Challenging Your Own Precedent

I knew I wasn’t going to get away with a simple “challenge precedent” message. Thanks for pushing me on that, Jane and everyone else.

Here’s one way to challenge your own precedent: write some fiction. I’m not talking about the Great American Novel; instead, it’s some fiction about your own life.

Sit down with that list of “what I would love to do if I didn’t have to practice law.” Pick one activity or job from it — let’s say, be an actor.

Open a new document, or pull out a sheet of paper, and title it “From Lawyer to Actor: Jane Doe’s Amazing Transformation.”

Then — and this part is important — you must put on the Wicked Bitch (or Bastard) Hat. It’s a great trick I use for overcoming writer’s block. I say to myself, OK, just for kicks, we’re going to ignore the fact that you have no imagination or creativity and your words are sooo pedestrian it’s a wonder you graduated middle school. Instead, we’re going to pretend you’re a writer who is clever and masterful, and doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks of your writing, because it’s freaking brilliant. In other words, you’re going to WRITE LIKE A WICKED BITCH.

And your inner bitch (or bastard) is going to tell you a fabulous story of how you went from corporate transactions associate to an actor who performs on Broadway, or on TV, or in movies. Go nuts, have fun with this. I hereby give you permission to write something silly and outrageous, and that lacks good grammar. (And yes, you can do this. You pretend every day that you don’t hate practicing law. Writing out this scenario is a piece of cake in comparison.)

Maybe your inner bitch’s story goes like this:

Jane Doe was languishing in her job as a lawyer. The only part of her legal practice she liked was when everyone’s temper flared during the closing phase of a deal. She paid more attention to those histrionic outbursts than she realized; yet she could recount them later for friends, complete with tics and bulging eyes. After one particularly brutal closing, she saw an ad in the local independent paper for extras for a film shooting, so she decided to call in sick one day and go. She figured they would not care that the only acting experience she had was an eighth-grade play.

Jane loved being around the other actor wannabes. She talked with them about where they found other acting work. She didn’t see any of them again for a while, but she remembered what they told her.

One day at work, she got an email from the firm’s marketing department, asking for volunteers to be in a promotional video the firm wanted to put on YouTube the next week. It was a rush job, and would anyone be willing to put a few nonbillable hours into this project? Jane wrote back ‘yes’ before she had really thought about it. It became one of those brief YouTube smashes.

From there, Jane started looking for small parts in local theatre productions. When she could find the time, she worked with an acting coach. When she heard that one of the professional theatre companies was putting on a play about lawyers, she decided to audition for the lead.

Of course, looking at her body of work today, we aren’t in any doubt her audition was fantastic. Yet Jane herself was mighty scared. What if she bombed? How would she balance her demanding job if she got the part? What if she got it and the reviews were horrible?

We know how it worked out: she took a leave of absence, got some stellar and not-so-stellar reviews, and went back to work for a while. Then she took the plunge and moved to New York. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, you may say your inner bitch or bastard is high on crack if it tells you stories like this. That’s OK. Let her (or him) be. That’s how you’re going to get some clues for getting past your own mental blocks, and challenging the precedent that you’re not qualified for anything else except practicing law.

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