I wrote a guest post for Above the Law’s Career Center last week. I thought it was pretty good, and some readers did too. They thought the article was helpful, answered some top of mind questions for them and laid out what transferable skills lawyers possess in a clear and accessible way.
But some others who commented on the article didn’t feel it was so good.
Rabbitfever wrote: Casey, this blistering insight must come as a great relief to all of the unemployed attornies [sic] out there. Do you have any special advice for the minority who are not third generation venture fund inheritors? I guess their superior interpersonal skills should get it done, huh? That and the upselling. Never forget the upselling.
Atilla the Hun wrote: Interpersonal skills??? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA This list is like the author was dreaming about how wonderful his mommy would tell him he was if she were still on speaking terms with him.
And there were others.
My first instinct was to feel attacked. This post is something I worked on for a while and wanted to share with the world, and here were these anonymous readers criticizing me, and not in the most respectful or productive way.
Then, I felt like a disappointment. I envisioned everyone (my friends, my family, the whole world) reading these comments and coming to their senses and saying something like You know what, I agree, this Casey guy is a fraud. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
And then I wanted to help them. I wanted to let them know that leaving the law is a process. It takes time. It takes baby steps. And hard work, but that anyone can do it.
But what hit me the most was that these comments are a real life example of why many of us do not leave the law, of why many of us do not follow our dreams, of why many of us do not stop being [admittedly unhappy] attorneys.
We don’t do anything different because we are afraid of being criticized. We are afraid of being noticed. We are afraid of being unique. We are afraid of being embarrassed. We are afraid of being called out as a fraud.
There are three things I learned from reading these comments, and which I think can help all of us as we yearn to leave the law, grow our confidence, be creative and do something different.
1. If we’re being criticized, we’re likely doing something right. Or exciting, or new or different. All of us who are or yearn to be leaders and unique thinkers or to march to the beat of our own drummer will face some criticism from others as we begin to act on these urges. These critiques just mean that there is insecurity and fear and confusion out there in reaction to what we do, not that our actions are wrong. It’s them, not us.
2. It means we’ve decided to get out there. 80% of life is just about showing up. And when we show up (when we choose to leave the law and explore our Unique Genius and do something different] we will most likely elicit reactions and new conversations, good and bad. But these conversations can only help us learn. This comes with the territory of showing up and taking baby steps and acting. And remember, the converse is likely true too … if we’re not being criticized, it may mean we’re not doing anything worth noticing.
3. It’s very helpful to be called out. When we explore leaving the law behind, we actually want to seek out critiques and obstacles and challenges. These teach us to be flexible and open and courageous and honest and receptive to change. When we incrementally and gradually and sincerely overcome challenges, we build self-confidence and self-worth (Did I really just overcome that?) and momentum (You mean I got criticized, and I’m still standing, and my world didn’t end and the whole world didn’t laugh at me? Wow, I can do anything now …) to attain a growing income and passionate lifestyle and happiness.
As we are hesitant to leave the law because we are afraid of being criticized, or if we have begun to leave the law and we encounter critiques that hurt, we need to remember that these are only proof that we are on our way. They are not a sign that we should stop… rather they are a sign that we need to keep on moving.
Hey Rabbitfever, Atilla the Hun, I’ve got a new Above the Law article coming soon. I’m looking forward to your thoughts …
Why would you ever read the comments on ATL, let alone respond to them?
:). Great point and thanks for the support … I considered responding to them, but I directed my energy rather into this post.
Well said Casey. Two quick thoughts:
1) You’re spot on with the criticism part, particularly for lawyers. We’re not trained nor, in my opinion, naturally inclined to “think outside the box.” Further, legal training and natural argumentative ability enable most lawyers to be very vocally, cogently, even stingingly critical when they want to be. Criticism may hurt but if you’re getting a reaction it means you’ve probably struck a nerve.
2) Want to underscore and maybe add quickly to your point about criticism: While criticism might be said in a mean-spirited way there can be a kernel of truth underneath. If we can learn to hear the criticism for what it is, embrace it, be grateful for it, adapt our message/plan accordingly then we can come out the other end that much stronger.
Great post and great story.
Great point. I’m working on understanding what kernels of truth are in these comments. Should I make it more clear that you don’t need to be rich already to leave law behind? Should I explain more what is meant by “inter-personal skills”?
Maybe critiques is a just another way of saying “Casey, I don’t know if I completely understand your point … could you elaborate further?”.
