Special Snowflake Illusions: Lawyer Edition

So this last couple weeks, my life has been turned a little upside down. But not as much as my friend, Mark’s, life has. Mark was moving to California from the East Coast, and stopped in Nashville along the way. We sent him on his way last Tuesday morning, expecting to hear from him that evening that he’d made it to his next stop.

Maybe you're the special snowflake that will walk the Golden (Handcuff) Path of law. Do you even want to? Photo credit: Snowcrystals.com

Maybe you’re the special snowflake that will walk the Golden (Handcuff) Path of law. Or keep your law job. Or maybe you’re just hiding behind an illusion.
Photo credit: Snowcrystals.com

Instead, I got a call a few hours later. Mark had been in an accident caused by a patch of ice, in which he spun around 360 degrees, then flipped over twice. Miraculously, Mark was the one calling me, and not from the ER. He had walked away with a bruise on the arm, a scratch on the head, and in the end, barely even any aches. He stayed with us for a week as he sorted the tedious details out. That was the part that turned my life a little upside down, just by having another person in the house for a week. (And not that I minded!)

Mark is out a car, but of course he could have paid a far, far higher price. Things like this always make me think about how much we carry around illusions of safety and certainty. Even though car accidents are the #1 cause of death for people under 44 years old, we get in our cars every day without a microsecond of reflection that we could be taking our last ride.

The Safe Path of Law

And yet, there are so many of you out there who are utterly convinced that staying in law is a path of safety and certainty, and that you would be wildly irresponsible Continue reading

Shit Lawyers Never Say

"Let's all find our center and breathe." More shit that lawyers never say.

Time for a break from all the finding your joy stuff I usually blather on about. Let’s have some fun! What would you add to the list?

  1. I’m so glad we spent a month studying Marbury v. Madison in law school. I use that case every day in my practice.
  2. We do really crap work when we’re sleep deprived. Everyone on this project has to go home by 9pm, and no working at home after that!
  3. My admin has really been busting her hump lately. I need to get her a spa package to let her know how much I appreciate her work and dedication.
  4. Billable hours are stupid and dysfunctional, and our clients hate them. By the end of this year we are going to come up with a compensation structure that rewards efficiency, creative problem-solving, and taking the time to train and mentor. No matter what.
  5. It really doesn’t matter if I make $850K or $1 million. I’d rather we partners not take more profits so we can keep associate and paralegal jobs.
  6. I don’t need explanations of edits and face time to learn how to practice law. That’s what monthly emails forwarded from the senior associate are for.
  7. I tell every college student I run into that they should consider law school. It’s an underrated bargain.
  8. You know, opposing counsel is totally in the right here. We’ve got to tell our client to stop acting like a prick.
  9. I’m going to donate my $50K bonus to the homeless.
  10. Understanding the ownership rules of the feudal land system has improved my life immeasurably.
  11. The important thing here is that we all did our best.
  12. You’ve had this 10-year anniversary vacation booked with your wife for 6 months? I had no idea. I’ll find someone else to take on this emergency project.
  13. I love my job so much I’d do it for free.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering BigLaw lawyer who, when she’s not being a wiseass, coaches clients on finding jobs that they actually would want to do whether or not they got paid–and then figuring out how to make it pay. Find out what that’s like with a discounted sample coaching session. Email Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule yours today.

How To Test Your Leaving Law Hypothesis

standardized test bubbles

Test out your career ideas with an open mind--it's not pass/fail.

So after playing around with Morning Pages, Artist Dates and Myers-Briggs, you have a few ideas about things you’d like to try as an alternative legal career, but you’re just not sure? I get it. Doing what you dislike for so long can make it difficult to discern what you really, really like from what just sounds better than what you’re doing now. So, do some testing.

By testing, I mean trying out the skill or activity without actually jumping Continue reading

You Can Do So Much With a Law Degree

How many times have you heard it? “You can do so much with a law degree.” And you can do so much with a paper clip, too, but its best use is its intended use, generally.

Usually “you can do so much with a law degree” is uttered by well-meaning family, friends or non-lawyer colleagues. And I agree with the sentiment, up to a point.

signpost on remote path

The alternative legal career path may be a little rocky, but oh what a view!

