What do you want to do? …Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way …If you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is … you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much.
—Alan Watts, British philosopher, writer, speaker, and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for Western audiences
If you’re reading this, there is a very good chance you do not like practicing law.
You are likely bored by it. Or don’t like the adversarial nature. Or want a more collaborative profession. Or want to make more money in ways other than the billable hour.
You likely don’t consider yourself a good attorney. Maybe you even feel like a “fraud.” And you just want to identify a career that will call on your strengths and empower you to be more confident, aligned, and happy.
Our greatest paralysis.
I work with unhappy attorneys just like you to help them leave the law and transition into alternative jobs and careers.
To do so, we have to overcome (or at least mitigate) many fears and obstacles—like the fear of change, the fear of risk, the fear of squandering our professional identity, and the fear we will not be able to make enough money.
But the major fear for attorneys looking to transition into a second career, the one fear that causes us the most paralysis, is the belief that no one will think our “legal skills” are a fit for, and transferable to, a “non-law” job.
We do not know what we are really good at, and we do not realize how our skills and strengths can add value to the world at large. If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t really know what we want to do.
And so we continue under the belief that what we know is only applicable to being a lawyer. We are blind to what jobs exist beyond transactional work, litigation or academia. We think that all the work we do as attorneys is something that an alternative job wouldn’t call for. We can’t imagine someone outside of the law paying us money to do non-legal work.
And so we don’t do anything at all.
We don’t change.
We don’t leave.
We remain very unhappy practicing the law.
Our current skills set is in demand across the world.
Here’s the good news: Our skill set as a lawyer—what we do day-to-day, what we are good at, what we excel at, what we are confident at—is transferable to many, many jobs outside of the law.
The five skills below are a good start.
We are adept at managing clients.
Growing its base of clients (for service and consulting businesses) and customers (for product and technology businesses) is any organization’s main priority. And making sure they are satisfied, engaged, and happy is key to scaling a business.
What’s unique about the world today is that many companies (Microsoft, Adobe, GE, and IBM to name a few) are transforming themselves to interact with their customers in wholly new ways, thanks to the internet, mobile devices, and digital technology. These businesses are constantly looking for the right people to intimately understand, delight, and service their customers in a high-touch, strategic, thoughtful way.
Attorneys do this very well: We are interpersonal, we are patient, we listen well, we are diplomatic, and we can be the adults in the room. We are trained to provide sage advice, we solve problems, we work within budgets, and we are responsive.
We are the type of people companies want to help enhance their customers’ experience.
We know how to cross-sell.
Sales is the lifeblood of all businesses, and when done right, can drive huge value and be very helpful to customers and clients.
But many attorneys don’t like the idea of “sales.” We think of ourselves as intellectuals, not sales people.
But helpful “cross-selling” isn’t about selling something that a customer doesn’t really want in order to part them from their money. Rather, cross-selling reflects one’s intimate knowledge of a customer, a strategic view of what they really need, and is a powerful way to help a customer move forward, grow and develop, while also building the business.
We’ve all done cross-selling before. Maybe a law client in the past bought licensing work, and you showed them the value of add-on privacy work. It’s a lot easier to provide additional, valuable work to an existing client or customer than generate a relationship with a wholly new customer. We know how to do this.
We are great storytellers.
Ever since our ancestors sat around the fire, we learn, persuade, organize, and develop from the consistent telling of (and listening to) stories.
Today, marketing, communications, strategy, and PR teams from companies across the industry spectrum are looking for help in telling stories to inspire customers and clients to align with their visions. Storytelling is how brands and companies and organizations are able to frame the problem and identify the pain that their potential customers suffer from, and which their company can now solve.
Attorneys have been interpreting and writing stories since we sat down to analyze our first law school exam fact pattern.
We listen attentively. We are careful readers. We write persuasively. We write clearly. We are able to distill complicated concepts into understandable explanations.
And with this, we are able to tell stories: Narratives that customers, clients, partners, and the media can relate to, enjoy, follow, and evangelize.
We are disciplined, loyal, and dependable.
In addition to people they can trust and like, companies need people they can depend on. Things need to get done, fires need to be put out, projects need to be kick-started. The person who just gets stuff done on time, even if it’s not perfect, is of immense value.
Lawyers are this type of solid person. We can be counted on. We meet deadlines. We are used to keeping confidentiality, professional ethics, and fiduciary duties. We are personally accountable. We work long hours and are often the hardest-working person in the office. We are the best at reducing risk.
It is this distinct sense of duty and responsibility that businesses look for and which differentiates us from other candidates.
We know how to research and derive insights.
Research is not just something lawyers do. Every day, businesses want to better understand their respective industry and competitive landscape to make strategic decisions.
And now in the digital and big data age, companies have access to tons of metrics, but are still having trouble organizing it and being able to find actionable insights. Executives need their facts and statistics corroborated. They need to understand differing viewpoints. They need to gain a larger frame of understanding. And they need it all done quickly.
We are researchers by trade. We have been taught to issue spot and IRAC from day one of law school. We are able to identify and organize data. We are able to make sense of large amounts of information. We are able to present statistics clearly and provide advice and suggestions to help companies grow and develop.
So keep this in mind—what lawyers do day-to-day is not solely reserved for the practice of the law. A wide world of other, non-law roles is out there that fit with our skill set and strengths. Exploring these new paths is likely what we need to do to transition from just plugging along as a lawyer to being a master of our life purpose.
About the Author
Casey Berman is a strategy consultant, investment banker, and former in-house counsel, and is the founder of Leave Law Behind, a blog and community that focuses on helping unhappy attorneys leave the practice of law.