How to Leave Law and Pivot

It’s amazing to me how often I encounter women who are chomping at the bit to leave the practice of law for good. Many of these women already have side gigs that they have started and others have secret hopes and plans stuffed away in the closet waiting for a rainy day to take them out and start crafting their own unique pivot. Today I’m sharing tidbits of those conversations to help you craft your own path forward and, potentially, your own exit from law.

Clarity first.

First and foremost, when we embark on this journey, we have to get very clear on what you want. I discuss this topic at length in various other articles but the point is worth repeating here: make sure that you are not running away from a problem that is simply going to follow you wherever you take your career. To do this, we ask why you want to leave your practice and then consider:

  • Is that reason strong enough to push you through the highs and lows that will inevitably come when you strike out on your own?

If you’re not clear on this point, one simple experiment can help elucidate this. Spend a month carefully analyzing your every day experiences. Commit to devoting one month of your life to thoughtfully examining every high and every low — at work and out of work. The goal is to figure out what types of activities, environments, tasks, people, spark joy for you and which ones rob you of energy and motivation. Consider the following prompts:

  • Were there parts of your day that filled you up and excited you? Why?
  • Were there things that you were doing that sparked joy or put you in a flow state? Why?
  • What parts of your day drained your energy? Why?
  • What parts of your day energized you? Why?
  • What parts of your day made it difficult for you to engage with the activity at hand? Why?
  • What activities made it difficult for you to stay engaged? Why?

Working through this kind of an examination will help you get clear on the parts of your life/career that are sapping your energy or are no longer engaging. This kind of an examination may provide a simple road map for adjustments that can be made to find more happiness and fulfillment in your existing state. You might be surprised at the parts of your day that got you into a flow state. You might even start to notice patterns that could help you re-design your practice to include more of those things, no exit required.

In contrast, this experiment may provide a wake up call. If you find that your work life rarely provides activities that energize you, excite you, or put you into a flow state, it’s likely that small adjustments will not resolve the issue and a pivot may be in order.

When I conducted this analysis myself what I realized was a bit startling. I no longer felt energized by the area of law or the challenges presented to me on a daily basis. I felt disconnected from their import and found it difficult to drum up the energy to be engaged with the work. I was bogged down in meetings and interactions that no longer felt meaningful for me and took more energy than they gave. I had limited opportunities to participate in the type of activities that brought me into a flow state and energized me. In short 99% of my days were filled with projects, topics, and interactions that not only failed to engage my mind but left me feeling drained. I felt like I wasn’t working very hard but I was EXHAUSTED every day because every task was draining me (because it was a bad fit).  A further examination of the things outside of work that did put me into a flow state and energized me helped me to set the stage for my pivot.

Money second.

Second, get clear on your finances. This is the most significant impediment you will run into that will keep you from taking the leap. Spending time here will help you be brave and know how much runway you have to make it happen. Consider primarily, how much does it cost you to live for one month right now?

If you don’t know the answer to that question, making any dramatic change to your life where your income may suddenly be uncertain should be out of the question. In order to give space to what we want to build and the life that we want to create we have to allow that endeavor the freedom to breathe and grow absent the pressure that it also support you and replace your income on Day One. While it may seem obvious, many of the women that I talk to don’t know where their money goes on a daily basis. They don’t have clarity around their miscellaneous expenses that could be easily cut and they are not clear on the amount of pretax money that would be needed to support their after tax lifestyle.

Without this information, it is difficult to imagine that a pivot is possible and we relinquish our power to those lovely golden handcuffs. Once we know our bare minimum expenses and our cushion expenses we can get a sense of how much money we need to save to protect this Great Baby Dream that we are growing.

For me, I knew that not only did I have fixed expenses that I needed to save for but I also had a lifestyle that I was not willing to let go of while I was making the pivot. This meant that my savings projection for the pivot needed to include ample amounts of cash for travel and fun money. I wasn’t willing to make the pivot and live like an aesthete – I knew that would kill my spirit and make it more difficult for me to enjoy this time and embrace the journey.

