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As you know, my podcast and membership, the Collaborative, is all about helping lawyers who feel they want to leave the law determine what they want to do instead, and how to do it. 

Usually, I share the stories of guests who have left the law already or want to leave the law, they are other “former lawyers” who are ready to share their stories. Now, we’re kicking off a new series of episodes where I am going to be interviewing some of my clients who are in the Collaborative. 

The Collaborative is confidential, so we are calling today’s guest “Anon” to protect her anonymity, but she’s been gracious enough to share her experiences with us to help dispel those misconceptions about the process of making a career change and how the Collaborative is facilitating her transition.

It’s Hard to Leave the Law

From her first law internship experience, Anon knew that she didn’t want to pursue a career as a lawyer, but 12 years down the line, she’s still working in law. In fact, she’s a partner in charge of 6 other associates. This is a story too many lawyers can relate to.

Before another 12 years went by, Anon hit a tipping point during a partnership meeting. Her former boss and her had brought in one of the top five clients at their firm. They were an ideal client – when Anon requested more cases from the client, they brought more cases to the firm.  In this way, Anon played a major role in cultivating that business and increasing revenue for the firm.

But, during a partnership meeting, when they were discussing the revenue that they had accumulated from the client, the managing partner kept giving all credit to Anon’s former boss and didn’t mention her contribution of bringing in a million-plus dollars from this client over the years. Not even once. She had always hated partnership meetings because they were a boys’ club, but this was a slap in the face that she couldn’t overlook. 

To compound issues, there were a couple of more incidents that occurred during the meeting that confirmed it was time for her to make a career change as a lawyer.

Finding the Former Lawyer Collaborative 

With her mind made up, Anon started searching Google for alternative careers for lawyers and how to leave the law and came across the Former Lawyer Collaborative. Soon she was binge listening to the podcast. And within the Collaborative, she liked that the website had several resources, such as videos and panels of people talking about the different legal careers that lawyers can explore.

As she said in her own words, One thing that I’ve enjoyed—and I’ve only gotten to do a few of these so far—is the group calls. I think the group collaborative calls are really amazing. I didn’t expect much from my first one but you’re surrounded by really smart people. Everybody in the Collaborative is an attorney, most of them are very hard-working people who are more seasoned in their career, some of them are newer but they have good insights. That’s what I was drawn to is just this idea of having a support network and also resources.”

Having a Community as You Leave the Law

One of the biggest callouts Anon mentions during our time together, beyond the group calls, is having a community of other lawyers on the same path. 

Many of us, when we are thinking about leaving the law, feel that we are the only ones, there is a lot of shame, anxiety, and negative feelings that can surround it. But knowing that there are others experiencing and questioning the same things can be really liberating, validating, and supportive. 

I created the Collaborative because I believe leaving the law is not a journey that you should do alone – you need all the support you can get when you’re thinking about switching careers. 

I also know that as a lawyer, there’s the temptation to read and figure it out on your own. But you can’t have all your questions answered by reading a million books or Googling. And why would you want to when you can access a whole community of people who can give you objective advice for your situation? As Anon notes, the Collaborative group will answer your questions, give you their unbiased take on issues like how to proceed knowing that you’re going to take a pay cut, it’s all anonymous, and you can get responses and accountability in minutes. 

Build Your Own Experience as You Leave the Law

As Anon considers her options for leaving the law, another important aspect of the Collaborative has been that she can pick and choose which calls and panels she attends. I think it’s important for you as a lawyer who may be considering the Collaborative to know that if you look at the information about what’s included, how many calls and workshops we have, it’s not that you have to come to every single one every month, and that if you don’t, then you’re not getting the value. 

It’s not the case that if you just drop out for some period of time, or you’re only picking and choosing the things that are really going to be helpful for you, that you’re not going to be helped by it. The goal is for it to be something where people can say, “Oh that ‘panel, call, workshop’ is going to be helpful for me,” not “You need to do everything in order for this to work for you.”

You have the structure available and you have the information, and at the same time, it’s able to flex to fit what you’re doing. This was true for Anon who has attended a few group calls and a five-day workshop. She found she enjoyed the “go at your own pace” style and the break from her more competitive attorney lifestyle. 

The Collaborative has given her a space to explore what it might be like to leave the law, to ask her questions of others who are in the same situation, and to learn more about her alternatives. A huge thank you to Anon for sharing her experiences with us and I hope hearing more about someone else’s experience with the Collaborative and leaving the law helps you in your journey. 

MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

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Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. On this show, I interview former lawyers to hear their inspiring stories about how they left law behind to find careers and lives that they love. Let's get right to the show.

Hello everyone. I am so excited to bring you this episode of the podcast. This podcast is kicking off a series of episodes which will be spread out over the summer and into the fall where I am going to be interviewing some of my clients who are in the Collaborative. Now, as you know, if you've been around here for any length of time, the Collaborative is my program where I help lawyers figure out what it is that they want to do and how to go do it. It is confidential and because it's confidential, that means unless you want people to know that you are in the Collaborative, no one knows, because it's confidential. But of course, that makes it a bit tricky because while I would love to share all of the details of all the amazing things that are happening, I am very sensitive to the fact that my client's confidentiality comes first.

