Are Unhappy Biglaw Lawyers Living a Half Life?

One of the most inspirational and innovative geniuses of our time passed last week.

The news of Steve Jobs’ death made me think about what a profound legacy he left behind and how many of us have secret dreams and desires to leave behind a legacy after we’re gone by which people will remember us.  In other words, we don’t want to simply be here living life, going through the motions, then be gone, and then be forgotten by subsequent generations.

This all may sound a little morbid, but my point is, if you’re unhappy in your job and you are scared of the uncertainty of quitting, think about your life as it is.  How would you feel if you kept working at your job for another 10, 20, 30+ years?  What kind of legacy would you be leaving behind?  Will the world be better off because you have lived? And what about the alternative course?  Could you be making more of an impact and leaving behind a different legacy?

Although many attorneys make a positive impact by engaging themselves in activities benefiting their communities, spending time with loved ones, and providing invaluable pro bono services to people who can’t afford a lawyer, I wonder if some of those unhappy biglaw attorneys don’t feel that they are just living a “half life” – i.e., not fully living the life they want and simply getting stuck in the routines of their lives indefinitely.

If that’s how you feel, I can relate.  When I was in biglaw, I felt like I wasn’t fully living my life the way I wanted to.  I thought about the fact that I have only one life, and that it goes by so quickly, and I realized where my true priorities were.  I felt stuck and depressed, even miserable at times, in my job, but I saw no way out.  I kept asking myself – is this it?  Is this what life is all about?  You struggle, work your ass off, and then die?

I knew there had to be an alternative.  After all, not everybody lives their lives in this way, and in fact, many people I read about found new paths, and were happier and more successful after leaving jobs they were miserable in.  Even though these questions are the questions of the privileged few (many people who have to work to survive in any job they can get cannot afford these existential questions), when you have certain resources to get yourself out of a crummy situation, then do it!  Whether those resources be access to information online, books, $5000 in your savings account, or simply the knowledge that you can do better than you are today, then why not help yourself become a happier person, and maybe help more people along the way?  We only have one life, we might as well live it fully, rather than live only a “half life”.

Since quitting my job, I have had the fortunate opportunity to travel, just as I was yearning to while I was chained to my desk.  I have also started doing freelance legal work, which has surprisingly been extremely rewarding.  I am my own boss, I set my own hours, I work from coffee shops or from home, and I can take vacations whenever I want.  My income is nowhere near where it was last year, but some sacrifices must be made.  I have spent more time with my friends and family.  And most importantly, I am happier.  I am more confident.  I feel free.

And I no longer feel like I am living a half life.

 

What do you think?  I would LOVE to hear from you!  Leave a comment below and let me know.

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Big Law Firms v. Small Firms – Does It Make a Difference?

When I was interviewing for jobs while at my big law firm job, and shortly after quitting, I interviewed with some small law firms. I thought that by going to a small firm, I could do interesting work, work with people I like, and have more hands on experience earlier into my career.  And maybe deal with fewer billable hour requirements.

I think I was mistaken.  Looking back now, I was going about my job search in all the wrong ways.  I was seeking an escape from the job I was in, rather than targeting the jobs and workplaces that I wanted to work for.  Ultimately, the small firms didn’t hire me, and in retrospect, I am so glad they didn’t.  I would have gotten paid less, would have had to probably work harder than I did at the big law firm, work on less interesting cases with less interesting and friendly co-workers (at least at those particular firms).  So what was it worth?  I probably would have been more unhappy at those jobs than I was at my big firm job.

Sometimes things don’t work out for a reason.  I know the reason the small firms didn’t work out was so that I would be forced to examine myself more critically and try to figure out what I really wanted, rather than choosing the easy ways out from a job I felt miserable in.

What do you think?  Is there a big difference in terms of happiness levels for junior associates when comparing big firms with small firms?

I would LOVE to hear from you!  Leave a comment below and let me know.

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Dealing With Rejection

Sweet Sorrow

I remember when I was desperately seeking my way out of big law, I was searching for and applying to jobs pretty much every single day.  I was rejected countless times, but I kept trying because I knew there might be other jobs out there that would be a better fit for me, and for which I would be a better fit.

I did not receive any response to 98% of my job applications.  I finally received a response, and it was from my dream company – Google!  They wanted to do a phone interview with me.  I was absolutely floored that they even considered my application considering the number of applications they receive every day!  Apparently I made the first cut, and I thought I was on the right track.  Google was the light at the end of my big law tunnel and I was going to do everything I could to get that job.

The phone interview went well, and I was invited to the Google campus for an in-person interview with 3 attorneys on Google’s legal team.  I was ecstatic.  Researching, studying and preparing for this interview became my full-time job.  I couldn’t have done anything more to prepare for that interview.

But when it came to interview time, I was challenged by the questions the attorneys asked me.  They asked me to answer hypothetical questions that I would most likely have to deal with if I worked as a member of their legal team.  I tried my best to answer the questions in an intelligent and thoughtful manner, but the interview was definitely the most difficult interview I’ve ever experienced.  That being said, I thought I did fairly well and expected to hear a positive response.

So when I heard back from the recruiter that they decided to pass on my application because of my lack of experience, I was devastated.  I felt rejected.  My way out of big law felt closed off yet again.  I started criticizing myself for not being able to make that amazing opportunity a reality.  I became even more depressed when I had to go to work the next day, knowing that my stay there was once again indefinite, and my dreams of presenting my (already drafted) resignation letter to my boss saying I’m going to Google came crashing down.