Thanks again for the comment
I am almost 8 years into practicing law as a trial attorney, (specifically work as a public defender). It is a job I have both loved and hated. I have spent the last month thinking about what else I could do with my life that isn’t so unbearably stressful while still having a high level of job satisfaction. I can’t imagine working a desk job and can’t afford to make less money (my student loans are never going away!) So, I have been exploring career options and just wanted to let you know I have recently discovered your blog and been appreciating your posts.
Thank you for the comment, and so happy to hear to LLB resonates with you.
As a starter, check out the 5 steps to leaving law behind at http://leavelawbehind.com/5-steps-to-leave-law-behind/. Hopefully this will give you a starting point. Keep me posted.
Well said. I did my training for a year and practiced just under two years. I knew from an early stage of my legal career that practicing law (especially an area of law that I had absolutely little interest in) was not why I went to law school. I wish I was more courageous to leave earlier than letting it get to the stage of becoming made redundant. But it’s the best thing that has happened, and although I am not practicing law) it was the best thing that happened as I have the opportunity toexplore what area of law interests me the most.
No better time than the present. It’s easy to wish we had done things earlier, but when the courage arises, it’s a great time to act.
Thanks for the comment!
Each time I see this brand of criticism in response to [particularly career] advice, I interpret it as the frustrated lamentations of the desperate and incompetent. These are people who feel trapped in their current station, who are terrified of the uncertainty and pitfalls, both real and imagined, that follow a career change, and who demand to be walked through the entire process of leaving the law, step by step, because they have no confidence in their own judgment.
At least, that’s why I have lashed out at career advice in the past: I wanted someone to hold my hand through the entire process, apprising me of every possible risk and way to mitigate them, telling me how much money I needed to make in order to live a satisfactory lifestyle, and, frankly, assessing me and answering the one question that has alluded me: what should I do for my career?
Thanks so much for the comment. You hit on a lot of relevant points – accountability, courage and hard work. It’s all needed throughout the journey.
I adore your inspiring enthusiasm Casey. And there’s something I was wondering…is there any chance for the qualified attorney (legal advisor) to have both: keep on practicing the law on one hand and do the other things on the other? Such as e-commerce, writing the TV shows, artists management. How about the professional reputation? Are we less credible doing both? Or is it much like quit sleeping it’s nothing but a waste of time 😉
So sorry for the late response, for some reason I am just now seeing your comments.
Absolutely, I think an attorney can do both. Look at Robert Shapiro and LegalZoom or Dershowitz at Harvard (and all the other things he does). Of course, you want to do both in a professional way, and you don’t want to do something on the side which could mar your reputation (professionally or personally). But if you practice law and then something on the side (blog about a topic you like, or start a YouTube channel about things you like or moonlight as a screenwriter or start a website which sells something) all that is doing is (i) showing how cool and multi-talented you are (ii) and adding a new revenue/interest stream for you.
Let me know what you think, or email me directly with more idea.
Not sure if that commenter was factually correct when he characterized you as the third-generation scion of your family’s investment fund, but either way, I think it would be helpful for you to discuss things in terms applicable to those of us who don’t have any family wealth and who themselves have negative or near-zero net worth.
Given that I live in the bay area, If I leave the law behind and fail to find something paying $80k or more, i’m going to find myself homeless pretty rapidly.
Thank you for the comment. No, the commenter was not accurate at all. I am not a scion of any flush investment fund. While I have a lot of support here in San Francisco (I’m born and raised here and still live here, so I have a lot of family around), I did not have a trust or anything like that fund my journey to leave the law: I have hustled to pay the bills, provide for my family, battled self-doubt, wrestled with anxiety, and tried to appreciate all I have.
You’re right, it is expensive in the City. But that’s why to properly leave the law, you don’t just leap. You plan it out carefully, and take babysteps. And assessing your financial situation is actually the First step in leaving the law. Check out the article I wrote for Above the Law right on this point – http://abovethelaw.com/career-files/the-first-step-in-leaving-law-behind-its-the-money-stupid/
Hope this helps, please be in touch
Thanks for all of your posts. I’ve been practicing for about 3 years (as a solo practicioner for almost 2) and have started questioning if the law is the right place for me. While it has its ups and downs, the unbearable amount of pressure people (including ourselves) put on lawyers is crazy. The biggest hurdle for me is the money. Your posts have really helped me to start think through this more.
Thank you very much for the post, and I’m happy LLB is helpful.