I'm super excited to let you know that some of my clients in the Collaborative have agreed to share their stories with you so that you can hear a little bit more about what it is like to work with me, to be part of the Collaborative, and to get a more inside look into the process, and what you can expect if you're considering joining the Collaborative and working with me. Some of my clients will be coming on and they will not be anonymous, and then some of them will be coming on and sharing their stories, you'll be hearing their voice, but we won't be shouting out their name publicly. This first episode is with a client whose name we aren't sharing but she is going to share her story with you and I'm really excited for you to hear what she has to say. As always, if you have any questions after listening to this episode, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]

Let's get into this episode with one of my clients in the Collaborative.

I am super excited for you to share your experience, so let's just jump right into the questions. The first question that I would love to hear about from you is where were you before you joined the Collaborative? What made you look for something like that and ultimately decide to join?

Anon: I am a partner at a law firm and I've been working for 12 years. Honestly, I graduated, like you, around 2008 so I essentially had summered at this firm. I didn't enjoy my summer experience. The people were great but I actually remember specifically thinking to myself, “This is not what I want to do at all.”

Sarah Cottrell: Very common.

Anon: Yeah. When I graduated, I had planned on going to New York, and my friends who had jobs in New York were laid off before they even started. I ended up taking my New York bar anyway because I'd already paid for it and I was studying for it. But after that was done, I really didn't know what to do. I had received a call from a partner at the firm who said there was this big case they were working on and if I wanted to work there for six months just to get my feet in the door, that could happen and I did it. I stayed because I didn't really know what I wanted to do, the people were nice enough so I just kept working.

I think 12 years go by and you're sitting there and you're going, “How did this happen, especially being a partner, especially being in charge of six other associates?” Basically, the day that I found your podcast, which led me to the Collaborative, was the day I had a partnership meeting—and I've talked about this on the Collaborative before—so I brought in one of their top five clients at the firm and I handled those cases from beginning to end. My partner, who was my mentor and was my boss before that, had developed the client, but with me, we were able to really make this client, we were their number one go-to firm.

During the meeting, when they were talking about the money that was being brought into the firm, the managing partner basically just kept stating that this client was my partner's client and didn't say anything about me, nothing. It was just—let's just call him Tim—Tim this, Tim that. I always hated partnership meetings for this reason because it is a boys club where I work, but this was just a huge slap in the face because for years, I've been bringing in a million-plus dollars with this client. I'm the one who says, “We need more cases,” they give me more cases. Then some other things happened at the meeting too that were essentially along those lines, and I Googled alternative careers for lawyers and came across your podcast and started listening ravenously to your podcast. That's where I was at basically.

Sarah Cottrell: I'm sure a lot of people who are listening can relate. When you saw the information about the Collaborative, what about the program specifically was appealing to you?

Anon: Since I've always worked at this firm, there were a few times in my life where I would put together this horrible resume and send it out and I was applying for other law jobs that were probably, I'd like to say same trailer different park, so I did have some interviews, I never felt right about them so I just stayed where I was like the devil. I just liked the idea that there was a resource out there that provided videos, and although I haven't watched as many as I should have, I like the fact that you have panels with people talking more in-depth about different types of legal careers that people can explore.

One thing that I've enjoyed—and I've only gotten to do a few of these so far—is the group calls. I think the group collaborative calls are really amazing. I didn't expect much from my first one but you're surrounded by really smart people. Everybody in the Collaborative is an attorney, most of them are very hard working people who are more seasoned in their career, some of them are newer but they have good insights. That's what I was drawn to is just this idea of having a support network and also resources.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, you're definitely not alone in saying that the calls are one of your favorite parts. That's what a lot of people say and so I'd love it if you could just describe a little bit more for people who are thinking about it and curious just how the calls work and what it was that you found to be particularly helpful about them.

Anon: This is something that you talk about a lot on the podcast, but when you're an attorney and you're ingrained in work and it's all you do, you're surrounded by lawyers all day who are in it, people complain about their jobs but you don't really talk about wanting to not be a lawyer anymore, there is this sense that you're alone and you feel really lost. Having other people, seeing their faces, and being able to say things and have them say the same things that they're going through, there really is a lot to say about a community to keep you moving forward, to make you realize that your feelings are real.

I like to say that I've gaslit myself for my entire career and I think when you hear other people describing the exact same feelings that you're going through and some of them have actually moved forward and made steps to leave wherever they are and to get to where they want to be, it's encouraging and it's also just reaffirming. You don't feel so lost and depressed about your decision. It's less scary to have others who are in the same boat as you and are doing something about it, not just like, “We're scared, we don't know what we're doing,” but it's encouraging, it's great, it's cathartic, it's like a group therapy/constructive advice.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much, oh my goodness, it makes me so happy. One of the reasons that I wanted to share the experiences of some people who are in the Collaborative is that I think as lawyers, we are inherently skeptical, and I completely understand it, I definitely have people have lawyers who reach out to me and I can tell from the tone of what they're saying it's like, “Is this real? Are there really people in here? Is it really helpful?” all of those lawyerly questions, the skepticism.