Looking back almost a year and a half after that experience occurred, I can see that perhaps life was trying to lead me away from the law.  Maybe, I was starting to realize, there was an alternate career path that was awaiting me that would allow the space for a greater contribution to others and to the world than the law ever could.  And if I had obtained that job at Google, I might not have ever pursued that alternate path.

When life deals us blows, most of us have fear-based reactions and start being hard on ourselves, and then try to numb the pain through drugs, alcohol, sex, food, or other means. This is not a healthy cycle.  I’m sure many of the new law grads can relate, given the horrible job market and the number of rejections they’ve probably received for their applications.

A better way to deal with rejection is to trust that it might be a sign that something is not the right fit for us, and maybe we need to take the road less-traveled instead.

We also have to be proud of ourselves for putting ourselves out there, even after countless rejections, instead of taking rejections personally.  Every time we think we fail, it actually means we are on the right track, because we are putting ourselves out there and trying to change the things that aren’t working in our lives.

If you have friends that are unemployed law grads or if you know a lawyer seeking a way out of big law, please send them over to the blog, and share this post on Facebook and Twitter using the buttons below!  I’m sure they would appreciate it.


What’s Holding You Back From Making the Jump from Big Law?

Jump

I want to hear from you.

What’s holding you back from quitting your big law job?  What are your fears?  Can you identify the things that are holding you back?

Hearing from you will help me help you, since I will be able to better understand what is holding you back from realizing your aspirations, and in turn will be able to write about topics that interest you and that may even help you.

So take the poll and feel free to leave a comment below, or email me at escapefromthelaw [AT] gmail [DOT] com.

And if you have friends in big law that are unhappy with their jobs, please send them over to the blog, or share this post on Facebook and Twitter using the buttons below!  I’m sure they would appreciate it.


Thinking About Quitting Big Law? Read On.

Watch this video to learn how the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, decides on whether to take risks in his career and his life.

This method of thinking is essential if you ever want to live a life of no regrets because it brings you back to your core values, and the type of life you want to live.  It also helps you make the necessary, and often exceedingly difficult, moves that are required to get you from where you are to where you would like to be.

Watch the video and leave a comment below letting me know what you thought about it.

I would love to hear from you!

How do you make important decisions?  Have you ever used the Regret Minimization Framework? If so, what sorts of decisions did it lead to? Do you have any regrets in your life?


When You’re Not Working in Biglaw Anymore…

When you’re not working in biglaw anymore, each day is so different from the one before it, and life feels easier and more enjoyable.  I don’t feel the minutes, hours, days or weeks dragging on for what seems to be an eternity, as they felt when I was working in biglaw.  I no longer dread waking up in the morning.  I look forward to each day as an opportunity to learn something new and do something a little different, rather than doing the same routine tasks over and over, taking the same route to work everyday, and eating at the same lunch spots that I’ve been eating at for years.  In short, I no longer feel like my life is on autopilot.  I feel like I’ve taken control over my life again.

This time off was so necessary for me and I am so glad I made it happen. I can’t believe why I struggled for so long to take the time off. Now I see it clearly – I thought I would be letting others down. Now I also realize that my fear was unfounded. Everyone is supportive of you when you are pursuing your own happiness and your own journey. And many people admire the courage it takes to go down this path less traveled.

I struggled for a while with feelings of guilt for not being as productive as I would like to be, but then I realized that I was being too hard on myself.  Just because I was doing different things than what I was accustomed to doing, didn’t mean I wasn’t doing anything useful with my time.  This took me a long time to realize.

Now I’ve reached a point of acceptance.  Acceptance of all the things as they are, and acceptance of the unknown future.  There’s a part of me that is in fact excited by the infinite unknown possibilities of the future, and by the fact that I am living on my own terms.

I would rather choose this way of life, because at least there is an element of unpredictability to it.  And at any moment, I can pick up and go somewhere else if I wish to.  I am not under someone else’s control and I no longer feel like I’m stuck in a rut doing the same thing everyday.  That is the most satisfying aspect of this experience so far – living on my own terms and having the freedom to be myself and express my true self, instead of pretending to be someone else.


Sometimes You Have to Break Down Before You Break Through

Do you find yourself questioning yourself these days?  Maybe with the new year, you are reflecting on the past year or two of your life and evaluated it against where you thought you would be in 2011, and you realized you are no where near where you wanted to be.
In order to understand and get to where you want to be, you have to understand where you have been and how you got there.  You have to also understand the reasons you got there, and the reasons that you are feeling unhappy/ inauthentic right now so those same issues and reasons do not lead you to a different, yet equally unsatisfying, path in the future.
For example, why did you go to law school?
  • Did you feel pressure from your family to go to graduate school?
  • Did you want to make a lot of money?
  • Did you want the status and prestige of being a lawyer?
  • Did you feel confused and not know what else to pursue?
  • Did you feel like you made a rushed decision because a lot of your other friends were doing it?
  • Did you feel like it was the “logical” next step based on your prior studies?
Now how many of those reasons are in line with your personal life values?  Which ones?  If none of them are in line with your personal values, no wonder you feel unsatisfied with your biglaw career and are considering leaving the law!
It’s good to question the decisions, events, and circumstances that have taken place in your life.  There is a tendency to avoid this intense self-questioning because it is uncomfortable for most of us, since it can reveal internal conflicts that are easier to avoid altogether.  This sort of questioning may bring up some issues that like to hide beneath the surface of your everyday life, but it’s always better to deal with them sooner rather than later, since they will eventually come back to get you.
This process of self-questioning may cause a mini breakdown (or a major one), but sometimes you have to break down before you break through.