The Pendulum of Confidence and Despair
Every morning, I'd wake up and check the job boards. I kept my phone beside my bed, so all I had to do was roll over. Within seconds, I'd be scrolling through job postings on Indeed. But of course they were the same job postings I had looked at yesterday. And the day before. They were the same ones that appeared on other job sites too. Every morning was different, but every morning was the same.
I remember one time where I discovered a new job board. I found it late one night, so I spent a long time scrolling before I went to bed. The next morning, I woke up, rolled over, and grabbed my phone. I couldn't wait to pull up the new job site I had just discovered. Surely they had posted new jobs since I had visited the site late last night! I couldn't wait to try all of my search term variations to see if this site - finally - would be the one with the perfect nonlegal job for me.
It is an odd feeling to be both excited and embarrassed at the same time. I think I was embarrassed because I was excited. Here I was, waking up in the morning and getting excited about checking a job board. I couldn't wait to go to this new website I had discovered only hours ago and search for things like "nonlegal." This is pathetic, I thought. Deep down, I knew that this job board wasn't really any different from the others. It wouldn't list any new jobs that I hadn't seen before. I used the same search terms, so why should I expect different results? But still, I couldn't help myself. This job board was a new hope. I felt so trapped in the law that I clung to anything I could that offered hope to escape.
I didn't find any new job listings on that website. They were mostly the same as the ones I'd always find.
This is obviously a very frustrating and ineffective way of trying to leave the law. [Link]
In scouring the job boards, I noticed that I had two moods. Some days, I was confident. I'd read about positions that interested me, but for which I had almost none of the qualifications. No matter, I told myself. I have transferable skills. I know I can do this job. I'd bring so much more to this role having practiced law. Every position seemed attainable. Every position seemed perfect. My law degree wasn't a hindrance. Having practiced for nearly a decade wasn't a red flag. I knew about all the other lawyers who left the law. If they did it, so could I. And I didn't even need a job posting. My experience and skill set would make me such a valuable asset that I should send cold emails to companies I wanted to work for, telling them why they should hire a lawyer to do something other than law. There were no limits to what I could do outside of the law.
On other days, it was different. I was trapped. I had gone to school to practice law. I had practiced law for a decade. Why would I do anything different? Could I even do anything different? Why would somebody pay me to do something different? I wasn't a valuable asset. I was a high-risk flier. Why would a company take a chance on me to do something I had never done before instead of somebody with direct experience? And what jobs were out there anyway? What jobs are out there for lawyers who don't want to practice law? I'd never be able to leave the law. I was trapped.
My moods swung back and forth. One day I'd be filled with confidence. The next day I'd be overcome with despair. Every time I'd hear about a former lawyer who found success outside the law, I'd get inspired. I can do that too! But every unanswered job application or rejection letter would fuel my despair.
Now that I've left the law, there are a few things I'd want to tell my younger self:
- It doesn't help to just say, "Don't be discouraged." While the sentiment is good, it applies to all job seekers. But lawyers looking to leave the law have a different fear: they're trapped. You can only leave the law once, and the longer it takes, the more unlikely it seems. [Lindy effect] So I'd tell myself, "You are not trapped."
- Make your confidence tangible. It is easy to imagine how your legal experience and skill set will transfer to a new nonlegal role. In your head, anything is possible. But during your job search and especially on interviews, you'll need to nail one question: why are you, a lawyer, a good fit for this nonlegal role? The best way to prepare for that is to show, don't tell. (If you've litigated, you know that phrase.) Build your own proof of work that shows a prospective employer what you can do. [A personal website is a great way to do this.] Looking back, I wish I had done this earlier. It is a great way to make your confidence tangible to yourself and visible to potential employers.