Regarding money, what really is the issue? How you’ll make the same amount of money now if you ever leave the law? How you’ll ever make money doing something besides law? What exactly is the hurdle? Many other people have money issues too.
I recently made the decision to consider alternate careers to law. Long story short, I am admitted to practice in one state but, while I passed the bar in the other, failed the MPRE, so I have to leave my firm in a few weeks. I had doubts about my decision to pursue a legal career even before I started law school, but the circumstances here have forced me to jump ship (which is an additional blessing because I happen to really hate where I work), and I think it’s the best decision I could make at this point. The job hunting process has been tough, but what’s been even tougher has been admitting to others and to myself that I don’t want to use the six figure education that I received to practice law. In fact, just this morning I e-mailed a family member asking him whether he knew anyone who worked at a non-legal firm where I am applying so that I could play the networking game, and his first question was, “do you really want to do that and not practice law?” And telling him the truthful answer was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done to this point. But your insight into the entire process is extremely helpful in shaping my perspective; making this decision, which I’ve admittedly been forced to make (at least until I pass the MPRE and get admitted and then maybe reconsider) has forced me to really look at myself and acknowledge that I have strengths that are not suitable for law, and weaknesses that inhibit my ability to practice. Anyway, I just felt the need to share because your experience and insight rang so true with my thought process. Here’s to bravery!
I really appreciate the comment, thank you. Yes, it’s tough, and it take a lot of work, and there is a lot of self doubt, and a lot of rejection. But it courageous. And there aren’t that many times in life when we can willingly be courageous. It’s a great opportunity.
When someone asks me why I left the law, I like to say that my skills and strengths were not in alignment with the responsibilities of the practice of law. I was leaving skills on the table. Plain and simple. And that’s why now I am looking for those non-legal opportunities that will let me optimize what I’m good at. These new roles can really appreciate what I’m good at doing.
So as you go through the job search, I wouldn’t worry too much about what you want to do. Rather, as a first step, focus on what you are good at, strong at and enjoy. Nail these skills and strengths, feel comfortable and confident in them, and then let them inform your job search. Match the job to you, and not the other way around. I wrote a piece at Above the Law about this at http://abovethelaw.com/career-files/the-third-step-in-leaving-law-behind-do-what-you-are-good-at/. Hope this helps.
Thanks for your very smart articles. I am not like your other readers – I have been an attorney for 34 years and will be retiring soon. I have no intention of sitting around all day once I retire and would like to put my skills to good and economic use but on a part-time basis and not in the legal field (at least not in my current thinking). I will look over your suggested “steps” to see if I can identify the specific skills I’d like to advance in the next chapter of my life. Have you run into any other older, seasoned near-retirement readers responding to your quest to leave the law behind? If so, what sort of common issues do you find they mention or express concern about?
Thank you so much for the comment. I do speak with many seasoned attorneys looking to leave the law or just retire and keep doing something engaging.
The main obstacle for them?: “I’m too old to do anything new”.
I think this is not true at all. We can all transition or segue at any time. Sure, we can’t do at 50 or 60 what we could do at 30, but we likely don’t want to!
Check out http://abovethelaw.com/career-files/the-third-step-in-leaving-law-behind-do-what-you-are-good-at/. What is your Unique Genius?
I just found your blog, about 7 months after transitioning into an in-house role in which I have a ~50% business focus/50% legal – that’s after a 12 year (busy!) litigation practice that was successful, but left me angry at, and suspicious of, everyone. I hated it. I took this new job with a strong sense that it would be good for me, though it was a gut feeling more than anything I could actually articulate. So, at first, I hid the fact that I’m not in law 100% anymore, somehow ashamed that I was wasting my legal education. Now, reading these posts and comments, however, I see that I need to get over it. I am learning a lot and good at what I do. I have a clearly defined trajectory within this company that will lead me to much higher levels of success that I would have had at any large (soul sucking) law firm. AND I GO HOME HAPPY AT NIGHT! I have no reason to be ashamed of this “switch” in my career path, and it’s time I held my head up a little higher. Thanks for that – I’ll be back here often. If you ever decide to feature “real life” stories from your readers, let me know and sign me up.
Thank you so much for the comment, I really appreciate it.
Yes, our need to identify as an attorney (solely as an attorney) can be stifling, and myopic, and keep us on one solid (unhappy) track.
But when you break free … wow. You are now free, satisfied, confident, hopeful, ambitious, successful, driven, hopeful and happy. Nothing wrong with that!