Time to Plan.

Third, develop a detailed plan. This may seem obvious but it’s more subtle than you’d think. The most difficult part about leaving a formal job is that the options suddenly available to you are endless as well as the projects and tasks that you want to accomplish. Suddenly we are drowning in dreams, goals, to-dos, and possibilities. Develop a clear plan addressing the most important items first. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the things that you want to do in this new creative space where you now have an abundance of time. But suddenly those distractions and fleeting desires and experiments can overrun you and make it difficult to make any real progress on the goal. We have to exercise restraint and constrain our focus to ensure that we give the dream the most ample opportunity to succeed. This may mean deciding which areas of your dream to focus on in the short term and planning to attend to the others later on and sticking to it.

When I started my pivot, two of the things I knew I wanted to tackle right out of the gate were to get my podcast up and running and finalize my book draft for a final round of editing. For the first several months after leaving my formal legal practice, I focused exclusively on those items and let everything else go. That’s not to say the moment I quit the job I wasn’t excited to start preparing online courses, start doing mail marketing, hone my video editing skills, hosting webinars, and start pursuing speaking engagements at law firms…I wanted to do all of those things and I wanted to do all of them yesterday! But I had to carefully choose where I would be focusing my time each week and to lean HEAVILY my calendar and daily schedule that reflected my bigger plan. It’s painful to constrain portions of your dream when you finally have the flexibility and ability to bring it out into the light but you must do this or risk sabotaging your dream before you’ve even gotten two steps out the door.

A New Me!

Fourth, embrace a new identity. This is a big one and it’s a painful one. I hear this all the time: I’m not sure who I am if I’m not a lawyer…can I still call myself a lawyer…are people going to judge me?

Who are we if we’re not practicing lawyers? How would we describe ourselves to other people? Can we still call ourselves lawyers? All of these questions are important to tackle because they will impact your ability to promote your new endeavor, to speak confidently about it, and believe in its efficacy.

If we don’t have a clear sense of our new identity and who we are in this space we will always be looking backwards to the identity that we left behind and wondering if that version of ourselves is the truer one. Perhaps this should be our first step in making the pivot but wherever you tackle it make sure that you give it the time and attention it deserves. Part of our job in building a new business is getting out there and meeting people, telling them who you are, what you do, and what problem you can solve for them. If we’re having those conversations and still believing that we should be attorneys and that that identity is more important than the identity that we are building, we have failed before we’ve even begun. We must find a place for our new identity and our new path to merge and coexist with our identity as attorneys. And that might just mean no longer sharing with people, I’m an attorney, but letting that be something that potentially comes out later, if at all, and being OK with that.

Protect Your Identity

Last and this is one that I get a lot of challenge on but I maintain its importance: be thoughtful who you share your dream with. Not everyone in your orbit is responsible enough to be trusted with your dream in its infancy. It’s not about hiding your new identity and it’s not about being shameful for the path that you’ve chosen, it’s about putting yourself in the best position to believe that it’s possible. The people in your life that have known you all of this time will always think of you as that attorney. They have their preconceived notions about who you are and what you’re capable of based upon your prior path. It’s possible that this new identity and this new adventure will contradict everything they thought they knew about you and cause some dissonance for them that will ultimately come out of their mouth at you. That is not going to be helpful for you in this journey and embracing your new identity.

In time you can share this endeavor with everyone in your orbit but at its infancy, be thoughtful and careful who you let in on your dream in order to protect yourself and your dream as it grows. Once you have gotten comfortable with the new identity and it starts to feel like the real you, then you can wear in out into the public in front of everyone who might challenge it and it won’t matter as much because you will have fostered your own belief in its rightness. Their criticism will then only strengthen you instead of making you second guess yourself.

If you are looking to make a pivot in your career, I would love to meet you and hear about your plans. I know first hand how challenging and lonely it can be and I am so thankful for every opportunity that I have to lend support to other brave women making their own way!

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