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Archive for March 9th, 2011

I receive a steady stream of disaffected lawyers who want to change careers. They come to me for “the answer.”

The question is “how do I get out of law and do something different?”

What gets under my skin is the expectation this is going to be easy. It isn’t.

Remaining in law and looking for something better poses challenges. You realize by now you can’t call a headhunter and go to a “lifestyle firm” – they only exist in the imaginations of fee-hungry “staffing professionals.” Hyphenated jobs, like “environmental-law” or “entertainment-law” are misnomers. Choose anything fun and attach the word “law” to it – “food-law,” “sex-law” – and it’s still law. More realistic “remain-in-law” solutions, like an in-house position or a government job, are hard to find because everyone’s thought of them. You can get there with sufficient determination – but it’s tough and I can’t make it not-tough. No one can.

Getting out of law completely poses a new level of challenge – you have to figure out what you truly want to do with your life. I am indeed wise and all-knowing, but I cannot tell you what your purpose is on Earth. This is your journey – and you have to find your own destination. The process isn’t like opting for a legal career, where you hop on a train and go where they take you. I cannot talk to you for an hour and concoct some sensible, well-paying, fun, creative job, with status and money, that will make your heart sing and all your problems go away. Remember the last time someone promised that? Look where it got you.

I’m skeptical of “career coaches” and “out-placement counselors,” too. They can help you learn to interview and hone your networking skills – which is useful as you explore options. But you can Myers-Briggs yourself into a coma and still not know your true work. The task is tougher than getting “coached” or “aptitude tested.” There is no easy answer. It requires time, and a good deal of soul-searching.

You might need to flounder. That’s what people who aren’t “K through JD” do during their 20’s. As an adult child of the law, you may flounder a little later in the game than everyone else. But if you need to flounder and find yourself, don’t pretend it’s anything other than that. Saying you’ve “decided to write” doesn’t fool anyone. Taking classes in something creative might be a step on a path forward, but it’s only a step. Getting fed up with being a lawyer, and telling everyone you’re “writing” is like wandering around a cocktail party after you graduate from college telling people you’re working on a novel. Everyone will roll their eyes, and for good reason. They’ll assume you’re floundering – trying to find a new path. They may or may not respect your struggle, but they’ll know you have a ways to go before you can claim a hard-won title of respect, like “writer.”

Here’s my best advice for what to do if you’re a lawyer, hate it and want to do something else:

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