The main fear preventing us from leaving the law

 March 24, 2016

By  Casey Berman

We want to know what non-law job we will get. We want to know how it will all work out. We want to know how and when we’ll be happy.

We need certainty. We’re lawyers, and we are naturally (or we were trained to be) risk averse, and we have people in our life who may not understand why we would want to leave, and we have student loans we need to pay down and we can’t risk time without a salary.

And if we can’t find out what our future holds for us now, right now, then we don’t know, we’re just not sure, maybe we won’t do this whole leave law behind thing after all.

We want certainty.


But let’s look at this another way.

What if in the beginning of an engagement, our clients came to us and said:

“Will this plea deal get done? And if it does, what will I be able to do?”

“Will I get custody, and if I do, will it be full or partial?”

“Will we sign this agreement? And if we do, what will the final terms look like?”

To each of these questions, we lawyers would likely say some variation of “it depends”.

We would say “it depends” because we may not exactly know what the end result would be.

We would say “it depends” because the end result would depend on going through the whole process, on a number of circumstances, some of which might be unknown or still to be developed or discovered.

And we would say “it depends” because any case or deal or negotiations is finalized over time. It builds on emotions and negotiations and patience and momentum and confidence. What happens at the end sometimes could have been predicted … and other times is a wild surprise.


And the same goes for leaving the law

Once we gain the courage to act, to take baby steps and direct our energy and vibration and momentum to align with our skills and strengths and enjoyments, we only then begin the uncertain ride.

And it’s a ride. It needs to be a ride. The time it takes to leave the law, the effort it takes to leave the law, the momentum it takes to leave the law, are all stages in a necessary process. We can’t build lightning quick momentum in an instant. We would hurt ourselves if we did. We wouldn’t learn what we need to learn if we did.

The caterpillar might want to become a butterfly right away, but it knows it needs to first develop for some time in the cocoon.

Same with us. When leaving the law, our transformation is beautiful and worth it because of what we learn through the transformation, not only because of what we transform into.

So come with me, let’s visualize ourselves changing over time, seeing ourselves in a new light, feeling good about ourselves, seeing that our skills are really valued by other people, and they tell us “good job” and “nice work” and we gain praise, and we gain courage, and we gain money, and we see potential for ourselves, wait a minute, we actually reach our potential each and every day, and it doesn’t mean the anxiety isn’t still there, or sadness isn’t still there, but now we can deal with it, we’re stronger, yeah, we’re stronger, and we like ourselves, oh man, we like who we are, we like ourselves, and then we realize that big things, real big things, real good feelings, aren’t just for the others, they aren’t just for that person on TV or that person we envy, but these real big things are for us, we realize these big things are for us, and we realize that this fear we have had in us, this fear we have had in us, is really not the fear of our boss being mad at us and it’s not the fear of running out of money and it’s not the fear of failure, but it’s the fear that we will one day be big, we will one day be a huge success, and we’re fearful of this because of all the hard work it takes and we’re fearful of this because of all of the overwhelmingness we will feel and we’re fearful that now that we have the courage to leave the law we must go through with it, but as we gain this momentum and strength and confidence, and as we realize we are so good, we may not extinguish but we sure can mitigate this fear, and when we do that, we realize that our wings have unfolded and we’re already flying up.

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  1. The uncertainty of the future outside law isn’t the hard part, it’s letting go of the past that I think keeps people in the profession lying to themselves. The hardest part for me was walking away from the sunk cost, which is huge in terms of loans and learned skills. It’s incredibly hard to admit “I spent 7 years becoming a lawyer and developing a reputation as a competent litigator… and all I got was financial ruination and some war stories.” Right up until the second when I admitted this, I was deceiving myself about even my own feelings towards the profession. I can’t even count the number of attorneys I’ve known that routinely inflate how positively they feel about their jobs, the career prospects, their cash flow, their success at litigation, etc. They hate the taste of it, but they can’t admit that all the shit sandwiches they’ve eaten don’t lead to a glorious payoff of some sort (well, they do, the prize is more shit).

    Once I admitted that it had been a mistake, moving on was surprisingly easy. I had a seven year gap in my resume from going to school and practicing for nearly 4 years, but once I decided to bail on the legal profession, I landed a good job as a programmer within a month. Explaining the gap was easy because I really had moved on in my heart. All I had to do was tell the truth.

    I’ve now been out now for over three years and I’ve never been happier.

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