From Biglaw Associate to Clinical Psychologist with Dr. Jan Newman [TFLP 037]

This week, I’m sharing my conversation with Dr. Jan Newman. Jan moved from Biglaw associate to clinical psychologist and executive coach who works with multi-passionate high achievers who want to level up their lives. 

She is a published author, researcher, and frequent speaker on emotional intelligence, interpersonal effectiveness, and psychological flexibility. In her former life, she was a practicing lawyer.

This is an incredible conversation with some amazing takeaways about finding a different career path.

Jan’s Journey to Biglaw Associate

Like many of us, Jan’s introduction to the idea of becoming a practicing lawyer was her relatives and friends suggesting it. She was persuasive and truly loved to help people. She also confessed that to reading To Kill A Mockingbird too many times. 

On her first day of law school, Jan was listening to a legendary trial lawyer harp on about the downfalls of being a practicing lawyer. This cynicism confused her. Then, she rode home on the campus bus, where she met a man who was emitting happiness over his Ph.D. program. 

When he told her why he was so happy, Jan felt as if someone punched her in the gut. She wanted something that brought that much meaning and purpose. Even on that first day, she thought about leaving, but she didn’t.

Working As A Practicing Lawyer

Jan graduated from law school and started working at a regional practice. This was not a good experience for her. In this practice, there was no regard for anyone’s health or life for that matter. 

She told a story about a partner who had collapsed from adrenal fatigue, only to be stepped over by another lawyer as if it never happened. At that point, Jan knew that she had to do something.

However, she couldn’t leave for multiple reasons. But, she wanted to make a statement. Jan began talking to other practicing lawyers in her firm about leaving but found no support.  

Jan’s Turning Point

Around the time she got married, Jan traveled to the Cayman Islands. However, it wasn’t much of a vacation. She spent the whole time trying to acclimate to being away from work. When she realized that she couldn’t even enjoy any leisure time, she decided to leave.

About six months after that trip, she got a book called “What Color is Your Parachute?” This book prompted her to make the plan to quit being a practicing lawyer. She wanted to explore a different career path. 

She left the regional law firm to go work as a Biglaw associate in Colorado. This move was influenced by her values, wanting to be closer to the outdoors, and her husband’s family. 

Experimenting With Different Career Paths

When she left the regional practice, Jan planned to come up with several different career paths. Based on looking at her values, her motivators, what she wanted to do, and practical things like longevity. 

Jan explored these different career paths as an experiment. She dipped her toes into all of them, collecting data and gauging how well it would fit her. This was all while working as a practicing lawyer in Biglaw. 

She just kept focusing and working, while trying to start a family. While she wasn’t working as much, she was always thinking about work. 

Jan realized that she wasn’t taking the actions she needed to, in order to truly leave the law for a different career path. She started by talking to a financial planner and stepping up her savings. Jan also noted that having her husband’s support was integral during this time. 

Transitioning From Biglaw Associate to Clinical Psychologist

After making financial changes, Jan turned to her career. She applied to Ph.D. programs in psychology. She had applied a few times before getting in, which gave her time to get ready for it. 

Jan loved her psychology program. She learned how to administer IQ tests and other logical assessments. She got to do all the things her “nerd-brain” went crazy for. 

When she graduated, she was a professor in a doctoral program as part of a youth treatment program. Not only did she get to practice psychology, but her experience as a practicing lawyer also helped her to testify in court as needed for the program. 

Working In Psychology

After a while, Jan wanted to move back to North Carolina. So, she made the leap to go into private practice. She’s been there ever since, helping lawyers, perfectionists, and other high achievers. 

She’s also an executive coach for practicing lawyers, educating them in emotional intelligence and mindfulness. Jan said that she is very behavior or action-oriented. She wants her clients to be their own best therapists because there’s no better teacher than yourself.  

Jan’s Advice For Finding A Different Career Path 

If you want to quit your job as a practicing lawyer and find a different career path for you, Jan’s got some tips. First, get yourself an outside perspective. This means finding a non-lawyer that you can talk to, that can give you an objective opinion.

This could be a mentor, coach, or therapist. But, you need to make sure that you find the right fit. And, if you can’t find a good fit at first, it’s not because there is anything wrong with you. It’s just not the right fit. 

Jan also recommended some books to read that will help you find a different career path:

If you’re ready to leave your job as a practicing lawyer, join the Former Lawyer Collab. We have a new cohort opening soon. Come join us to get the support and guidance you need to find a different career path. And if you’re just starting out, download my free guide: First Steps To Leaving The Law. Until next time!

Connect With Jan:

For information about 1:1 coaching with Sarah for Biglaw lawyers, click here.

Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.

Hey, Jan. Welcome to the Former Lawyer Podcast.

Jan Newman: Thanks, Sarah, so much for having me.

Sarah Cottrell: Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself to the listeners?

Jan Newman: Okay. My name is Jan Newman. I am a clinical psychologist and an executive coach. I am still a licensed attorney, but I do not practice anymore. After I left law, I got my PhD, and then I did a variety of different things that we can talk about. I’ve worn a lot of hats in between. I’m a mom and married to the better half of our dynamic duo, not me. He’s awesome. I have two kids and two German Shepherds, and a cat who’s the boss of all of them.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, of course, as it always is. Talk to me about how you ended up deciding to go to law school. While you’re talking about that, can you also talk about whether you also had this thought about going to a different type of grad school, becoming a psychologist, where did all that fit together?