Yes, you can take your law degree into many interesting, rewarding, even lucrative careers. I’ve done it twice. But the alternative to a legal career is the road less traveled. The signposts are sometimes faint or indecipherable. The most popular maps are often inaccurate or take you to places you don’t really want to go. It helps a lot to have a tour guide. In other words, it’s easy to get stuck and founder if you’re not alert.

That’s why those who hate law stay in it—not because they don’t have transferable skills or other talents they could use elsewhere, but because Continue reading

Networking for the Introverted Lawyer

Networking is one of those things that most people, and particularly introverted lawyers, frankly dread. That’s because we’ve been told countless times that the way to network is to go to stuff and meet new people. Or even worse, call up perfect strangers and try to get them to talk to us about their careers, and then (oh dear dog) ask them to give us their friends’ names to call, so we can do the same thing over again.

broken glass on ground

Walking barefoot over broken glass can feel preferable to traditional networking strategies, if you're an introverted lawyer.

That’s great advice if you’re an extrovert, I imagine. But it’s lousy advice for introverts, if you ask me. In job searching, you want to play to your strengths as much as possible, because it gives you confidence. Constantly battling yourself to do something against your nature? A nice recipe for projecting uncertainty, insecurity, even desperation. Indeed, for us poor introverted schmucks, it’s like being asked to walk barefoot over broken glass while beaming radiantly. Continue reading

Resume Rewriting for Alternative Legal Career Changers

Getting your resume read by an actual human being is tricky these days. If you’re applying online for jobs, or trying to talk to a headhunter, for example, you need to make your resume keyword-rich enough to get it noticed by a real live person who can invite you for an interview. Simple concept, but it can be difficult for career changers of any stripe to actually create such a resume. let alone legal career changers.

resumes crumpled up

Revamp your resume with the right keywords, and it won’t get tossed or ignored.

But it’s not as hard as you might think. With a little creative online searching, you can rework your legal resume into one that will help land you your dream alternative legal career job.

The key is to let go of the law firm jargon and concepts that are likely still plastered all over your current resume. Instead, latch on to the jargon and concepts that your new career values. How do you know what those valued skills and experiences are? That’s where the creative searching bit comes in. Continue reading

Making Peace With Uncertainty

What stops many people from pursuing an alternative legal career is the uncertainty of it all. We can’t see where it’s going to lead, except in the most hazy of fashions. That’s simply not acceptable in our outcome-obsessed world, now is it?

Even if we can accept that uncertainty, our peers often cannot. I remember a colleague asking me what I could do after being a legal reporter and editor—my leap out of law practice and into a new and strange world of career satisfaction. In other words, where could I go from there? He didn’t see anything possible for me except to continue in that one narrow vein, with its admittedly low pay and lack of prestige.

The path may not be certain, but it's sure a beautiful view.

My answer then was: I don’t know. I’ll figure something out. I was so desperately unhappy practicing law I frankly didn’t care. Writing for a living just had to be better than doing something I loathed every single second I was doing it.

But you don’t have to be quite so desperate to make a move toward a better, more fulfilling career near or outside the law. You will, though, need to learn how to embrace some uncertainty about where the path may lead.

We are trained as lawyers to find the definitive, correct answer. That is what clients and partners expect. Never mind that it’s silly many times. Continue reading

Do Law Firm Layoffs Have to Happen? Part 1

So Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal axed 37 attorneys not long ago. Plus another 90 or so support staff. If you are one of those people and reading this, my condolences to you. Getting laid off sucks, no matter how bad the job.

[Aside: Don’t miss this funkalicious article in the WaPo written by a guy who got laid off and has yet to find a job.]

Of course the question always arises, couldn’t the partners have sucked it up and taken a bit of a pay cut so that other attorneys wouldn’t be out on their duffs? Continue reading

Lawyer Layoffs and the Prospect of Temping

I can tell from the blog’s search stats a lot of you are worried about layoffs. Not that I needed stats to tell me that, but many of you might find it comforting to know that you’re not the only one worried about being laid off.

Obviously the most at-risk associates are in the specialized finance areas in firms that aren’t very diversified. But as I’ve said before, no matter your situation, you might as well act as if you’re going to get a pink slip in the next two months, and get a plan together.

