Welcome back to the Former Lawyer Blog, where we share inspirational stories about Former Lawyers and their journeys in leaving the law to find careers they love. This week, I’m super excited to share my conversation with Maria Phillis about quitting the law to practice medicine.
Fun fact: Maria and I went to law school together, and graduated back in 2008.
After law school, she started at a biglaw firm, then she went to a prosecutor’s office, then she made a big pivot and she went to medical school. Now, she is an OB-GYN resident.
As I said, I’m really excited for you to read this. Let’s jump right in!
The Dream of Practicing Law
When Maria started thinking about what she wanted to do, practicing law seemed interesting to her. She thought of law as a good way to get resolutions for people, not to mention the overall sense of justice that attracts many people to practicing law. She was particularly interested in trials and criminal justice.
While at law school, Maria was pressured to get a job in a large firm to help pay off her tuition loans. So, she did summer jobs at firms until she graduated. She also did some government work at the SEC but ended up choosing a job at a firm in her hometown of Clevland, Ohio.
Maria was at the firm for around six months before the big recession hit and she got laid off. So, she did a lot of searching for different things she could do. On the side, she was doing document reviews and other legal work she could find.
But, she wasn’t getting many responses from where she was sending her resumes. Maria felt that if the market was going to continue to be this bad, she would have to find something other than practicing law. So, she started thinking about finding an alternative career.
Quitting the Law to Practice Medicine
During her career brainstorming, Maria had the idea of practicing medicine. She had always been intrigued by science and medicine. So, she took classes in bioethics and anatomy.
After a couple of weeks in these classes, she got an interview for a job at a County Prosecutor Attorney’s Office in Lake County. She got the job there, starting in the juvenile division. So, she put the idea of practicing medicine on the back burner.
In her new role, she was not only happy to be practicing law again, but she was also very excited to finally have her dream job of doing trial work. She remained there from the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2013.
While she loved doing all of the trial work, she had always been thinking of how much she loved anatomy, physiology, and all of the things about practicing medicine. And in 2013, she made a plan to go back to medical school to become a physician.
Before Maria could apply for medical school, she had to get the pre-med requirements first. So, while she was still at the prosecutor’s office, she went back to school to get all of her prerequisites, and then went to medical school.
What Maria Is Doing Now
After graduating from medical school in 2017, Maria went into an OB-GYN residency. Women’s health is a huge passion for Maria, even though she might still want to practice something more specific. Either way, she’s keeping her options open as a general OB-GYN.
When looking back on the career path she’s taken, Maria feels that while she’s happy she switched to practicing medicine, it might not have been the best option right out of college.
What Stops People From Leaving The Law?
Maria and I also talked about the “sunk cost” fallacy of thinking that so much time and effort has gone into practicing law, that it can be too intimidating to leave. She said that the process of making small changes to get around this fallacy helped her to pursue her real dream.
There’s is also a lack of support for people who want to stop practicing law. Maria said that she only told her husband and parents when she first decided to practice medicine instead. But, what helped Maria was being honest and focused on what she really wanted.
Maria admitted that it’s still an ongoing process since she’s still in her training. But, once she got clear on her path, and started doing it, she knew it was the right place to be.
Want To Quit Practicing Law? Here’s Maria’s Advice
If you want to quit practicing law, Maria has some valuable advice for you. Firstly, be brutally honest with yourself.
See through the perceptions about what you should want, what you’re supposed to want, or what is important to you based on those things. Never mind the boxes you feel like you need to check or the path you think you need to be on.
Be really honest with yourself about what it is that you actually would do, if you had the opportunity right here and now, to do anything at all. That is really helpful to find the right “next step.”
Also, keep an open mind about what’s possible for you. It may not be super smoother sailing the whole way through. But, if it’s something you really want, you’ll be willing to do it.
And finally, if you’re truly serious about getting out, come join us at Former Lawyer, where you can get the support and resources you’ll need to stop practicing law and start your next chapter. Get started today by downloading my free guide: First Steps To Leaving The Law.
Connect With Maria
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.
Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the show. I'm really excited to share this conversation with Maria Phillis with you. Maria and I went to law school together, and we graduated in 2008, so you'll hear us reference that a couple times during this conversation. She started at a big firm, then she went to a prosecutor's office, then she made a big pivot and she went to medical school, and now she is an OB-GYN resident. I'm really excited for you to hear, but before we get to that conversation, I want to quickly let you know that I created a free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law for all you lawyers out there who are listening and want to leave the law but aren't really sure where to start. You can go to formerlawyer.com/guide to grab that download. Now, on to the interview. I love this conversation and I hope you do too.
Welcome, Maria, to The Former Lawyer Podcast.
Maria Phillis: Thanks, Sarah. Thanks for having me on.
Sarah Cottrell: Let's start with a little bit of your background, how you got on the path to law school originally.
Maria Phillis: Originally, growing up, I'd always thought law was really interesting and I'd always been interested in lawyers. My father actually was a union steward, so he wasn't in the law but he was constantly doing negotiations and things like that. When I started thinking about what I wanted to do, lawyer was one of those jobs that seemed interesting. I had a lot of eclectic interests but one of the things that seemed interesting about it was that I thought it was a good way to try to get people some resolution to some of the problems that they had, so this overall sense of justice, things like that. When I was in high school, I did a lot of mock trials. That really opened up my eyes to the trial aspect of law and how much fun that could be, and how interesting that could be. By the time I hit college, I was pretty convinced that whatever else I majored in or whatever else I did, I would end up going to law school at some point, either to be a lawyer to get involved in criminal justice or what have you. That was my initial thing.
Sarah Cottrell: Got it. When you were in law school, did you have a specific thing, a specific practice area that you're planning to go into? Or did your plans change over the course of law school? How did that work for you?
Maria Phillis: I'm a very practical person. For me, I was like, “Okay, well, I have these loans so maybe I'll work somewhere where I can pay student [loans] off first, then I'll think about what I really want to do.” Especially going where we went at University of Chicago where a lot of people go into huge firm jobs and things like that, it seemed pretty reasonable to do. I remember thinking, “Okay, even if I don't love the firm, maybe I'll try some firms for a little while, get rid of the law school loans, then maybe think about what I really want to do,” which was largely stuff involving public interest but most specifically, stuff involving trial work, which is where I really loved law. I really saw myself doing more trial things than non-trial things.
Sarah Cottrell: Got it. Where did you start out of law school?
Maria Phillis: Out of law school, I actually did a couple summer things, a couple summer firm jobs at the firm that I ended up starting at out of law school at [inaudible] in Cleveland, Ohio, then I also did a job at the SEC, which is more like government work, which could have done a little bit of trial work eventually with them but ended up again, picking the firm because it was back home in Cleveland, which is where I'm from, where I wanted to eventually practice and starting off my career there.
Sarah Cottrell: How many years were you with the firm?
Maria Phillis: When we graduated back in 2008, it was this wonderful legal market that just imploded on us. I was actually at the firm for about six months before about a quarter of my class got laid off, including myself, which was in retrospect not a terrible thing but at the time was like, “Oh wow, I've done all this work to do this thing and now it's crashing down around me.” I just did a lot of job hunting. I think they lasted for about five months or so.
Sarah Cottrell: Where did you end up at the end of that?
Maria Phillis: I actually should back up and add a couple little things about this period. During this period of time, I was looking for a whole bunch of things. I was doing document review to try to just avoid dipping into the severance package that they had given me and trying to just generally continue doing some legal work. I ended up working briefly for one of the civil rights attorneys in Cleveland for a bit, which was wonderful and at the same time, because I was sending out all these resumes and getting very few responses because of how bad the market was, I was also trying to figure out what else I could do, like if I couldn't practice law or if it was going to be a long period of time with really bad economics, like thinking about what other classes I could take or something else that could provide another source of income or stability in some way. I actually took a class in bioethics from a local community college and also a class in anatomy because I thought, “Well, I could do a BSN to RN degree. I could do a nursing degree,” something I could do as a job and not think much about it because that's how my brain worked.
I started taking those classes and during that time period, when I was maybe two or three weeks in, I did finally get the interview, and the offer that landed me at my next position, which was at the Lake County Prosecutor's Attorney's Office where I started off as a trial attorney in their juvenile division. At that point, I put aside those classes. I was like, “Okay, I have to work. This is how I'm going to work on my schedule. I found a legal job. This is just what I wanted. This is fine. This is not a problem. I'll just not do this anymore.” I started at the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and I said, “Oh, great. This is literally my dream job. This is a trial job. I could do trial work. I'm definitely going to just put aside these classes that I took because. I'm back on track to actually being a lawyer.”
