The Story of Your Alternative Legal Career

What stories do you tell yourself about an alternative legal career? I don’t mean the official, upbeat networking version, or even the realistically optimistic one you might tell a career coach or a therapist. No, I’m talking about the ones your inner lizard croons into your ear, sabotaging you.

Choose a better story for a better legal career.It’s the story we attach to events that cause us the most pain, as Martha Beck reminded me in her new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature To Create the Life You Want. Yes, there is some pain when you aren’t getting any interviews in that new field you want to be in. It doesn’t feel great to not make the progress you want. But it’s the story you’re attaching to those lack of interviews and progress that makes you miserable and sure you are stuck in law forever.

Actually, “I’m going to be stuck in something I hate” is one of those stories you tell yourself. It’s that thought Continue reading

You Can’t Buy the Career Ticket Before Knowing the Destination

Here’s what most of you unhappy lawyers do when you decide you want an alternative legal career: You try to buy your plane ticket and book your hotel for the destination. Problem is, you have no idea what your destination actually is. It’s not, as you might guess, a particularly effective legal career change strategy.

plane engine propeller from window

Choose your career destination, then worry about whether you're going to be in a middle seat.

Now y’all know I love to talk in metaphors, so I’ll unpack that one a bit for you. In a legal career change quest, the plane ticket equivalent is worrying about salary, whether you might still like a new career after 5 years, whether you can afford to go back to school, salary, whether it’s self-indulgent to walk away from the money in law, what will everyone think at the 10-year reunion, how can your children survive attending public schools, and did I mention salary?

You might have caught on that I’m thinking these are not the things Continue reading

What Lawyers Can Learn from Dragonflies

Lawyers searching for an alternative legal career are a lot like dragonflies, it struck me this morning.

Maybe you don’t know the story of the dragonfly. I only heard it about 2 years ago, likely because I took all those social science classes instead of hard sciences in college. Those of you who know it, feel free to skip down a couple paragraphs.

red dragonfly on leaf

The dragonfly becomes more colorful and enters a new world when it leaves the water that no longer serves it.

The dragonfly hatches from eggs laid under water. They grow into nymphs, swimming merrily through their pond, waiting for prey to come near, and living the teenage dragonfly life.

But then, after a few years, it’s time. Dragonflies are compelled to follow a deep, instinctive urge to go somewhere they’ve never gone before: above water. Because their bodies are morphing, and they aren’t going to be able to survive much longer under water. And so, they find a branch or a stem that they can climb up, to get into the air, to meet the future in which they can survive and thrive. So they can dry out their wings, then spread them and fly.

Lawyers, Divorced from Their Natural Instincts

With lawyers, the problem is their instinct for who they truly are and what they need to do to follow their unique path gets Continue reading

The Conditions Are Never Ideal

You know what a lot of resistance to getting an alternative legal career boils down to? The conditions are not ideal. That’s it, really.

man looking over hot pepper plants

If you keep waiting for the perfect career change conditions, you'll miss the spice that life has to offer.

That’s what “I need a high-paying job (that just isn’t law)” is about. That’s what “But my parents/spouse/  inner critic /dog/society won’t approve” is all about. That’s what “I need a steady paycheck, not the risk of entrepreneurship” is about. That’s what “I don’t have time to look for a different career right now because my life is so crazy” is. Conditions are not perfect, so you convince yourself you cannot move at all toward your dreams.

These are all dodges. As Patti Digh puts it in Creative Is a Verb, many of us, especially the perfectionists, are convinced Continue reading

Workaholic Lawyers, Avoiding Life

So did you actually take any time off during Memorial Day weekend? Maybe even the whole (gasp) 3 days? I hope so. Too many lawyers have no boundaries about holidays any more. Well, actually they don’t have any boundaries when it comes to work, period. Never mind that constant work makes the work that you do suck big hairy donkey, um, parts.

man sick in bed with laptop

If you've ever worked in your sickbed, you might be a workaholic.

But did you know that overwork, aka workaholism, is a way of numbing out? I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so rampant among lawyers: Lawyers are so often depressed (3 times more so than the general population, remember?) or perfectionists, or both. One way to avoid feeling or dealing with pain is to work. Because then you have something to focus on besides those horrible, painful feelings.

Trust me, I’ve used that tactic. It works—for a little while. Eventually, though, the work novocaine wears off Continue reading

If You’re Creative, You’re Screwed in Law

I’m in the middle of playing Connect 4 with the 7 year-old. He loves this game, and he’s pretty good at it. I, on the other hand, am bored out of my mind. Then I berate myself that I need to share his enthusiasm, to enter his world. So I try to understand the attraction of the game.

4 in a row game

Which game gets your heart racing: creating or deconstructing?

That lasted for roughly a millisecond. Then found myself thinking that if object of the game were to work together to make interesting patterns with a limited number of moves, I’d be so much more into it.

Then it hit me: This is why I never liked law, and was never, ever going to. I just don’t give a shit about stymieing other people and winning. At heart, I’m only interested in creating, whether it’s new ideas, new art, new words, new clothes. Anything different and interesting.

Which Job Do You Want: Building Up or Tearing Down?

I’m going to go out on a limb just slightly and say that if you’re at all interested in creating, you’re never going to be happy in law. Law, in its DNA, is about tearing stuff apart. Continue reading

I’m not THAT Jennifer Alvey, Either

Well, she’s at it again. One of those other Jennifer Alveys. This one was the Indiana state finance director a couple years back, and allegedly had back-door communications with the operators of a proposed gasification plant about a pending contract; not cool under state sunshine laws.

little girl wearing eye mask

On the Internet, anyone can be a cute kid. Or Jennifer Alvey. Photo courtesy Stockvault.net.

Another Jennifer Alvey, a few years back, was convicted of shaking her adopted daughter and causing the baby’s death. Though the events took place just before I moved to Tennessee, in one of life’s odd coincidences, we moved to a town only a few miles from that other Jennifer Alvey, just before her trial.

While allegations of back room political dealings are certainly better than a dead child, still, I’m yet again setting the record straight: Continue reading

Career Goals That Actually Work

So if most lawyers set questionable career goals—ones that are extrinsic, and won’t actually bring them happiness and fulfillment—what then? How do you set goals that are truly helpful, rather than an office version of ‘roid rage if you don’t meet them?

To-do List: Win!

Im thinking this might be an extrinsic goal, Charlie Sheen.

The logical answer, of course, is to set intrinsic goals. Yet what is simple and logical is often fiendishly difficult.

Goals From the Inside Out

Part of the problem is that our culture is product-obsessed. Products are end results, and we expect them to be some version of perfect, even it’s a $5 semi-designer t-shirt from Target. Unlike a product we buy, though, once we select a goal that’s a mistake, we can’t simply return it and continue as if the transaction never occurred. If we set a chosen goal aside, most of the time we feel we have failed in some way. Persistent feelings of failure lead to decreased motivation—and so our goal-setting often derails us.

An intrinsic goal Continue reading