Like you, quitting law did not come easy to me.
I distinctly remember sitting on the couch with my laptop in our house, scrolling through Indeed — because that was where jobs were posted back in the day — and having no idea what I wanted to do next. I was miserable and was willing to pay any price to get someone to tell me what to do.
Fortunately, no one did.
I know how it feels to be unhappy about your job as a lawyer and unsure of your next steps. You ask yourself questions like “What do I like? What work would be interesting to me outside of what I’m doing now?” but you cannot decide what you should be doing instead.
You are not alone. I work with many lawyers who are quitting law but are uncertain of what to do afterward. What you need to do is to approach the process differently to figure out what you want. That way, you get a solution perfect for you.
Why You Don’t Need Someone to Tell You What to Do When Quitting Law
You do not need someone to tell you what to do because no one, not even career counsellors, can understand your wants, needs, goals, aspirations, and ambitions better than you do. The best they can do is make recommendations that may or may not be ideal for your situation.
For most lawyers looking to transition out of a law career, there is a period where they feel miserable. In that period, they just want someone to be able to look at them and say, “Well, here are your skills so this is what you should do”.
However, I have observed that this approach can be discouraging, especially when you have not made up your mind about what you should do.
I know that some career coaches and counselors take this approach. While I am not saying it is wrong in every situation, it can be discouraging when you haven’t decided on why you are quitting law.
In most cases, these counselors conduct a personality test to evaluate your skills and they typically recommend being a lawyer. That is your first hint that these assessments, especially when done alone, are not helpful for you.
I have had to help some people overcome panicking because they have taken an assessment that recommends the legal profession while they are working on leaving it. This usually happens when you use a coach whose method is to tell you what to do instead of helping you work out what you want to do.
What to Do When Quitting Law
As a lawyer looking to make a career change, your transferable skills are important, but they are not the only things that matter, nor should they be your starting point when trying to figure out your next step. This is also something that I have heard from a number of my friends who are lawyer career coaches.
Take a Different Approach
If you want to avoid feeling more stuck, the first thing to do is to take a different approach by not just going with what someone told you to do. This is because it is probably not going to end super well for you.
I talk about this in my free guide on the First Steps to Leaving the Law. It is a guide for when you want out, but you are not even sure where to start. Following the steps I outlined in the guide will provide clarity on your career ambitions. This is the first step to getting it right.
Next, you need to understand that the key to going from “I don’t know what I want to do” to figuring it out is to take action. For you, this could mean anything from taking the jump immediately or staying back for a while to gather information on your next step.
That is part of the process of gaining clarity.
If you shortcut that by delegating that decision-making to someone else, you miss out on being able to develop the knowledge and information about yourself that will ultimately help you to make an even better choice.
Whatever you decide, as long as you are taking action, you are on the path to living a full life outside of the legal profession.
That is why I can say that I am glad that no one told me what to do when I was younger, miserable, and scrolling through Indeed. I am glad about it because the process helped me figure out what I wanted for myself and how to achieve it. That process is what has brought me to a place today where I am happy and very empowered moving forward to make different choices, and to pivot if I need to. I see this all the time with my clients.
It Gets Better
One of the most rewarding parts of working with my clients is seeing how they grow in confidence, not just about their next step from where they are right now but also feeling empowered to move forward without the fear of things falling apart.
I understand that feeling of needing someone to give instructions when quitting law, but you do not need that. You have the answer. You just need to go through the process of figuring out what that answer is.
A great place to start is by downloading my free guide and taking the required action for making it work, you’ve got this.
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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. This week on the podcast, I want to talk about why you don't actually just want someone to tell you what to do. I can remember back when I was still working at the firm and I can distinctly remember myself sitting on the couch with my laptop in our house, scrolling through Indeed—because that was where jobs were posted back in the day—and having no idea what I wanted to do next and I was so miserable that I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. Fortunately, no one did. That's what I want to talk about today because I know this feeling. It's this visceral “ugh” kind of feeling where you aren't happy and you really don't know what it is that you want to do next. You know that you're unhappy with your current job as a lawyer but you don't know where you want to go. You're not even necessarily in a lot of cases with a lot of people. A lot of the lawyers that I work with don't even know, “What do I like? What work would be interesting to me outside of what I'm doing now? I know I don't like what I'm doing now but I don't know what I want to do instead.”