Sarah Cottrell: What year was that? Was that 2009?
Maria Phillis: That was 2009.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay, got it. 2008 was a brutal time to graduate, maybe not even so much as the people the next couple of years coming up because even getting jobs became so much more difficult but I know a lot of people, like in my firm, there were two rounds of layoffs. 2008 was not a fun time to be a lawyer. You started at the prosecutor's office in 2009. How long were you there?
Maria Phillis: I was at the prosecutor's office from summer of 2009 to the summer of 2013.
Sarah Cottrell: Got it. Is that when you left to go to med school?
Maria Phillis: Yes.
Sarah Cottrell: Or maybe I should say where did you go after the prosecutor's office?
Maria Phillis: After the prosecutor's office, I had been planning and doing things to do this but I actually decided to go to medical school to become a physician.
Sarah Cottrell: When, in that process of time that you were there, did you start to have that? Because you said that you were taking some classes towards nursing before you started there, so that is in the medical area, but when had you thought about going to med school before? Talk to me about that process.
Maria Phillis: I had never really seriously thought about it for very long in my life prior to all this law stuff that I'll get to in a second but there were moments when I thought, “Oh, that'd be cool. I like law. I like science.” Again, I said I have a lot of eclectic interest growing up, so it was something that I thought about maybe briefly but never seriously thought about until later on in 2008, 2009. One of the things that I found when I was taking those classes that I was thinking about, just to get a job to essentially just pay the bills, not even thinking about “Would I like this or could I do that?” It’s more like, “Could I do this thing that would just be something that I could at least do?” It was that I actually really, really, really liked the anatomy class that I took. I was studying it and I realized it was really the coolest thing I'd ever studied in my entire life, which was disconcerting for me since I had (a) never studied before and (b) had a degree in a completely unrelated field. That was odd.
When I got the job at the prosecutor's office, I was like, “Okay, whatever. This is confusing. I'm just going to leave this aside because I now have my legal job. I'm not going to think about it anymore,” and I did, sort of. By which I mean I kept doing my legal job, which I do enjoy trial work but ultimately decided it would not be something that I wanted to continue to pursue. I just kept thinking about how much I really enjoyed anatomy. I know I had gone with more of a practical purpose, like getting a job and the most efficient route to doing that but I found that if I really thought hard about what I was interested in, it was much more of a deep dive into physiology, human biology, and anatomy. I broached this topic with myself very tentatively about what that could look like and it sounds like being a physician. Then I did my own little research about that.
Sarah Cottrell: At that point, were you like, “This is crazy. This is exciting”?
Maria Phillis: It was a little bit of both. It was definitely completely ridiculous in my brain when I thought that. I remember thinking, “This is insane. You've just gone through four years of college, three years of your graduate degree, and now you want to go through more schooling, take out more loans, do more studying, and probably have, at least, a decade or more before you're actually doing the thing that you want to do now.” It felt daunting and crazy but also awesome because it was honestly the most exciting thing I thought about doing for a while.
Sarah Cottrell: Basically, you're saying you felt more excited about doing that than about doing the job that you were currently doing at the prosecutor's office.
Maria Phillis: It is true.
Sarah Cottrell: You were there for four years. How early on in that process did you start thinking about applying to med school?
Maria Phillis: Within, I would say, the first year. It was an interesting transition because while I was enjoying trial work—and I think I'll always love trial work with a certain part of my soul—it wasn't exactly what I wanted either, it wasn't quite what I wanted. The more I thought about doing medicine or doing more science stuff, it was like, “This is more something that fits what I actually want.” For example, I missed working with my hands, I missed interacting with people a lot more. Most of the time, when I'm interacting with people as a prosecutor, it's a very staged trial aspect.
Certainly, there's some negotiations and things like that but in terms of just interacting with general people, most of the time, I’m begging them to come to court for a subpoena as opposed to anyone else that is beneficial and or locking them up or taking their [goods] away. Again, not the most positive relationships with the general public. That was part of it. I just missed studying something that I found intellectually interesting. I remember thinking the law was fine but I never remember being super excited about it when I was studying it if that makes sense.
