Smart Lawyers, Dumb at Life, Part 1

You wanna know why your legal career and your life suck? It’s because you’re too damned smart for your own good. And no one has been in your face telling you that you can, and should, do a lot of stuff that is hard, and that you suck at, so you can have a better life and career. Except me!

Attorneys attending the school of life. Not always pretty.

Attorneys attending the school of life. Not always pretty.

It’s more than a little heretical to say this to even the most well-adjusted lawyers, all 77 of them. But it is the path to a more balanced, satisfying, and sustainable life and career.

I don’t know if you caught the Quora answer a little while ago that has, um, motivated me to say this stuff out loud. The question was: What does it feel like to be a smart person?

Are Smart and Happy Mutually Exclusive?

Most attorneys are indeed very smart, but many, many of them are miserable, or at the very least not happy. And that matches up with the bottom-line answer on Quora:

Overall, being smart brought many accolades and successes, but it also made me anxious, afraid of failure, and eager to quit at the first signs of hardship.

The guy—a former high school math whiz, ranked 25th in the country—is right: Being smart has its downsides, and usually they center around the crippling unwillingness to persevere with stuff you’re not naturally good at. Say, working with those who aren’t like you, or keeping on in a hobby or even a job that you’re not performing brilliantly at.

Essentially, being smart in a culture that prizes the punch-list lifestyle can lead you Continue reading

Knitting Your Legal Career Together

After much thought, I’ve realized what the solution is to many of the woes rocking the legal profession: Lawyers all need to learn how to knit. Seriously. Everything you need to know about pursuing goals, having a satisfying career, and making changes in your life can be learned by knitting.

businessman knitting

Knitting has everything lawyers need for a better life and career: control, autonomy, resiliency, generosity, creativity, and most importantly, fun!

After a brief 30-year hiatus, I have taken up knitting again this year. I had been hearing the call for a while, since knitting folk kept popping up in my life. But I resisted, even though I knew the good things that working with my hands and fibers did for my brain chemistry. Why the resistance? Mostly, because I feared the addiction.

What? A life and career coach worried about addiction? Hell yes. A meme that was going around Facebook says it best: Keep Knitting and Ignore the Cleaning. I was worried I would do pretty much exactly that—ignore all my responsibilities that I didn’t care for (cleaning is WAY up there), and just have fun. Heaven forbid.

Isn’t it interesting how we worry so much that we might neglect the crap we hate, that drags us down and makes us miserable, and rarely really helps us along our path in life? The stuff that is, incidentally, never on our deathbed regrets list.

But we don’t worry with any of the same intensity about what being miserable is doing to our souls and Continue reading

Magical Thinking and Your Legal Career

One of the reasons it takes unhappy lawyers so long to make a change is that, just when they’ve had it with their dysfunctional job and are ready to throw in the towel, something decent or even good happens. They get an interesting assignment that doesn’t require endless 12-hour days. They get assigned to work with a partner who treats them humanely, most of the time. The case goes into a lull. Hey, things are looking up!

Until, they’re not. The plum assignment ends, the nice partner kowtows to the asshole partner, the case explodes.

average guy in tutu with magic wand

Probably not the look you’re aiming for in your legal career search.

Yes, I’m always preaching about reframing the stuff in your life more positively, developing your optimism, and such-like. But thinking that due to this one positive event, your job environment is going to change and now you’ll be happy in law is magical thinking.

Driven by intermittent rewards, magical thinking keeps you in the wildly dysfunctional environment of law far too long. It’s the same dynamic that keeps gamblers addicted: This time Continue reading

10 Ways To Tell You’re a Materialistic, Stuck Lawyer

fashionable shoes and purses

It's not about the money, it's about self-expression. It certainly isn't about the materialism keeping you stuck in law.

I know, none of you reading here have a problem with materialism. Other jackass lawyers you work with? Yeah, absolutely. They’re the ones who are brazenly only in it for the money. But you are different. You don’t like those people, and you don’t want to be like them, either. That’s why you’re looking for an alternative legal career.

