It’s one of those hallowed excuses in American culture and especially among lawyers: I just don’t have time. Occasionally it’s even true. But not nearly as often as it’s used as an excuse for staying stuck in a legal career you loathe.

month calendar marked with "busy" every week day
How is all that busy working for you? Got that brilliant new alternative legal career lined up?

For example, I once had a client who was working at a BigLaw firm on a deal that was in the papers. Naturally (well really it’s insane, but not in BigLaw-think), he was working frequent 20-hour days. Yet in the midst of that madness and sleep deprivation, he managed to find the time to get some coaching, send in a resume and interview for a clerkship. Which, incidentally, is working out as a wonderful bridge job for him. So really, you do have the time.

What Are You Afraid Of?

The reason you think you don’t have the time is fairly simple: You’re not making your job search your priority.

Sometimes the truth sounds a little harsh, but truly I’m not saying that to judge. I know it’s not exactly easy to solve this little time conundrum. If it were, you would already have that alternative legal career and perfect life, right?

Rather than give you time management tips that likely won’t work, I’m going to talk about why you’re not making the job search a priority.

The number one reason for not making the time for an alternative legal career job search boils down to one thing: fear. You don’t know what you’re doing, exactly, along this uncharted path. There’s not a cut-and-dried path out of law like there is for getting in and staying in.

Many, many (did I mention many?) people go into law because they don’t know quite what they want to do with their lives, and hell at least there’s a nice, obvious career path with law. (And there’s money. And societal approval.) You don’t have to figure out the kind of work you like, really, since often you get shoved into a group because you’re a warm body and then end up staying there. You might have some small say in whether you do litigation or transactional, especially if you have some relevant background. But really, there’s no expectation that you will be choosing your work as an associate or even as a partner, oftentimes.

After a few years of the cog-in-the-wheel treatment, that muscle you used to use for deciding

  • what really interests and excites you,
  • what people to socialize with,
  • how to spend your leisure time, and
  • what life purpose you wanted to chase

is atrophied indeed. Or stomped on and shredded. The thought that you might need to tone it up again and exercise your ship-steering skills is intimidating, at the very least. I suspect for many of you, it’s downright terrifying. You would need to step up and reclaim some serious power over your own life. You would have to stop blaming law firm culture, too many hours, other people’s expectations, or whatever else. You would have to make different decisions than you’re making now–maybe really different from how you’ve been steering your life-ship up until now.

Put On Your Detective Hat

So here’s your detective work: Figure out 3 things that you’re giving your power to, rather than giving it to your search for an alternative legal career. Maybe it’s TV. Maybe it’s surfing online to relieve the crushing awfulness of your current job. Maybe it’s shopping. Maybe it’s letting other people set your life priorities. Whatever your particular flavor is, you’ll know it because the activity doesn’t actually bring you relief or satisfaction beyond the moment you’re doing it in. It’s something designed to numb you to the sucky state of your life, or to appease someone else.

Next time, I’ll talk about other reasons why you give up power over your time and your alternative legal career search. Just in time to question all the holiday frenzy!

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on making what matters a priority. Find out what it’s like to have a life aligned with things that are truly important to your happiness—try a discounted sample coaching session. Email to schedule yours today. It’s an hour that can work amazing changes in your life!