Lawyer Pessimism and the Alternative Career Search

I’ve written before about how law is one of the few professions in which pessimism pays off. The more problems you can foresee, the more disasters you can envision, the more likely you will be to keep your client out of a legal quagmire.

But that personality trait is one of the single biggest obstacles to an alternative legal career search. Because instead of hope, you see certain doom to all of your efforts to do something different.

Plant fights drought.Even among well-adjusted, non-depressed people, job searching is plain hard. You need perseverance and creativity, and a definite willingness to throw a bunch of crap onto the job search wall and see what sticks. You don’t control much of the process.

Lawyer pessimism sabotages the process of career change in ways both subtle and obvious. It’s obvious when you don’t send a resume for a known job listing because you think there will be so many more applicants more qualified than you.

But the pessimism sneaks into your thinking by controlling your perceptions of what you might even be qualified for. As lawyers, we want proof of skills and talents. And not just any proof will do—that’s where the pessimism comes in. It has to be unassailable, court-grade proof that you are, for example, a quick learner. The fact that you can absorb a metric ton of information about contact lens solution marketing, for example, from a document review means nothing to many lawyers. Because (and here’s the pessimism talking) you haven’t done that marketing work yourself, you haven’t taken classes in marketing, and you certainly couldn’t pass yourself off as a marketing expert to anyone who knows diddly about marketing.

Note that all those good reasons don’t have anything to do with whether you actually absorbed, processed, and can apply all the knowledge you just plowed through—knowledge gained as an incident to your main work, at that. None of those reasons speak to whether you do, in fact, learn quickly.

Don’t let pessimism take your career search for an unjoy-ride. Distract it by asking pessimism to work out where you could move to save some money, and whether you could trade in your nice shiny current car for something a little less shiny, but paid for. Stuff like that.

Then you and hope need to go off in a corner while pessimism is busy, and dream up some what-if scenarios. What if my resume lands in the hands of someone who has switched careers like I want to? What if the shoe-in for a job I want completely botches the interview through arrogance or complacency? And then, make some moves according to those hopes and dreams. No, they won’t all work out, but it only takes one of them to work out, and see your career search bear some well-deserved fruit.

Have you fought the good fight against pessimism, and won even one tiny victory? Are you in the midst of a battle with pessimism right now? Comment or email me, and let’s share strategies with the community of alternative legal career seekers.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who writes, edits, and contemplates life for a living. Sometimes she even coaches lawyers who want to work on writing. You can reach her at

One thought on “Lawyer Pessimism and the Alternative Career Search

  1. Pingback: Lawyer Pessimism Triggers « Leaving the Law

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