Sarah Cottrell: Got it. When did you actually start the application process to med school? Because I assume there was somewhat of a lead time on it before you actually left that job.
Maria Phillis: Before I could apply for medical school, I actually had to go back and do pre-medical requirements. During the time that I was at the prosecutor's office, I decided partly because this thing was so crazy in such a long haul, I was like, “I'm not going to quit my job. I'm going to just take it one step at a time. If I really want to do this, then I'll make it work and it won't be too hard.” I will take them in the evenings after work, the classes that I needed, so I needed two semesters of biology, two semesters of general chemistry, two semesters of organic chemistry, and two semesters of physics. I think I had one semester of chemistry already from college but nothing else really. I think I had the calculus that I needed. There was something else that I had but it wasn't focused on medicine specifically.
I think a couple places wanted me to have biochem under the belt too. I don't think I ever actually did that because there were plenty of places it didn't require and it was just one more class to take. But I had to think about what that meant in terms of in the research that I was doing, like what does that mean and also actually exploring this a little bit, and not feeling like I'm going to take this giant leap off this clip and go into a whole another career with more debt, then go, “Oh, I really don't want to do this thing either.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, totally. What was your major in undergrad, did it correspond more to law or to medicine or to nothing?
Maria Phillis: To basically nothing. When I went to college, I thought initially, I was going to do psychology and computer science, then I found my people in the theater department, so I did psychology and theater, which I think for law ended up being a great match. I don't think it's a bad match for medicine either but it's definitely not anything in the prerequisite.
Sarah Cottrell: It wasn't like you were on the pre-med path or the pre-law path or whatever.
Maria Phillis: Not at all. I was at a school where there's a lot of pre-med, so it wasn't undoable. I just hadn't had that interest. I didn't think that that's something that would interest me at the time.
Sarah Cottrell: Got it. Where are you now in your med school, post-med school process?
Maria Phillis: I'm actually in my third year of an OB-GYN residency at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. I applied to medical school about a year or so before I went to medical school in 2013, graduated in 2017, and now I'm just starting my third year of residency.
Sarah Cottrell: I think you said that you're from Ohio originally. Are you wanting to stay in the area?
Maria Phillis: Yes. Ideally, I would stay in practice in Ohio. All of that is still up in the air right now but that would be my ideal goal.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, because of the whole match process.
Maria Phillis: The match process was definitely an interesting experience for getting back to Ohio. I was glad to get back here but also if I decide to do a fellowship, there's another match process, then after that, I can actually apply for jobs like a real human being again but it really just depends on what's available and what I'm looking for.
Sarah Cottrell: Do you know what you want to do ultimately? Or is that something you're still figuring out through residency?
Maria Phillis: I know women's health is a huge passion of mine, that's why I went to OB-GYN although I was considering OB-GYN versus surgery, but also, I'm still debating if I want to specialize a little bit more specifically in something like maternal fetal medicine, which is high-risk pregnancy, fetal anomalies, and interventions or if I want to do something more general and actually keep my options a little bit more broad, like general OB-GYN.
Sarah Cottrell: This episode of The Former Lawyer Podcast is sponsored by The Former Lawyer Community. The Former Lawyer Community has been a long time dream of mine. It's a group, a totally free membership community that provides support and resources to lawyers who are ready to make a change in their careers and in their lives. Head on over to formerlawyer.com and you'll see the information about how to sign up. If you are ready to make a change and get out of the law, The Former Lawyer Community is here to help. Come join us.
Sarah Cottrell: How would you say your current job compares to your being a lawyer job, not so much in the day to day but more like how you feel about it and that kind of thing? Does that make sense?
Maria Phillis: That makes perfect sense. I really enjoy what I do. I have never had any regrets about taking the path that I took to get here. I would have probably liked to have a few less loans in general. That just in general would be nice but in terms of taking the path that I took, I don't know that I would have been ready to go to medical school right out of college. I don't think there's anything that would have made me realize I was interested in until much later on and I got to be a little bit older and more, I guess, in tune with what I actually wanted in my life, in my career but I'm really glad that I switched.
Sarah Cottrell: Obviously, here at The Former Lawyer Podcast, we are very pro people making a change. I know it can be really hard and this is what you're talking about, the whole sunk cost idea of like, “I have all this time invested. I have all this money invested.” It sounds like it was not an easy decision but it doesn't necessarily sound like you agonize about it. For you, how did you get into that mindset? Or did you have one mindset, then it shifted? Was there something that caused that or was it just a gradual thing?
