Finding a Life After Law

by admin 9. July 2013 09:52

This interview is for lawyers who aren't so sure they want to be lawyers anymore. We know—seems blasphemous, given our community's focus. But Liz Brown, assistant professor of business law at Bentley University and the author of the upcoming book, "Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have," has a positive message: There are a lot of ways to find happiness and success with a law degree. All it takes is a willingness to consider the possibilities, honestly assess one's priorities—and, perhaps, take a risk.

Liz, I want to start with the question you ask in your first chapter: Why are so many lawyers unhappy?

I see three main reasons.  First, it’s too easy to get into law practice, which represents an enormous investment of time and money, before you know whether law is right for you.  So many of us went to law school without an accurate sense of what the profession is like day to day, or whether we really wanted a partner’s life.  The profession has also changed dramatically in the last decade, so many lawyers feel that the ground has shifted under them in ways they don’t particularly like.

The second reason is that it’s hard to leave once you get used to the status and the money. There hasn’t been much support among lawyers for those who want to explore other options. Many lawyers mistakenly assume that they can’t use their legal skills to succeed in any other career, or that they’ll have to start all over again. That is seldom true, in my experience. 

The third reason is that making a change requires taking a risk. Lawyers are notoriously risk averse in general. That trait may help them excel at law, but it can also keep them in the wrong job for too long.

So, why do some remain in careers that make them unhappy, while others leave? Are there certain qualities—or practical limitations—that tend to cause people to fall into one camp or the other?

The lawyers who move into more rewarding careers tend to be more confident, introspective and persistent than others, but it’s more doable than you might think—certainly more so than I thought myself when I was in private practice. Some people have financial limitations, like mortgages, that affect the range of options they can consider, but people are more often limited by their beliefs than their material circumstances.  Any unhappy lawyer can find work she enjoys more if she takes the right approach to the process. 

I assume some can achieve improved satisfaction with a few tweaks, as opposed to a drastic career change. How do you know when a major overhaul is in order?

You’re right about that. It’s such an individual decision. Much depends on what your values and obligations are, and how you really want to spend your life.  It’s important to start with the skills you most enjoy using, whether in or out of law practice. There is more than one way to develop almost any talent or interest, which is why I tell the stories of three or more ex-lawyers’ transitions for every skill set described in "Life After Law." 

Your book tells some fascinating stories about men and women who have left the law for new careers—entrepreneurs, professors, consultants, even a journalist, a rabbi and an acupuncturist. What does it tell you that there’s such a wide range?

It tells me that lawyers have a more diverse range of talents, gifts, and passions than most people give them credit for on the whole.  People come to law school with so many interests. Law practice might obscure those interests for a while, but fortunately it doesn’t erase them. 

Which career transformation fascinated you the most?

That’s so hard to answer. It was tough to limit the book to thirty stories because each is fascinating in its own way.  One of my favorites is Jen Atkins, a tax lawyer who went to nursing school because she wanted to advocate for sick children instead of advising corporate clients on how to pay fewer taxes.  I have a personal fondness for the creative ex-lawyers, like Zoe Mohler of Three Sisters Jewelry and the designer Karina Gentinetta, in part because I wish I had their talents!  And how can you not love the story of Valerie Beck, who now runs a chocolate walking tour company in Chicago?

What is the most important thing a women lawyer should know about the possibility of life after law?

It’s realistic. You can change your career and love your work no matter how long you’ve been out of law practice, even if you don’t know now what you want to do next.  Most of the happy ex-lawyers I’ve profiled made their changes gradually.  One small step can lead to another. Have faith in your ability to make this change, and don’t wait too long to take that first step.

Thank you for your time, Liz!

It’s been a pleasure!

Liz Brown is the author of the new book, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have (Bibliomotion 2013).   Her writing focuses on the unique challenges and options for women lawyers and provides creative, effective strategies for identifying career options beyond law.  She encourages women to draw inspiration from the thirty ex-lawyers profiled in Life After Law, all of whom have found more engaging post-law careers.  A former litigation partner, Liz also served as the first Executive Director in Boston of Golden Seeds, the largest source of angel funding for women entrepreneurs.   She is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.   


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