And that’s why I know you would never saying anything like:

  1. My $250/month shoe habit is the only way I have to express my creative side. Besides, they were all half off!
  2. All my friends have the latest iPad, and they love it. I can’t get left out–we won’t have stuff to talk about if they’re playing games you can only get on the new one.
  3. I’ve gotta project that solid, successful image; after all, we all know clients judge you by the kind of car you drive. That’s why I have the BMW X6. I’d drive a RAV-4 if it weren’t for clients. Really.
  4. If I don’t go out to good restaurants—I mean the good ones, not the cheap $70 for dinner for 2 ones—I won’t have anything to talk about with the people in my Pilates class. After all, that’s all about the networking, so it’s important.
  5. We must have the money to buy our kids brand-new cars when they turn 16. All the kids at their private school get a new car then, and it would kill my kids to be the only ones who didn’t.
  6. My job is really hard, and I need to feel good so I have the energy to do it well. That’s why I have to get massages 3 times a week.
  7. Well, having decorations for every holiday, even Arbor Day, may be a little over the top. But I got everything at Target and IKEA, some of it on clearance!
  8. I really need that new set of golf clubs in time for the Clubbing It To Beat Cancer fundraiser. Our team has to beat those other law firm teams, and I know if I have those clubs, my handicap will drop 5.
  9. It’s not really excessive to spend $150 on a toddler’s Easter outfit. Besides, all the other moms do, and pictures are forever.
  10. It’s been a shitty week, and I need some retail therapy. Buying some nice makeup and jewelry makes me feel so much better! After all, if you don’t look good, you won’t feel good.

On the off chance you recognize yourself in some of these, here’s how to score it:

1–2:    No one’s perfect. Unless it was #5. Then see 5+.

3–4:    Consider a buying moratorium for a month. If that is too horrible to contemplate, see 5+.

5+:     Whoa Nellie! Houston, we have a problem. Did you know that increased materialism correlates directly to decreased happiness? Really.

 Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has never, ever said anything remotely like what she wrote in this post. But if you don’t like your score and are feeling stuck in a legal career you hate, she can help you get unstuck and moving forward toward the career of your dreams. Discounted sample coaching sessions are a great way to see if coaching will get you going in the direction of your career dreams, instead of toward the online shopping cart. Email jalvey@jenniferalvey.com today to schedule your confidential session!

Law Schools Don’t Train, and Neither Do Law Firms. Or Do They?

So I’m sure you’ve heard about the New York Times’ nicely scathing article about the dysfunction of legal education in the United States, and the utter unwillingness of law schools to teach lawyers how to lawyer. I enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the bit about how law professors look down their noses at practicing lawyers.

Their disdain for the actual practice of law would be amusing–if people weren’t being suckered into $150,000 of debt and led to believe they would learn at least a few skills they could use as working lawyers.

old law school library

Lawyer training methods and the books in this library are about the same age.

As you all know, I’m not a huge fan of the way law is practiced, but not because I don’t respect the job itself. I object to the nasty and dysfunctional way most lawyers treat themselves and their colleagues while doing their jobs.

A lot of the misery in law would be solved if students actually had some grasp of what they would be doing for most of their waking hours before they were totally committed to it through the debt of law school tuition. A first year heavy on practical application–like, here’s a situation, draft a contract for it–would help many aspiring lawyers decide that they would rather aspire to a root canal, on the whole. There are good meds available for that, and soon enough the pain recedes. Unlike the pain of being a lawyer when you can’t stand the actual work. That’s daily, unremitting misery, and anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs only do so much.

Not Just Law Schools

What the NYT missed Continue reading

Guest Blog: Leaving Law, Gaining Balance

Deciding to leave the law is not a decision to make lightly. There are personal, professional, and financial ramifications when you choose to leave your profession. While there will certainly be aspects of your life that you will give up by leaving the legal profession, it has been my experience that what you gain from leaving the law is much more valuable than what you give up.

For me, the most important thing I have gained is a balanced life.

Before Leaving the Law…

reading in rocker with dog

This is your life, balanced.