Maria Phillis: I think it was definitely more of a gradual thing. I think for me, it was a process. I think there's a couple things that made me take a little while to get around to the idea of it. One, because I think of a lot of us who are generally high achieving people who tend to get to law school, we're focused on the path to get to the thing that you want. You’re very type A, you're very organized, you just like following this very specific thing laid out for you, then it's just really hard to then deviate from that entirely and pick something else. It's not something that socially is very well supported in general because, again, there's also these very specific things like, “You do this, then you get your job, then you settle down, then you have kids.” You have this whole general social contract that people tend to follow and it's not always well understood or supported if anybody goes outside of that in a way that's different for a lot of reasons, but I also think career-wise, people don't really know how to take it.
I think that support is minimal for people. I think it's also harder to break out of that mold when you're not really having a ton of people around to be like, “Oh yeah, that sounds totally legit.” But also I think the thing that always kept me a little bit more honest and focused on what I really wanted was just this whole idea that I think I've always had but probably honed a little bit in law school too is just this ability to intelligently question what that status quo is. I think what was most telling later on down the path, not in getting there but later on down the path, was when I would talk to people, when I would mention to people, they'd find out what I was doing, especially I did my little tour of the prosecutor's office as I was leaving and people would say to me like, “Oh wow, what you're doing is so cool. I could never do that but if I did, here's what I would do.” I'm like, “You know what it is you want to do and you're not doing it.” That is the saddest thing I've ever heard.
Sarah Cottrell: 100%. Not to negate the challenges and the fact that everyone has to go through their own process but my experience has been really similar. When you talk to a lot of lawyers about leaving the law and doing something else, there's a lot of like, “Why would you do that?” But then also there's a lot of like, “And if I did that, this is what I would do.” I think so much of it is basically just being able to let go of this idea that is like, “Well, I put a lot of time into it and I put a lot of money into it. Therefore, that means this is the thing that I need to do forever,” because if you're meant to be doing something else, then you should do something else. Obviously, you agree. How did your friends and family react to your plan to leave?
Maria Phillis: My husband, I told him first. We got married in 2010. I think before we got married, I was definitely like, “ Ah, I think I want to go to medical school.” He's like, “Okay, explain, tell me more about this interesting plan that sounds insane.” That's not what he said but that's essentially the tone. I was like, “Well, I went through all the things that I was thinking and feeling about it.” He's like, “Okay that makes sense.” I was like, “Okay, I guess I'm going to do this thing now.” That was helpful because he was the first person I told at all that I was going to do this thing before I even really embarked upon it. He's like, “Okay, do the thing.”
Sarah Cottrell: How about other people in your life?
Maria Phillis: Those, I kept pretty close to the vest until about a year or so while I was applying. My sisters, I told a little earlier than my parents but they were just like, “Okay, Maria, you're smart and stuff. You seem to have a plan I guess. Cool. We don't really get this but okay.” More of a gentle like, “Oh, that's nice, honey.”
Sarah Cottrell: I think that is also something that a lot of people, like the idea of what people think can hold a lot of people back. Part of it I think is like, “Oh, you've spent so much time,” and to people thinking that but also I think for some people, just being a lawyer is something that people around them really value, which can also be something that's a little bit of a barrier.
Maria Phillis: That's another good point.
Sarah Cottrell: It wasn't like anyone around you was actively saying, “This is a bad idea.” It was more just like, “Maybe we're not totally sure what's happening but that's cool.”
Maria Phillis: Yes. It was more befuddlement than anything else. I didn't really go around telling everyone in the world so that probably helped.
Sarah Cottrell: But I've seen that it seems like it's somewhat common, especially if you're talking to non-lawyers, I've found that if you're talking to lawyers, almost everyone intuitively understands why someone might want to leave, even though there are multiple reasons why someone might want to leave the law. But often, I think when you're talking to non-lawyers, there is less for them. What looms the largest in their mind is the amount of time, the debt, and the fact that it's a respectable career. This is true for everyone.
