Why finding an “alternative legal career” is very difficult (and why that’s a real good thing)

 April 2, 2013

By  Casey Berman

Seth Godin, one of the most intelligent, inspiring and motivational bloggers I follow, wrote a post called “Just the Good Parts” over the weekend, where he stressed that as we (genuinely) develop our life path and grow and accomplish, we must embrace the difficult as much as celebrate the good.

I want to be an actress, but I don’t want to go on auditions” he writes. “You don’t get to just do the good parts,” he reminds us, and then urges that “When the tough parts come along, the rejection and the slog and the unfair bad breaks, it makes sense to welcome them. Instead of cursing or fearing the down moments, understand that they mean you’ve chosen reality, not some unsustainable fantasy. It means that you’re doing worthwhile, difficult work, not merely amusing yourself.”

He finishes by saying “The very thing you’re seeking only exists because of the whole. We can’t deny the difficult parts, we have no choice but to embrace them.”

You’ve likely heard of this before in some form. “You need the ups and the downs” or “You can’t appreciate the good until you’ve experienced the bad” or “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

And what I like about Godin’s post is his emphasis on “embracing” the difficult parts.

To drill down even further, I like to think that when you properly embrace the difficult (or the overwhelming or the where-do-I-start? or the confidence-busting or the de-motivating or the demon-voice-creating) aspects of life, work or, for our purposes here, leaving the law, you actually begin to find the value in the difficult, the bad, the risky, the failing.

We of course know the value of success, as it can be easy to see: more money, more confidence, more awareness, more comfort, more peace-of-mind, more respect, more freedom.

But the value of the difficult can be harder to discern. Not because it is any less, but rather because our place-in-life at that time or our mood or our sadness or our lack of confidence can blur us from seeing it. The value of the difficult is found in how it roots us in reality (Life can be hard). How it provides us with a strong precedent (I’ve conquered a challenge like this before, I can do it again). How it teaches (I won’t make that same mistake twice). How it makes us laugh (Remember that time when . . .?)

Think back on your years practicing. How did you get to be a fifth year associate or a seventh year litigator or owner of that small firm? Embracing and learning from the mistakes you’ve made and the challenges you’ve overcome and the tests you’ve passed and the anxiety you’ve tempered and the uphill learning curve you’ve climbed have informed and contributed to your progress as much as the successes you’ve attained while growing in the law.

The same formula applies to leaving it.

Many of us chose law because it seemed like such a set, guaranteed path. Respected, satisfying, manageable, lucrative, stable. And now for many of us . . . it’s not. We are not happy and not satisfied and as many of us enter our mid 30’s and 40’s, we can’t help but wonder what went wrong.

Like the path you took to get where you are today, leaving law behind is very difficult. Many of us do not know where to get started. We do not have the confidence to take that first step. It involves leaving the only discipline you may have ever known. It involves repositioning your skill set. It requires transforming yourself to fit a new role or industry or requirements. It requires acknowledging that there is no magic pill. It takes courage and inner discipline and hard work and inner confidence and baby step after baby step, which is tiring and fragile and unchartered. The journey is often lonely and misunderstood.

But it is valuable. So valuable. Because in both the good (a new biz dev job at that tech start-up!) and the bad (your 33rd “informational interview” coffee and no substantial jobs leads yet) you’re doing worthwhile, difficult work. For yourself. For your family. For all of us.

Some recent posts you might enjoy

The Second Step in Leaving Law Behind – Cut Your Losses
How to remove the risk from leaving law behind
How a lost dog can teach you to leave law behind
What if you found out you were about to get laid off
The main reason why you are not leaving law behind right now

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  1. Great post. I’ve thought a lot about this very topic as I’ve searched for my next move/contemplated my new direction.

    In the past I saw people doing cool things in other jobs and thought: I think I’d really like that. I want that job. With this mindset I frequently got excited and then let down as I later learned that what I saw that person doing was anomalous in their job. That person actually spent most of their time doing something completely different and something much less appealing to me.

    I’ve learned to temper my enthusiasm when I see interesting opportunities by saying to myself (just as Casey’s and Seth’s posts suggest), “Yes that’s what she or he does some of the time but what about what they do the rest of the time? What about the bad parts?”

    Going a bit further, however, I also ask myself this question: “Could I handle, find growth and meaning in, even take joy in doing ‘the bad parts’ of that person’s job?” I think that this part is significant. Sure, becoming an actress may involve a lot of auditions but what are you getting out of the auditions? Are they making you a better actress? Helping you to hone your craft? Moving you closer to your ultimate goal?

    If the answer to these questions is “yes” then you’re moving in the right direction. More selfishly the answer should also be “yes” because, starting out, you’re going to be doing a lot of the bad stuff anyway so you might as well find something redeeming in doing it.

    Looking at “the bad parts” in this way has been central to helping me begin my ongoing transition to leave law. I now understand why “the bad parts” of my job as a lawyer feel so much like drudgery. Not only are they hard but when I look up to that supposed brass ring, the “good parts” for which these bad parts are supposedly preparing me (law firm partner, successful inhouse GC, or even experienced and respected lawyer), I don’t want those thing. Sure “the bad parts” are hard but if you can’t even look at them as “constructive,” as taking you someplace that you want to go, life can be pretty miserable.

    Just as Casey and Seth suggest, a clear eye to your goal can make “the bad parts” better.

    Thanks for the inspiring post Casey!

    1. Dan, thanks so much for the comment. You bring up a great point: no matter what we do, even if we love it, it’s in alignment with our purpose/passion/mission, etc . . . there will still be some drudgery. There will still be the hard parts, the boring parts.

      But if what you’re doing in general you are inspired by (I want to help people, I want to make a lot of money and be financially independent so I can travel/run-for-office/give my family everything), is in line with what you are good at (this is so easy for me to do, no sweat) or has a huge incentive (money/fame/accomplishment/common good) then the boring/hard/difficult parts don’t go away of course, but they all of a sudden have silver linings. They all of a sudden have more meaning. They all of a sudden become necessary steps to take (you want to take) than things you want to avoid.

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