Can you talk a little bit to someone who maybe is thinking about joining and is having some of those questions or just wondering like, “Is this really for me?” What would you say to them?

Anon: Basically, you can hire a coach and it'll cost a lot more money or you can start with something like the Collaborative which I think is a great value. We are busy people so it may not be that you're on it every day or even every week but I can tell you that even from the first post that I posted, people were responding within minutes. It's real and it's there and it's what you make of it. There's an aspect of vulnerability that a lot of lawyers, I don't think, like to show but it's anonymous.

The people there are in the same boat as you, no one's going to out you that you're looking for something else. Like I said, some people may not be able to go on every week but there are always people there it seems like. You get notifications, so when somebody does post something, you see that. I usually go in and see what people have written and like to lend my support. There are group calls-- am I wrong that they're every week?

Sarah Cottrell: We typically have one or two of the calls where it's actually all of us on Zoom in a normal Zoom meeting every month and then there are typically one or two, sometimes three, workshops or panels, something like that.

Anon: Yeah. I feel like there's something all the time because I'm getting emails all the time, and that's a good thing. I don't think this is something people should do on their own, I really don't. I think that I'm so guilty of the lawyer brain of, “Let me read everything on the internet. Let me buy a million books and I'm going to figure it out myself.” I don't think this is something that people should do on their own. I don't think that even if you have a spouse that's a lawyer who's going through the same thing, there's this whole community out there of people like you, Sarah, and other people that you provide resources to, financial people that can help you if you are scared about the the money aspect like, “What if I have to take a pay cut?”

I just think it's silly to try to figure it out on your own when you can have this whole community of people who will give you objective advice, not “I'm your family member and I'm going to tell you what you should or shouldn't do,” because oftentimes, I think with my family in particular, I couldn't even tell my father what I'm doing right now because that's what I did for so many years, I would talk to my parents about, “Oh, I'm so unhappy. I don't want to be a lawyer anymore,” and it would just be like, “No, no, no, you'll become a partner. Everything will be better and it's just a job.”

Sarah Cottrell: That’s just how jobs are.

Anon: Yeah, exactly. Like I said, I gaslight myself for so long and I think it's super important to have a community of like-minded individuals that will keep you grounded in your journey and not go, “Okay, this is actually not as bad as I thought. I should just stay at my job, the money's great. I have this, I have that.” You can talk yourself out of it so easily and I think having accountability and having a collaborative, I've talked to many people that know that I'm going through this journey about how important this group is to me.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much. I just wanted to highlight, for people who are listening, we were talking about how many calls are there, I think it's important for people to know that if they look at the information about, “This is how many calls we have and this is how many workshops we have,” it's not like you have to come to every single one every month and if you don't, then you're not getting the value. You can definitely pick and choose if you're in a period where things are really busy at work, which basically happens to everyone, of course, lawyers.

It's not like if you just drop out for some period of time or you're only picking and choosing the things that are really going to be helpful for you that you're not going to be helped by. The goal is for it to be something where people can say, “Oh, that workshop, that's going to be helpful to me,” or like, “Oh, yeah. I have time and I have questions and I'm going to go to this call.” Essentially, not having people feel like, “You need to do everything in order for this to work for you.” You have the structure available and you have the information, at the same time, it's able to flex, to fit what you're doing and it sounds like that's been your experience.

Anon: Yeah. Absolutely, like I said, when I said that, “Oh, there are more of those panels that I should attend,” the beautiful thing is that you always send out the link saying, “This is the panel recording so if you miss it, you can watch it.” I'm hoping for a rainy day so that I can sit inside and binge some of these panels that I've been wanting to watch but that's what's great is like if you're not at that stage where you want to hear about other careers, you can just do the basics that you have to get through.

I did that five-day workshop, that was one of the first things that I did and you just do it at your own pace. It's not a competition. It's not a job either. It's for you so don't treat it like you treat everything else as an attorney. It's for you, it's for your self-development. I'm basically just telling myself this because I was guilty of trying to feel bad about not being able to attend everything, but don't. Your journey is at your pace.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much. Is there anything else that you would like to share either about your experience or just anything that you think someone who's considering joining the Collaborative should know or needs to hear?

Anon: I think that I've pretty much covered the bases. If you're on the fence, just do it. In terms of, like I said, value and when you're considering maybe even leaving a high-paying job and know that you need to save, the idea of getting a career coach can be very daunting in terms of price and this is like you're not just getting the career coach type training that you would go through but you're also getting an entire group of other attorneys who are going through it with you.

There's something to really be said, and I'm a pretty introverted person so I love the fact that this is all via Zoom and things like that so you get to see people without having to get out of your pajamas or whatever you've been wearing during your work pandemic life and be part of something without even leaving your office or living room at home.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much. Thank you so much for sharing. I really, really appreciate it and I know that it's going to be helpful for people just to hear a little bit more about what the experience has been.

Anon: Yeah, thank you, Sarah. Like I said, if it wasn't for that angry Google search about four or five months ago, I would have just been droning along not knowing what to do so thank you for all the stuff that you’ve put together for everybody.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much. Thank you.

Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.

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