I don't know a lot about many other careers, so the day-to-day of some other career that someone else might really think is dreadful, I might think, “Well, how can it be that bad?” But it sounds to me like for you, it was less, “I'm super unhappy as a lawyer,” which I think is a lot of people's story. It was more, “I actually think I'm supposed to be doing this other thing.” It was like you were being drawn out of being a lawyer as opposed to trying to flee.
Maria Phillis: I think that's fair to say. There are definitely aspects of being a lawyer that I was not a fan of. I don't think I would have wanted to continue with the firm job that I had, just because for me, that was really not anything that I was interested in and very much not a good fit. I think I could have stayed at the prosecutor's office but I just felt like there was something else that I'd be a lot happier doing. I think that's true.
I also think it was easier for me to go from essentially one “respectable career” to another respectable career versus going from being a lawyer to being into something else that people are like, “Oh gosh, why would you be this really prestigious thing and now you're doing this other thing that's not as prestigious?”
Sarah Cottrell: True, true. What is the thing that you miss the least about being a lawyer?
Maria Phillis: Ooh, that's easy. Writing memos. Writing memos and writing things. I don't actually like writing things. It's a poor choice on my part going to law school but I did not enjoy writing. I like doing oral presentations. I hate doing written presentations.
Sarah Cottrell: I can see how that would be a challenge. You mentioned trials, is that the thing that you missed the most from legal practice?
Maria Phillis: Absolutely. I love trial work. It's my favorite. In the law, if I was going to do anything, it would just be trials.
Sarah Cottrell: You're definitely one of those people that's like, “This is great. I could cross-examine someone all day.”
Maria Phillis: Oh, definitely. I don't actually want to do that much witness prep because I find that annoying because real witnesses are terrible. But I do enjoy actual trial work and I like that. I think there were some moments during the last year or so when I was like, “Man, I really wish I was a prosecutor in this or that investigation. That would be really interesting,” without getting political on that.
Sarah Cottrell: Good times. Let's talk just a little bit about fun facts from your legal career. What are your best and worst lawyer stories or moments? I know that's a very broad question.
Maria Phillis: That's okay. Best lawyer moments, I would say the portion of my job that I liked the most and probably the best moments was when I was working in child protection work at the prosecutor's office because I felt like that was actually very fairly meaningful with the right case. There's a lot of caveats to that obviously. But with some of the really significant abuse cases, when I could actually intervene and get a child out of a really bad situation, and successfully argue that case, I thought that was probably one of the better moments.
In terms of best stories, I have lots of really interesting anecdotes that probably have more to do with the general quirkiness of a legal profession than anything else, particularly [inaudible] and things like that.
Sarah Cottrell: What would you say is one of the worst things? Again, that could be anything. It doesn't have to be incredibly serious, or if it's serious, that’s fine too.
Maria Phillis: The worst thing is honestly, I don't actually enjoy arguing that much. Arguing over silly things always annoyed me.
Sarah Cottrell: Neither do I. I was in private practice originally and you have to write these angry letters about like, “Your response to interrogatory number four was wholly insufficient.” I was just like, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing in my life?” But some people love that stuff. They just love getting into that thing. More power to them is what I say. If you could give someone who's currently a lawyer, who's thinking about leaving the law, some advice, what is your best piece of advice?
Maria Phillis: I think the best piece of advice is to really be brutally honest with yourself about what it is that you actually want. I say brutally honest because I think sometimes, we have a lot of perceptions about what we should want or what we're supposed to want or what is important to us based on all the things that we're supposed to do or whatever the boxes we’re supposed to check, the path we were supposed to be on. But I also think that once you get down to it, being really brutally honest with yourself about what it is that you actually would do if you had the opportunity right here and now, to do anything at all or whatever it is you're considering is helpful. It's really hard because we have, like I said, all these defenses and walls and things built up around what we're supposed to want to do versus what we actually want to do but I think really stripping that down is important.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, I was just going to say what we should want. I think often, people when they think that they're thinking about what they want, they're really thinking about what they think they should want like, “I should want to be a lawyer. I should want to have this certain type of career. I'm good at X and that skill is an important lawyer skill.” I think often, that's the thinking that people are engaging in, so when you say being brutally honest, I think that is super important. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of time to realize that maybe you aren't actually being as honest with yourself as you think you are.
