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