One idea I haven’t tackled here until now is legal temping. I imagine the very notion makes many of you turn a delicate shade of green. And frankly, rightly so, if you go into it kicking and screaming and feeling like you have now admitted to the world you are the biggest legal failure EVER.

So don’t do that. Instead, embrace legal temping as a great option to buy you time. You should have a plan well before you get a pink slip, and part of that plan is figuring out how to get by financially without the 6-figure salary. Legal temping brings in a ton more cash than working at Starbucks, my friends. At $35/hour, say, and 40 hours a week, you’re making the equivalent of $72,000. And temp projects often demand loads of hour in excess of 40, so you could get much closer to a rate equivalent to $100,000. For a temporary band-aid, that’s not horrible.

Yes, it is stupefying to do nothing but review documents day after day after week after month. Even with the best of attitudes, there will be times that the whole thing will grind you down. Maybe you would truly rather be at home working on your novel. And if you actually will work on that novel, more power to you. You’ve made a choice, that transient poverty and doing work you love matter more to you than income, at least for now. In other words, you are empowered. Say it with me, EMPOWERED. You are equally empowered if you decide that you would feel better about your situation if you brought in some cash, and got out of the house daily.

I know the biggest problem with temping is purely shame. How could you, a graduate of a top 10/20/25/whatever law school, be reduced to temping? Weren’t you ordering temps around not long ago? Yes, downward status changes are incredibly hard. But they’re much easier if you view them as temporary. One temp job does not equal your fate in life. Seriously, you won’t be the first attorney who has been in this situation, and you won’t be the last. This is not a vote on your worth as an attorney.

Even if these are not choices you would make were the world your oyster, that’s OK. They are still choices, and you still made them. If you opt for temping, realize that it is not a life sentence. No place is going to judge you harshly about it unless you judge yourself harshly first. Prospective employers will react to your view of the situation much more than the situation itself. If you project an attitude of “I did what I needed to do,” there is no shame in that. Instead, congratulate yourself — you decided to survive with as much grace as you could muster in the situation. That is nothing but admirable, from where I sit.

Networking for Lawyers Who Hate Networking

Part 3 in the Looming Lawyer Layoffs series.

As I’ve pointed out before, most lawyers tend toward introversion, among other personality characteristics. One thing that introverts really despise is having to talk to people all damn day. And the prospect of networking is petrifying to some introverts.

I know, because I am one of those introverts. I need my alone time nearly as much as oxygen. I’m not crazy about weeks like this one, where I’ll be on the phone a lot, interviewing people for an assignment.

So how can introverts get comfortable with networking? First, don’t take it too seriously. And, be grateful for the internet.

When you treat networking as a job-or-death endeavor, you’ll suck at it. There’s just too much at stake, and even the tiniest misstep feels like the end of the world. Plus, even though career counselors push networking and informational interviews like crack dealers, I’m not convinced the type of networking most of them advocate really works for those who are not natural hail-fellow-well-met types.

The best networking — the kind that yields contacts who can help you out — comes from people you know and like already. That’s not to say that you can’t make new, useful connections as you search, but that trying to meet Ms. or Mr. Important through a friend of a friend of a colleague of a colleague is fraught with potential failure.

That’s one reason I really like LinkedIn. Haven’t heard of it? It’s a social networking site for professionals. Actually, it’s like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon on steroids. The nifty LinkedIn software takes some basic information you enter, as much or as little as you like, and figures out who you know that you don’t know you know. For example, my current network stats say I have roughly 1,300 2nd degree (friends of friends) connections. Kind of staggering, isn’t it? Because that 1,300 number is based on 24 direct connections (my friends and acquaintances).

I haven’t taken the plunge yet and upgraded my LinkedIn membership (basic membership is free). But if you’re embarking on a job quest, it’s probably worth it. Paying for the next level of membership entitles you to request introductions (i.e., send more emails to people in your network you don’t know personally), plus get more information on people in your network. (Don’t freak out, you control who can see what kind of info people see about you; there’s tons of privacy protection.)

While eventually you need to actually speak to people, the beauty of LinkedIn is that you don’t have to make those horrid, stuttering cold calls to potential contacts. Email rejection just doesn’t feel as personal — and it allows you to be braver than you might otherwise be.

Give it a whirl. It won’t hurt a bit.