When you're in that place and feeling super miserable, it can be very easy to just want someone to be able to look at you and say, “Well, here are your skills so this is what you should do”, and then you can go and do it because you want to escape the misery. Again, I know what it is like to feel that way. But here's what I've observed and here's why I say I'm glad that I didn't have the experience of someone saying, “These are your skills and this is what matches what I see and therefore, you should go do this”: my experience has been that if you have someone essentially tell you what to do—this is the approach that some career coaches, or more specifically, someone who uses the title “career counselor” may often take. I'm not saying that this is the wrong approach in every situation at all. I am, however, saying that I have seen it be very discouraging in a circumstance where you don't really have a good sense of your own mind and what you want because what happens is that this other person looks at you and says, “Okay, here are your skills”. Maybe they do some type of personality assessment. Spoiler alert, lots of lawyers end up ranking in various assessments very highly for your personality would be a great match for being a lawyer which is your first hint that some of those assessments, especially, alone are not going to be super helpful for you. In fact, I've definitely had to help some people walk away from panicking because they've taken an assessment like that and the result has come back as “You'd be a great lawyer” and they're literally working with me to not be a lawyer. There's a whole long rant that I could go into, which I will not, the point being, often if you go to someone whose method is more closely aligned with the idea of “I'm going to tell you what you should go do”, people end up even more discouraged than they were previously.
This is something that I've heard from a number of friends of mine who do lawyer career coaching and have a philosophy similar to the philosophy that I have, which is that your transferable skills are really important but they're not the only thing that matters. They're not really the thing that you should start from when you're making a decision about what to do next. What they've observed in working with their own clients, my friends, is that they have had people come to them more than once who work with a career counselor who essentially told them, “This is what you should do” and the client wasn't necessarily super excited about the move to the new type of job but it wasn't law so they went for it. They didn't enjoy it or they just didn't feel very excited about it and so they didn't really pursue it. They ended up feeling even more stuck because essentially, someone else had told them, “This is the solution to your problem” and they actually didn't like that solution very much. Then they ended up in a place where they felt like there was no solution.
Spoiler alert, there is a solution and it's approaching the process in a different way like I talked about a little bit ago. One, you don't want someone to just tell you what to do because it's probably not going to end super well for you. The other thing is that the process of going from “I really don't know what I want to do” to figuring that out is that activity, taking that action, is part of what gives you the clarity that you need. If you shortcut that by delegating that decision making to someone else, you miss out on being able to develop the knowledge and information about yourself that will ultimately help you to make an even better choice. That's why looking back on my younger self who is miserable, scrolling Indeed, and just wishing someone would just tell her what to do, I can say that I'm glad that no one did that, that didn’t happen, and I had to go through the process of figuring out what I wanted to do next for myself. Going through that process is what has brought me to a place today where I am happy and very empowered moving forward to make different choices, if I need to, to pivot. I see this all the time with my clients.
One of the most rewarding parts of working with my clients is seeing how they grow in confidence, not just about their next step from where they are right now but also feeling so much more empowered in terms of moving forward and not having that same level of, “Oh, my goodness. I have to pick the right thing and if I don't, then everything's going to fall apart”. I think that is a big part of what makes making a career pivot successful; being able to have that confidence and being able to develop that higher level of self-knowledge and self-trust. I completely understand feeling like, “Please, just give me the answer. I just want to know the answer. Will someone just tell me what I'm supposed to do that isn't this thing that I'm just miserable doing?” I completely get that feeling but I also want to tell you that you really don't just want someone to just give you the answer. You have the answer. It's just a matter of going through a process that helps you figure out what that answer is for you.
That is all I have to say on the topic of why you really don't want someone to just tell you what to do when it comes to leaving the law and picking a different career. Thanks so much for listening. I'll talk to you next week.
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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