Monthly Archives: March 2013

Loving Justice, Leaving the Law

medium_5697895The Supreme Court’s gay marriage hearings this week have me on the edge of my seat.  It’s thrilling to hear that five justices might vote to overturn DOMA, and depressing to think that the Proposition 8 issue may be put on hold.  I’m following Adam Liptak’s coverage and wishing fervently that I could see the action myself.  Last week, I was engrossed by the Steubenville verdicts.  I love the justice system, even when it doesn’t deserve the name.  I’m a total justice geek.  And I’m still so glad that I left my law practice.

One of the most common reasons people go to law school in the first place is because they want to do good in the world.  It’s often not the only reason, but it ranks high on the list – especially, I’ve found, for people who started law school more than ten years ago.  That love of justice can lead to serious disappointment in their career choice and, sometimes, depression.  Lawyers can end up feeling far removed from the idea of justice, let alone its actual pursuit.   Several of the ex-lawyers profiled in Life After Law told me what a shock it was to do well in school, get the cream of the job offer crop, and then find themselves stuck in an office all day trying to make a little more money for massive corporations and their shareholders.  It felt like their success was measured by achieving profit, not justice.  Some worked for failing investment banks, and knew that taxpayers would foot the massive bill for their arrogant clients.   The problem was most acute in Big Law, but not exclusive to it.

If you’re thinking that this disappointment is rooted in a naive view of the legal profession, you’re partly right.  I routinely advise people who are thinking about law school, or any new venture, to spend a lot of time exploring the daily realities of the job they think they want.

For people who are already in the trenches, however, the disconnect between justice and their own law practice can lead them to question their careers.  After all, if well trained, well-compensated lawyers can’t effect justice, who can?  Is it just the relatively few public interest law firms and legal service organizations?  Their work is admirable, but they can only accommodate a tiny fraction of the lawyers who want to work there.  They can’t pay Big Law salaries, so Big Loans might compel you to look elsewhere.    What’s a justice-loving, law-practice-disliking person to do for work?

I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from you.  How do you integrate your love of justice in your post-law life?   If you’re not there yet, what are your plans?

 

photo credit: mindgutter via photopin.com

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Want a Better Career? Depose Someone.

For lawyers considering a career change, figuring out an alternative career can be the hardest part of the process.  For some people, like Warren Brown, their next career stems from a longstanding passion or two – in Warren’s case, baking and public education.  The rest of us find our next career through a combination of research and introspection.  One of the most important forms of research you can do is talking with people who are actually doing the work you are interested in.  The day to day reality of a job is often very different from the way it looks from the outside.coffee-interview-300x207

“Please don’t tell me to do informational interviews,” you may be thinking.  Let me explain why those interviews may be much easier and more fun than you expect.   Lawyers are, by training, very good at interviewing other people.  Depositions, after all, are directed interviews designed to achieve a set of objectives.   Informational interviews are the same, although they are not adversarial and usually involve better coffee and fewer staff people.   Even non-litigators have experience advising their clients, which usually starts with listening to them.  As a lawyer researching other careers, your analytical skills and ability to listen carefully to the answers you get give you a leg up over other career changers.

In Life After Law, I give detailed advice on how to make the informational interview process work well for you no matter how introverted or busy you are.  Some basic words of wisdom for your informational interview, however, are:

  1. Ask 3-5 questions about the other person’s work.  How did they start their career?  What do they like about their work?  What don’t they like about it?  What is a typical week or month like?  That sort of thing.
  2. Take no more than 15-20 minutes of their time, unless they *beg* you to stay longer.
  3. Be extremely courteous before, during and afterward – err on the side of overly polite.

And here’s one last piece of advice: unless you are talking with someone who knows you well, don’t ask someone else to give you ideas for your next career.  What’s right for you is a more complex question than a quick look at your resume can reveal.  If you keep the focus on the other person, you’re more likely to learn what will ultimately help you make the right career decision.

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Does Gender Affect Post-Law Strategy?

Do men and women leave their law careers differently?  With so much recent attention focused on whether women should lean in, pull back, or leave Yahoo, I was glad to see this post in the HBR blog reminding us that work/family issues affect men and women equally – at least in theory.  That aspiration to gender neutrality doesn’t reflect current realities, for lawyers and everyone else, in the sense that women in dual earner families spend more time on housework and child care than men.  I’m not sure we need statistics on this, but they exist.  Women lawyers face unique challenges in law practice, and everyone knows that they leave BigLaw in larger numbers before reaching equity partnership than men do.  But are there differences in how men and women lawyers find their next careers?

My informal research, including hundreds of interviews in the process of writing Life After Law, shows that women often take longer to start their post-law careers after leaving practice than men do, often in tandem with taking time off for family reasons.  That’s the genesis of the “off-ramping/on-ramping” issue that concerned women lawyers’ professional groups, starting in the mid-90s and continuing today.  But the diversity of women’s post-law careers, and the magnitude of their success, is no less than men’s. Women usually come back from time off with a renewed sense of confidence and a broadened sense of potential.  For more on this phenomenon, I can’t recommend the wonderful iRelaunch group strongly enough.  Their site is here.

Men may be more resistant to leaving high-status and/or high-income jobs than women, at least initially, for a variety of reasons.  They receive a stronger cultural message that their self-worth is inseparable from their job title, and they often have a less heterogeneous sense of self than women do.   At least for now, it’s harder for men to justify leaving their law jobs for family reasons.  To the contrary, they may feel that the income law provides is a better way of providing for their family than taking time to be with them.  I can’t wait for more men to feel more strongly that they have a realistic choice about work/family balance, and about their own professional options.  That’s one of the reasons I encourage everyone to have a frank and unbounded discussion about how they really want to live, and how much of their life they want to spend at the office.  Work/family integration and maximizing career satisfaction shouldn’t just be women’s issues.  It’s not in women’s interests anyway.  Until the work/family debate becomes less gendered, women’s options will be much more limited than they can and should be.

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Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have – The Cover!

I’m excited to finally share the cover image for Life After Law with you.  If all goes according to plan, it will be published next September by BiblioMotion.  NYTimes Book Review rave, guest spot on The Daily Show and Terry Gross interview to follow shortly thereafter.  Please tell your friends, neighbors, and anyone else you know who may be interested in a new resource to help unhappy lawyers find work they love.  What do you think?

 

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