If Not Law, Then What? 3 Tools for Figuring It Out

One thing that attorneys have a hard time figuring out is what the heck else they might want to do if not practice law. Particularly if you have limited (read: almost no) job experience outside of law, it’s hard to know what people in other jobs actually do. And more importantly, whether you would actually enjoy it day in and day out.

Woman writing on legal pad

Let your career magic emerge on the page, every morning.

I’d be lying if I said this part was easy, if you don’t already feel a fairly strong pull toward something. (But if you do feel a strong pull: Just go do it! You’re right!)

There are 3 tools I find useful for most people in this process.

Tool #1: Figure Out Your Defaults

One way to narrow things down is to use Continue reading

Faking Law

If you’re unhappy practicing law, I’ll bet you’ve had this feeling before: You’re a total fake, a fraud at being a lawyer, and someday soon somebody is going to catch on.

Professional man holding up word "fake" on post it.

Feel like you’re walking around with a flashing Fake Lawyer sign?

I experienced that feeling, oh, pretty constantly my first few years of law practice, and fairly often from year 4 until I finally wised up and quit after 8 years of trying to be something I wasn’t. I remember a more experienced attorney and friend telling me that everyone feels that way the first few years. She meant well, I know she did.

But my friend was wrong, at least about me and law. When I finally, finally started doing something I had actual inherent abilities and genuine interest in, writing for a living, WOW. Suddenly I understood Continue reading

The Golden Handcuffs Excuse

I’m often struck how lawyers’ attitudes toward money have not evolved past the Monopoly belief system: Whoever has the most wins.

golden handcuffs on red background

Does the shininess make up for the hole in your soul?

And yes, I mean even some of you who want out of law and into something else more satisfying. The ones who say to themselves, or to me, how they cannot possibly look for a job that would pay them significantly less cash than they rake in now.

Money is a huge bugaboo for many lawyers. They really lock themselves tightly into those golden, shiny handcuffs because of their beliefs about money and its substitutes. For example, here’s one thought train I hear:

Client: I need a job that pays close to what my law firm job pays, because I have a huge mortgage. Continue reading

Your Resolutions Are Burned Toast—Now What?

Whew! Finally, we are past the day (Feb. 15) when nearly all New Year’s Resolutions have gone up in flames. Admit it, they’re toast.

fireball against black background

New Year's Resolutions gone up in a flames? Try finding the fire within.

The find-a-new-job-by-March-1 resolution? Looking doubtful if you haven’t even updated your resume yet. The spend-more-time-at-the-gym resolution? Right, I’m not gonna ask. The be-a-nicer-person resolution? Went out the window when you got stuck reviewing documents in a windowless room for a month.

And that is wonderful. Now that all of that externalizing has burned itself out, it’s time to get down to what’s truly important in your life and your work. Especially if you are an unhappy lawyer reading this blog Continue reading

Change Your Station from Lawyer Pessimism

Pessimism is what makes attorneys so brittle and unable to bounce back from mistakes quickly. In other words, they are not resilient. Dr. Larry Richard has pegged lawyer resiliency in the bottom half of the general populace. Folks, that ain’t good.

radio tower mast

Is your personal pessimism broadcast drowning out your dreams? Time to change the station.

Here’s how that lawyer pessimism looks in action. A lawyer sees any mistake she makes as a personal failing. Since it’s only about her, she is highly reluctant to talk to other attorneys about her mistake—the tendency among nearly all attorneys is to hide, frankly.

The culture of law firms often reinforces that belief, because it’s far easier to blame the easy target than to examine the failings of the ecosystem lawyers have created for themselves. You know, the one that doesn’t teach, just expects you to somehow get it from distant observation, with little hands-on training, no feedback or constructive criticism? The one in which attorneys are stretched far too thin, get far too little rest and rejuvenation, and don’t get any feedback, period, let alone positive reinforcement? Cause yeah, nothing about that environment would produce mistakes by an individual.

Hiding, not Learning, From Mistakes

So, in a group of pessimists, lawyers try to bury their mistakes, shift blame, and basically hide from recriminations if at all possible.

This hiding allows the permanence of the failing to become Continue reading

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Pessimism for Lawyers

Pessimism isn’t totally bad. As I mentioned before, the ability to see the downside risk in every situation has value, particularly for lawyers. You can prepare for bad outcomes before they happen, and mitigate the ones you can’t prevent. Companies pay a lot of money for that. Lives can depend on it.

ghostly woman

Pessimism can turn your dreams to ghosts. That's no way to live.

Pessimists also have a much more objective view of reality than optimists, according to Dr. Martin Seligman in his 1990 book Learned Optimism.

