Leaving the law: how to start the next chapter

I recently had an opportunity to offer some suggestions to a lawyer who’s ready to leave the practice but uncertain where to start in creating the next chapter of her career.  Since that’s hardly an unusual state of affairs, I thought I’d post my comments here in hopes of helping others in a similar position.

Deciding whether to leave the law and what to do next requires examination of a wide variety of questions.  Some of the questions that I offer clients who are considering leaving practice include the following:

*  What do you want to bring from your legal career into your next career?  Do you want to be in a law-related field that will make specific use of your legal training, or do you want to explore something ocmpletely new?

*  What do you enjoy?  Writing, making presentations, working solo, working with a team, leading, managing, directing, etc.?

*  What are you passionate about?  Would you like to bring that passion into your work?  Another way of asking this is, for the sake of what are you working?

*  What do you want your days to look like?  Is work/life balance a significant consideration for you?  Imagine your ideal work situation and describe what it looks like — and really, you don’t have to know what the work itself would be to do this.  For instance, would you work in an office or from home?  Would you have an assistant?  Would your days be full of meetings?  Would you travel for business?  Would you spend time creating?  Would you spend time performing analyses or developing strategies?

* What has caused you to decide to leave practice?  (There’s often lots of information there, and some of the clients I’ve worked with have discovered that they don’t actually want to leave practice, they just want to change their practice so it fits them better.)

There are so many questions that merit exploration, and these are just a few starters.

I’d also suggest talking with others who’ve left practice and exploring books about career changes for lawyers, such as: The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook (Hindi Greenberg), What Can You Do With a Law Degree?: A Lawyers’ Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside & Around the Law (Deborah Arron);  Alternative Careers for Lawyers (Hillary Mantis); and Beyond the Big Firm: Profiles of Lawyers Who Want Something More (Alan B. Morrison and Diane T. Chin).  (Sorry, no links this morning, but you can find all of these on Amazon.)

You might also consider whether coaching could be beneficial.  Coaching is a useful way to discover what will work best for you given your skills and talents, your desires, and your needs.  A coaching relationship also creates a safe space to explore next steps with someone who “gets it” and, perhaps unlike family/colleagues/friends has nothing at risk based on your decisions.

2 replies
  1. Ed Poll
    Ed Poll says:

    Once you answer the question I ask myself each day, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” don’t forget where you are. You are in the practice of law … and if you are an owner of your practice, not an employee, you have something of value. You can convert this value (otherwise called goodwill) into cash. This will help you transition to the next phase of your career/life.

  2. Julie Fleming-Brown
    Julie Fleming-Brown says:

    Thanks for your comment, Ed. I agree, and I’d take it a step further — particularly in the context of those who choose to leave the law. Seems to me that all lawyers, even those who have never practiced, have something of value simply by virtue of their legal training. Those who have practiced, of course, have additional value thanks to their work, the connections they’ve made with clients and other lawyers, and so on.

    So, while “owners” (which I take to mean those who have a book of business, in the context of your comment) definitely have something of transferable value, I’d hate to leave the impression that mere employees without a book of business lack value for a future career.

    I love your daily question, by the way! I also like the question who do I want to be in my career?

    Thanks again for comenting here, Ed.

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