The Legal Industry, the Zombie Apocalypse, and the Right Shoes for It

Whether or not you realize it, your legal career is about to get eaten in the zombie apocalypse. The signs are everywhere; stories abound about

  • how law school isn’t worth it, economically;
  • deans are resigning in fiery protests and law professors are mouthing off increasingly about the scam that law school is;
  • the most positive adjective for law firm hiring the last few years is “lackluster;”
  • ginormous law firm implosions (Howrey and Dewey, anyone?);
  • clients screeching for, and getting, alternative fee arrangements; yet
  • billable hours requirements continue their climb, while pay declines, and
  • lawyer dissatisfaction of at least 50% (probably a lot more) of the profession.

If you don’t think this is a recipe for the zombie apocalypse in the legal profession, you’ve been working on the Curiousity rover for the last 5 years. Which is cool. Or living in Denial, Egypt. Which is not so cool. But the really important question is, are you wearing the right shoes for the coming zombie apocalypse?

Damn, You’ll Look Good While Getting Eaten

Cause the thing is, most attorneys wear the metaphorical equivalent what I like to call the “won’t survive the zombie apocalypse” shoes. In real life, I have this slight, um, obsession about classifying women’s shoes this way. The shoes that are 6” stilettos, with big bows and little else attaching them to the feet. And hell yes, they look amazing.

Great shoes if all you need is to look good. If you and your career might need to run in another direction, though, you might want to go shoe shopping for something else.

Trouble is, the only place you can really wear these and not break an ankle is in a carpeted office, doing a job that doesn’t require you to do any walking except to the loo, the conference room and maybe the kitchen to get some coffee. Do more than that, and you risk life and limb. You can’t outrun a toddler. We won’t even discuss your podiatrist and orthopedist bills.

If a zombie suddenly appears and starts chasing you, and you keep those shoes on, you are going down first, before all the people who wear boring 2” wedges, or ballet flats, or even—gasp—Dansko and their ilk.

In Lawyerland, “won’t survive the zombie apocalypse” shoes look like

  1. going for jobs based primarily on the pay and that it matches what you’ve done before, not whether you would, yanno, actually like it enough to make up for all the dysfunctional crap;
  2. convincing yourself that you don’t have any marketable skills besides law, hence the necessity of #1;
  3. convincing yourself that if, at age 28, you haven’t manifested your writing talent with a best-seller, you don’t have any writing talent or hope of being a writer;
  4. knowing that you can’t quit your high-paying job for a lower-paying, less socially-acceptable one, especially in this economy; or
  5. rationalizing that your bills for therapy, anti-depressants, Xanax, illegal drugs, booze and lots of recently manifested, chronic health conditions are the normal conditions of modern life.

So maybe it’s time to go shoe shopping for your alternative legal career.

Footwear for the Lawyer Zombie Apocalypse

With the coming of the zombie apocalypse to the legal profession, a lot is going to change, much of it unpredictably. Yeah, I know, sucks. Get over it. Learning how to ride change, rather than get thrown by it, is a key skill most lawyers simply never learned. It’s time to learn.

Shoes that support you and protect you–how divine. Imagine a career like that!

So maybe some riding boots or cowboy boots? Regardless of the ones you would pick for the show ring, on most days riders wear boots with great support and flexibility. They’re tough, usually made of leather, and they breathe. They need these tools to get the dirty work—mucking stalls, scrubbing buckets and grooming their horses—done without undue fatigue, so they can get on to the really fun part of their work, riding.

In career terms, maybe you need to shop for a job that supports who you actually are—your unique skills, interests, experiences, and personality (remember our friend Meyers-Briggs?) How about a career that sometimes gives you flexibility to explore stuff you’re curious about? Maybe the environment you’re in is toxic and dysfunctional, like the heels of those stilettos. Choose one instead that protects you and lets you breathe a bit. Even if the pay isn’t as glamorous and shiny as the stilettos.

Of course, all work and no play makes us dull, unhappy lawyers. So what about some dancing shoes? We all need to dance, according to Brene Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s a basic human need. (Really. Read the Guidepost #10 chapter if you don’t believe me.) And you need the right shoes for it. Whether it’s ballet slippers, ballroom pumps or basic sneakers, you need something to help you get into that dancing frame.

Maybe fun and functional are the shoes for your new career?

What kind of dance gets you going? Zumba, ballroom, tap, living room freestyle? Whatever that thing is, make sure you do it. Whatever makes your heart go bippity, do it. If your job won’t let you ever have time to take out your dancing shoes–well, I think you might need to put on your walking shoes.

These Boots Are Made for Walking

So you’ve decided to take a walk. Tyler Coulson, a Chicago lawyer who literally walked out on law by walking across the country, could tell you a little about what footwear to choose. The most important thing is to figure out what kinds of terrain you’re going to encounter. Rain and rocks? Miles of mountains? Sand and surf?

Your shoes are the skills, tools and companions that will support your walk out of law. Tyler took his excellent rescue dog, Mabel, with him on his walk. Like him, you need to be prepared to get some new shoes along the way, as your path changes and unexpected obstacles crop up. This will happen, unless you’re psychic and already know everything.

If you’re not sure what kinds of shoes you’re going to need, drop me a line. I love helping people figure out the right shoe for every occasion.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has never owned a pair of stilettos, even though she survived BigLaw. She coaches unhappy attorneys on crucial matters such as footwear and finding purpose in their work, in or out of law. If you need some footwear or soul advice, drop her a line or schedule a discounted sample coaching session at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com

5 thoughts on “The Legal Industry, the Zombie Apocalypse, and the Right Shoes for It

  1. Great post. Required reading for anyone even thinking about law school. While it is difficult, it is better to think critically early on about what you want to do in life, then scrambling later on, depressed about the time you wasted doing a job you don’t like.

  2. I have an exceedingly ignorant question, but here it is. What does Coulson do now? That is, I know he left a Chicago firm to go on a walkabout. But he’s completed that and written a book. How is he earning a living (assuming that he doesn’t have independent means)?

  3. This is a great post. The whole legal services complex is going through a major squeeze. I expect that the co-dependent legal education industry, student loan industry and legal industry will be forced to go through radical change.

    If you’re in the profession, it’s important to realize this. Either you adapt by adopting a new model. Or you move on to greener pastures. If you stick with the current model, the zombies will overtake you.

    Some of the big law firms seem to be trying new things, here and there, along the edges. But the feeling I get on the inside is that most established industry players are just boarding up the doors and windows, and hoping to ride out the zombie attack. The senior partners have invested too much into their current model to easily change. It’s up to you to decide whether you think they’ll make it through the night.

    I wonder if there aren’t small-scale lawyer entrepreneurs out there right now, developing new forms of legal practice that will one day redefine legal services. And at the same time, eat the old-style firms for lunch. Think Apple and Microsoft in the early days, eating IBM alive.

    Hey, maybe the zombies aren’t so mindless!

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