Seligman posits that most depressed people are also, not coincidentally, pessimists. Just because you’re a pessimist does not necessarily mean you are depressed, but the evidence is clear that pessimists are far more likely

Continue reading

How Pessimistic Attorneys Are Like Whining Dogs

Pessimists are better at lawyering than optimists, Dr. Martin Seligman tells us in his 2004 book Authentic Happiness. That doesn’t surprise me, because the essence of lawyering is looking for the downside and trying to protect against it. The better you are at imagining those downsides, the better you are at your job.

Muzzled dog

Don't let pessimism muzzle your life and career dreams.

But there is a high cost of pessimism on life happiness and functionality, as Seligman discusses at length in his earlier work, Learned Optimism. Pessimists are more prone to depression (hello, lawyers have a 3 times higher rate of depression than the general population) and ill health, among many other things.

Also, pessimists don’t persevere at the same rate as optimists, which means pessimists often don’t achieve goals that are achievable. Like, say, finding Continue reading

Are You Pessimist Lawyer?

The Bard said it best: “This is the winter of our discontent.” Yes, it’s that point in the winter where it’s gone on so long, I’m now convinced it’s never going to end, and my hands are never going to be warm until May at the earliest. Says the person who lives in the South.

smiley face in bird nest looking scared

Is the bluebird of unhappiness flying at you all the time? Maybe it's your pessimism talking. Image courtesy Stockvault.net.

In other words, pessimism is trying to have its way with me, yet again. Pessimism is one of those habits that recovering lawyers tend to drag around with them, even when they’re out of law.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking lately about pessimism, so of course that means you’re going to hear a lot about it shortly. The uber executive summary is that pessimism kills and wounds a lot of searches for dream jobs, dream careers, and dream lives. Particularly for those who are unhappy lawyers, addressing your level of pessimism is key to moving forward and ditching that unhappiness for something much better.

Are you a pessimist? Chances are if you’re a lawyer, you are. (That’s not just me pontificating; there’s data, which I’ll talk about next time.) You can take this survey—from Dr. Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness Project—and find out. Then come back for the next installment and find out the consequences of pessimism for your alternative legal career search and for your life.

Or, start reading Learned Optimism, Seligman’s 1990 classic that presents tons of interesting research on the effects of pessimism and optimism on people’s lives. Yes, that would include lawyers. (Seligman is, in fact, married to a lawyer, so he is not blind to the pessimism that infects the legal profession.)

Get ready for some eye-opening stats on the effects of pessimism on just about everything in life. This is gonna rock your socks!

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and recovering pessimist. She likes to remind her clients that it’s not how far you go, but how far you’ve come, that makes the real difference for their lives. Try coaching and see the difference in your own life—a free, no-obligation sample session is yours for the asking. Contact her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule yours today.

A Lizard Brain Attack

A thoughtful reader recently asked me about feelings of guilt those who leave law may suffer, given the state of the economy. “To be more specific, I mean the guilt that some of us might feel for walking away from Big Law $$$ to either start our own business or do something where the income is much lower or more inconsistent when we know that so many others out there are struggling to get jobs.”

Australian frilled lizard

Your inner lizard looks very scary when it is scared you're going to change and reduce its power.

Walking away from the so-called sure thing is a great way to find out what you really believe about the purpose of work. Most lawyers are fearful/risk-averse kinds of creatures. When you’re fearful, you are focused on the survival fears being constantly broadcast by your lizard brain. That means that jobs for you are going to be about money, i.e., survival.

I’ve touched on lizard brain before. It is an actual, ancient part of the brain, the amygdala. It’s responsible for broadcasting what Martha Beck calls “lack and attack” messages

Continue reading

Recovering Lawyer, Having Fun: Oooh, Shiny!!

You know those tips and tools I suggest you use on your journey to becoming a recovering lawyer? Well, I’m not just blowing smoke up your skirt (or pants, as the case may be). I use them, too. They are the only thing that keep me in the recovering lawyer category, as opposed to say the mere former-lawyer-who-is-still-miserable category.

gears turning

Planned fun time gets the important wheels in your brain turning.

If I stop using the tools, it shows up really quickly: I get crabby, pessimistic, and depressed. My inner lizard, Guido, starts gaining the upper hand. Guido is a judgmental thug, so I can’t have that.

One of those tools is a weekly date with myself. I’ve written about these before (here and here), but I thought rather than tell, I should use that old writer’s trick of showing you an Artist’s Date (as Julia Cameron calls them). This past week, my Artist’s Date (AD) was Continue reading