I love hearing stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of people first realizing they want to do something different to those people who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.
Here is the story of Alexandra Devendra, a Leave Law Behind reader, San Francisco, California attorney and former BigLaw lawyer who took the steps to leave the law and just recently formed her own consulting business. Alix has some personal experiences I think you’ll find very interesting and actionable.
For me the biggest obstacle to leaving the law was what I call the BigLaw blinders. Even though I knew I wanted to change careers, it was hard to even imagine what else I might do.
Working with Casey helped. A lot. His process for discovering your Unique Genius helped me understand what my skills and interests are, and I began to research different jobs and careers that might be a good match for me. I also followed his advice and started keeping a journal, where I jotted down ideas that eventually developed into what I’m doing now: legal design.
I should pause here to give a brief explanation, since “legal design” is a relatively new term. To me it means drawing on principles from several design disciplines—such as visual communication design and design thinking—to help other lawyers communicate the law more effectively, and to make the law more accessible. I provide my consulting services to other lawyers and legal-tech startups through my website devendra.design.
But, back to my story about working with Casey: for a long time the process remained very theoretical for me. I couldn’t fully shed my BigLaw blinders while still at the firm, making it hard to envision what life might be like if I did something else. And there was fear. Fear that even if I found a job that was more in line with my Unique Genius, I still wouldn’t be happy. I knew I wasn’t happy in BigLaw, but I hadn’t really loved my two pre–law school jobs either. Maybe it was just me; maybe I wouldn’t be happy in any job.
Informational interviews were difficult not only because it’s hard to find the time when you’re in BigLaw, but also because it was hard to know whom I should interview since I had not yet honed in on a specific alternate career, and my idea of combining law and design was still germinating.
Eventually the desire to leave BigLaw outweighed the fear of not knowing what would come next, and I left the law without a job offer (or even a concrete plan) in place.
My husband also works, but we were spending more than his salary at the time that I quit. Casey has great tools for forecasting how much savings and cash flow you need to have a runway—but, to be honest, I wasn’t that detailed about my transition. I just assumed that I could figure out how we would live on one salary. In the end, that meant cutting out several regular expenses (cable, music streaming, house cleaner, date-night babysitter). We also sold a lot of items on eBay and Craigslist in the beginning to make ends meet. (One thing I did not cut back on was full-time daycare for our daughter, since I needed all the time I could get to launch my new business.) Do I wish I was making more money? Sure. But I don’t regret my decision for a minute.
Interestingly, as soon as I left BigLaw, the blinders immediately came off.
A whole new world
I started seeing things that had been right under my nose the whole time. Like the fact that people switch careers all the time. And the fact that there are tons of former practicing lawyers leading happy #altlegal lives. And that my legal skills would be an asset to any future endeavor (like starting a consulting business, which is what I ended up doing).
Now that I could see the full picture, all of the other pieces of the puzzle started falling into place naturally. I had more time to think about what “legal design” meant, and to find others who had similar interests. I joined Twitter and, to my surprise, started reaching out to strangers and setting up coffees and Skype sessions. Perhaps even more surprising, I feel like I am working just as hard as before—but the difference is that I love all the projects on my plate now, which provides a totally different (read: revitalizing) energy.
One of my new projects is called Shape the Law. It is an organization that I founded with three other lawyers, all of whom I met after leaving the law. Our vision is to host “unconferences” for lawyers around the country to start a dialogue about what we can do to influence and improve the practice of law.
Our inaugural event is an unconference in San Francisco on April 29 for lawyers who self-identify as women. The theme of the event is wellness, wealth and wisdom. But, since it is an unconference, the agenda will be crafted by the participants. In the future we will host events that are open to all genders, and which may focus on other aspects of diversity in the legal profession.
If you’re reading this blog, I imagine you’ve thought about leaving the law yourself. But it’s scary; I know. Here are a few pieces of advice from someone who has done it. (And, if this resonates with you, feel free to contact me!)
- Start a journal. This was my favorite piece of advice from Casey. As Roland Barthes said, “In order to know what I think I have to write and see what I say.”
- Embrace the scariness. Even if you don’t have a job offer in hand, consider leaving the law anyway. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes you have to leave the law first in order to see all the possibilities around you.
- Join Twitter. There is an entire #altlegal community just waiting for you to join. And let me assure you, these folks are nice, and they want to help you leave the law too!
Alexandra Devendra is freelance legal designer. She draws on principles from several design disciplines (such as visual communication design and design thinking) to help other lawyers communicate the law more effectively, and to make the law more accessible. Prior to launching her business in 2015, Alix was a labor-and-employment associate in Nixon Peabody’s San Francisco office. She graduated first in her class from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 2011. Her undergraduate degree is from Pomona College, where she majored in French. Before law school, Alix worked as an executive assistant and a trust administrator. She can be contacted on Twitter at @alixdevendra or through her website devendra.design.