Maria Phillis: I think that's really true. I wouldn't recommend that everybody go into medical training but I will say one of the side benefits of medical training, many interesting quirks is that when you're at three in the morning and you're doing something, you really realize whether or not you like doing it or not. If you're doing a massive tumor debulking at three in the morning and you're not capitated, you should probably not go into oncological surgery. It's just not your thing. There's not many things that you can enjoy at three in the morning. On the contrary, if you're at three in the morning and you're enjoying a giant debulking tumor surgery, then maybe you know what you want to do.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, I think that is great advice. Your path out of the law was winding as all of our paths are I think. What is one thing that you wish you had done differently?
Maria Phillis: If I had a time machine, I would have gone back and done my pre-med requirements well in advance. I don’t know if there's much else that I would have done differently. I really, really felt like I managed to end up in a school that I enjoyed. I managed to end up in a residency that I enjoyed. I think if I was a little more brutally self-honest, even in that process, I would have realized sooner what is it that I actually wanted but there's nothing specific that I would change except maybe having the foresight well in advance when I had the foresight to actually do some of the prereqs.
Sarah Cottrell: I think just listening to you talk about your story, I think that it exemplifies what I think generally, at least, in my experience is true for most people who eventually leave the law, which is you could look back and say like, “Oh, I just wish I knew everything that I knew on year five, that I knew year one,” like you learn the things that you need to know and you learn how to be more honest with yourself about what you want through the process. It sounds like that was definitely true for you.
Maria Phillis: That is for sure true.
Sarah Cottrell: My last question is as you were going through the process of deciding to get out, then getting out, was there anything or things that helped to inspire you or keep you encouraged or you used to spur yourself on?
Maria Phillis: I think it was nice that my husband was supportive because otherwise, that would have been a bigger mess. I probably wouldn't have ended up being able to do it because it just wouldn't have been a good overall situation. I think the other thing though is like other people's stories about doing things. There's a columnist that I like in Cleveland who had a friend who told her, who actually, I forget what she had done initially but whatever it was, it wasn't being a doctor, then she had told her that she wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor. She's like, “Look, I'm going to be 50 years old either way. I can either be 50 years old and not a doctor or 50 years old and a doctor.” She went back and got her medical degree at 50 years old. That was nice because I'm like, ”Well, that's 20 some years away so clearly, I'm not too old to do this.”
Sarah Cottrell: I totally agree with that because for me, I worked as a lawyer for 10 years and it was probably two years in that I knew this is not for me in the long term. But there were still things that needed to happen in those 10 years, including paying off student loans as most lawyers, I'm sure, know very well. But it was that thing of, “Okay, it's going to be a really long process but if I don't start that process and have that goal in mind, then I'm going to get 10 years down the road, and nothing will have changed.” You're going to get to that point anyway. To what you're saying to what this other woman said, like you're going to be there anyway, what do you want to be when you're there?
Maria Phillis: Exactly.
Sarah Cottrell: I love that. Great. Do you have any last things that you would like to share or things that we may have missed or you want to just explain or whatever, anything?
Maria Phillis: I think just generally keeping an open mind about what's possible. It's not like this was super smooth sailing the whole way through but it was something that I wanted enough that I was willing to do all those things. It's still an ongoing process obviously, since I'm still finishing my training, but it's still something that once I got on the path, I knew the path was the right path to be on. It was not a path that I was on, just to get to the end of the path. It was a path that I actually wanted to be on from day one, which was a refreshing change. There are definitely challenges. If you're doing another degree, maybe it's a financial thing to put the cost, whether or not you have loan things left and everything else or what have you, or maybe it's a cut in pay that you're not looking forward to or whatever it is, I think if it's the path that you want to be on, those obstacles are okay. I remember thinking, “I can work 80 hours a week and be miserable or I can work 80 hours a week and be happy.” I'd rather do the one that makes me happier if I'm going to be working a million hours a week. That I think is the long view of the whole thing.
Sarah Cottrell: I love that. I love it. Thank you so much, Maria, for being on the podcast. Best of luck to you as you continue with your training.
Maria Phillis: Thanks, Sarah. Thanks for having me.
Sarah Cottrell: Thanks so much for listening today. I absolutely love getting to share these stories with you. If you haven't yet, subscribe to the show and come on over to formerlawyer.com and join our community to get even more support and resources in your journey out of the law. Until next time, have a great week.
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