Between law school, studying for the bar exam and practicing as an attorney, I found that somewhere along the way my priorities had been skewed. The things that I loved and valued, such as spending time with my family, reading a great book, and writing were all pushed to the back burner or off the stove completely.

I started scheduling time with my fiancée and family in my planner and blackberry. I scheduled and cancelled and rescheduled dinner with friends.

I could no longer Continue reading

Guest Blog: Law Wasn’t For Me, And That’s OK

It is difficult to explain how and why I left my job as an attorney without first explaining how and why I became an attorney.

I have always excelled academically and had diverse interests including writing, literature, education, law, economics, and theater. After graduating from college with honors in economics, earning a graduate degree seemed like the logical next step.

Young attractive business woman on the highest bar of a 3d graphic

You can leave the law track. It will be OK. Really!

I had considered going to law school and becoming a lawyer from the time I was in high school. From an economic standpoint, a law degree had the greatest return on investment. I wavered back and forth throughout college as to whether I would really pursue a law degree. With the support from my family as well as several great mentors, I had every reason to believe that I would succeed.

As I searched for LSAT prep courses, I decided that if I signed up for the LSAT prep course, I was going to go to law school.

No matter what. Continue reading

Laziness and the Leaving Law Job Search

The end of summer looms ever closer. And maybe also a deadline you’ve created to get the hell out of law by Labor Day, the end of summer, September, whatever.

So how is your alternative legal career job search going? Have you done lots of informational interviews, created a master resume with your legal experience recast in business lingo, diligently scoured the online legal ads? Networked like a mad thing, since summer is the perfect time to ask old friends out for a drink? Yeah, I thought not. And I’ll bet you think you’re lazy if you haven’t done all of that and more, right?

fat shirtless man in office

Lazy may look like the life of Riley, but it's a cover, especially when it comes to switching to an alternative legal career.

Here’s the really hard truth about laziness: It doesn’t exist. It’s a cover for scared. Shit scared to the point of paralysis, with a fat layer of “I’m OK, in fact I’m having fun!” deception slathered on top. It fools a lot of people.

The Laziness Myth, Explained

Clients often tell me that they’re lazy. I have to try very hard not to laugh hysterically when they say it. (Sometimes I’m even Continue reading

Career Goal-Setting: A Poison Pill for Lawyers?

As long-time readers know, I just adore it when data backs up my intuitions. This time, it’s about goals. I know, it’s completely heretical to question the value of setting goals as a career and life coach–especially when I coach all those goal-oriented lawyers—but I do question goal-setting. A lot.

red and white capsules

Most of the time, goals aren't going to be your magic pill. Image courtesy Stockvault.net.

I have long been uneasy with goal-setting as a means of motivating people, whether they are clients looking for that legal career alternative or just humanity generally. Now, thanks to Ray Williams’ recent post, Why Goal Setting Doesn’t Work at Psychology Today, I better understand why typical goals are basically poison pills for lawyers and other driven-professional types.

One of my discomforts about goal-setting is that goals usually are quite extrinsically driven. Like, “I want to lose 20 lbs. before the reunion next month” or “I’m going to go to 2 networking events weekly until I get a new job.” They sound kind of good, don’t they? And they could Continue reading

Leaving Law: If Not Now, Then When?

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, with work or life in general, we don’t like trying new things. New can be highly uncomfortable until it stops feeling so new and weird and all, and that doesn’t happen quickly. We think we have to have some slight calm, or at least not the outright insanity that is our lives, to start tackling our biggest, most stubborn problems—like the fact that we hate our job and want to leave law.

Atlantic City merry go round

If you’re tired of your crazy life merry-go-round, you can get off. Starting now. Really. Photo courtesy Stockvault.com.

I see this in clients (and in your comments) often. “When I get past this, then I’ll have time to work on getting a new job.”

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, tells this story. She went to her guru to explain that she had to take a break from her training, because she was moving, going through a divorce, and she needed to deal with yet other things that were going on in her life. Once she got past these transitions, she said, she would be fine, and would resume her training.

The guru smiled at her and said, “All of life is transitory. When you accept that, Continue reading