once I realized that the issue wasn’t skills, smarts, or work ethic but values that made me uncomfortable as a lawyer, I could confidently and comfortably state that practicing law – or at least, practicing in the traditional sense – was not for me.
I have yet to complete my transition to leave law behind. In fact, I’m really just beginning. However, my acknowledgement that my personal values don’t align with those held by most others in the profession has been a helpful guide and reminder as I move forward in my journey.
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“One obvious example is a mismatch of my personal values with those of most in the legal profession.”
I hope for your sake that you have accurately imagined all those people’s values! But I suspect you are conflating being a lawyer with being at the wrong law firm. And for good reason: “constantly reminding yourself of this” is comforting and helpful for wedging yourself out of a career that’s not the right fit.
Let me propose something less far-fetched but just as legitimate a reason for leaving the law behind: you don’t LIKE being a lawyer. That’s enough you know.
Try this on for size: “Once I realized that the issue wasn’t skills, smarts, or work ethic but PREFERENCES that made me NOT LIKE BEING a lawyer, I could confidently and comfortably state that practicing law – or at least, practicing in the traditional sense – was not for me.”
Hi, great blog post. I’m also going through something very similar– just decided to get out of law because its such a waste of my real talents. I completely agree with your statement “One obvious example is a mismatch of my personal values with those of most in the legal profession.” Most lawyers value money– bottom line. They can sit their and deny it all they want, but we all know this is truly what they value. The people leaving the profession know what is more important in life (and its not money!), and I have so much respect for you for putting it all behind you.
If you’d ever like to get in touch, feel free to email me sometime, its always good to hear from people in similar situations! Best of luck 😀