It’s courageous to admit to ourselves that we may want to leave the law, that we’re not happy continuing as a practicing attorney. It is a sign that we have the ability to know ourselves, that we aspire for more than we are currently achieving, that we are strong enough to take on new challenges.
It’s the first step most of take in our journey to leave the law.
The second step is where we sabotage ourselves. Since we’re so desperate to leave our law job, since we’re so excited about the opportunity to do something else, since we’re on a high that we’ve had our “aha” moment, we want to act. And so we then begin to think of, dream about and comb indeed.com for actual new jobs.
It’s understandable. A new job is exciting, a new job holds promise, a new job will provide us a new version of the self-identity we’re desperately short of, a new job will validate our need for change, a new job will set us free.
But it actually won’t … at least not yet. And here’s why:
1. It can distract us from more important things. Once we have sincerely decided leaving the law is right for us, there is a lot of work to do. There is a lot of internal analysis and honest reckoning to be done.
And most importantly, before we do anything, one of the initial steps in leaving the law is to explore one’s Unique Genius. Before we can define the job we want, the job that is good for us, the job that will really be that channel to greatness and self-satisfaction and self-worth, we need to more critically identify our strengths and skills and enjoyments.
For too long, we’ve been trained to apply to jobs based on excitement, stature, security, prestige, and what our friends and family like. Let’s flip this thinking on its head – let’s apply for jobs that are in alignment with what we are good at. Let’s not fit ourselves to a job; let’s identify that job that fits well with us. And to do that, let’s first focus on our Unique Genius. In due time, we can then let our Unique Genius inform which jobs we apply to.
2. We may end up taking a job that isn’t a fit for us. While some of us may have thought critically about going to law school, many of us didn’t. We just went. I was a Jewish kid who didn’t like blood, ergo go to law school and not medical school.
And if our first step in leaving the law is to find and apply and accept the first or second job that seems cool and different and interesting, without really taking the time to determine, as best we can, if this is a job really for us, we may end up making a major life decision without much critical thought … like we did when we went to law school.
3. We need to explore what other jobs are out there. Many of us lawyers work and live and exist in somewhat of a bubble. We are married to lawyers. We hang out with lawyers. We attend conferences with lawyers. We have raised lawyers. Most people we know and talk to are lawyers.
Sure, we represent clients and know what they do and know of their job titles, and we see other professions on TV and read about them. But often times, let’s face it, we don’t really know what other jobs are out there beyond Transactional, Litigation, Government, and Academia.
As such, we have no idea what other jobs would welcome our skill set. Project Manager. HR Manager. Corporate Development. Compliance. Operations. Management. Copy Editing. There is really so much out there we can do.
And this awareness comes not from just combing through job boards, but from first exploring how our skills are transferable to other industries, and then through informational interviews and hearing how non-lawyers actually spend their day, and then through patiently matching hypothetical roles to our skill set.
You have taken that initial, courageous step and admitted that you do not want to practice the law. You have sincerely identified your need for change. You have realized (or will soon realize) that you have greatness in you. It’s only a matter of time and hard work before it shows.
Get ready to devote the time. Prepare to do the hard work. Ignore the job boards for now.
Casey Berman (University of California, Hastings ’99), a strategic consultant, investment banker and former in-house counsel based in San Francisco, is also the founder of Leave Law Behind, a blog and community that focuses on helping unhappy attorneys leave the law.