Jan Newman: Okay. I think this is rather cliche on both points. One, the reason I think I went was because people said I would make a good lawyer because I was persuasive in discussions or when I argued my position. I wanted to “help” people, and maybe I read To Kill a Mockingbird too many times. I also think my mother would disagree with this and has vehemently disagreed with me, but I felt like my family thought it was a prestigious profession and they talked about it. I remember them telling me, “You would make a good lawyer, and this is a good profession. You can be a pillar of the community,” kind of stuff. My mom has denied that happened but I know it did. I think those were where a lot of the things were coming on.

But I think it’s like what I see with a lot of lawyers. I was multi-passionate, I was very bright. I wanted to save and change the world. Law becomes this focal point for all of those things. I’ll be nice to the legal profession, I don’t think anything can live up to that hype. But I really didn’t know what else to do. I had thought about other things. I thought about medical school. I had not thought about psychology really. But I had thought about being a journalist. I really enjoyed writing and was stronger in my verbal skills overall, but I knew it might not pan out the way I wanted it to when I went but I had vague notions of what it would be for sure.

Sarah Cottrell: When you say that you had this vague notion that it wasn’t pan out, what do you mean by that? Because I think there probably are a lot of people who had a similar experience.

Jan Newman: There was a book, I cannot remember what it was called, but there was a book talking about what you should know about law school. I did some internet information gathering. I had met a few lawyers in my community, my parents were small business owners, and so they were very close with their lawyers different time, and everyone was pretty negative about it so I had this sense that people didn’t like practicing law but I really couldn’t make the translation of the things that I thought would help me, the verbal skills and all of those things, what that would look like on the other end. I think I had these misgivings that maybe I wouldn’t like the practice of law but I didn’t know enough about it. There was a lot of avoidance of that in fooling myself, “Oh, it will be fine. I’ll just go spend three years of my life here. It will all work out.”

But I just felt like I wasn’t hearing anybody talk about anything passionate about it. I had very limited experiences with it. I think I did an internship at the county district attorney’s office. I didn’t like that. But yet I thought, “Oh, I could be a judge,” and I just skipped over that part of no windows in the courtroom. I really think I was just playing games with myself. I was really young. I went to law school when I was really young. I guess my vague notion was something was not sitting right with me, but I don’t know what else to do. I really didn’t have anything else to do, and here I am, so smart, or whatever. I don’t really have the credits to go medical school, I don’t have the classes to do that, I didn’t have a great plan, except for this because I felt like I had to just follow through with my vague liberal arts major and go to law school.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I do wonder, I look back and I think is it just all 18-20 year old-ish, or many 18-20 year old, maybe I think they’re the exception to the rule like, “Oh, I see all these people who are lawyers and they don’t seem to like it. But I’m going to love it.” Is that a thing that is more typical of the people who end up going to law school or is that just, in general, late teens, early 20s “I know” phenomenon, do you know what I mean?

Jan Newman: Right.

Sarah Cottrell: Because so many people, and I know I have this experience too, like go to law school and think, “Yeah, there’s a decent chance I’d be on the supreme court,” or whatever, I don’t know. You look back and you’re like, I mean, it’s not that that’s impossible, but if most people that you meet in this profession seem unhappy, what is the basis for thinking that you’re the exception, I guess, is what I’m saying.

Jan Newman: Yes. I was thinking when you were talking about that that just drawing on all of that, psychology and neuroscience that I got from PhD, we in general, cognitively will do whatever we need to do to avoid short-term discomfort, and we can use things like confirmation bias which is the cognitive bias of gathering the information that you want to hear to get to the result that you want, so you’re frontloading everything to get what you want. But I think that where it comes from is if you think about it, if you have law school versus nothing, law school is three years and it’s structured, it’s just like what you’ve done in college, you climb the ladder, there is one wrong after another versus ambiguity and chaos, there’s a chance that you could go towards ambiguity and chaos and get a pay off and there’s happiness and joy, yet short-term, and when you really look at it, that just seems like, “Yuck, I don’t want to deal with that.”

I think it’s that just immediate, “I don’t want to deal with the immediate discomfort of figuring this out,” and I think people who are younger, definitely, we don’t have that experience to see how this plays out long term, and then we just punt. But I felt like I was punting all the way through law school and beyond. It wasn’t a one-time punt. That would be just one thought that we just don’t like the alternative of not having something, it’s a profession, it has this mantel, “I’m a lawyer. Stop bothering me about what I’m going to do with my life. See, I said I’m a lawyer.” Does that make any sense?

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I personally really identify with this idea that it’s a socially acceptable way to just not make a decision about your future. Not just socially acceptable but you’ll be praised for it. You really don’t have to [inaudible] that maybe you’re not making the right choice for you or the best choice for you, or the wisest choice for you at that time because people are going to be like, “Ooh, that’s so impressive, you’re going to law school.” Tell me, when you graduated from law school, what did you do?

Jan Newman: It’s interesting. I think I’ll divide this into pre-deciding to change and then post, because I made a commitment to leave law before I left. I think that worked out for me, so I think it’s interesting to maybe talk about that. But immediately when I left law school, I worked in a regional law firm. My then boyfriend, now husband, was there. I chose it mostly for personal reasons. I practiced general corporate securities law. I didn’t enjoy that but I started to actually then work towards doing electoral property which I enjoyed more. But I knew I did not want to do litigation. My favorite part of being a lawyer was working with clients, but I really enjoyed negotiation and reaching a mutually acceptable solution. Litigation, there’s just too much unresolvable conflict. Even if there was a winner, there wasn’t really a winner. Everybody lost because litigation is horrible to go through. That’s where I started.

Sarah Cottrell: I think this was really interesting and I’d love to hear more about what you meant by this. But you said you decided you were going to leave before you left. That’s something that I talk about pretty regularly because that was the position that I was in. I left Biglaw after about three years out of law school. But I didn’t leave legal practice until I was 10 years out, and that interim period was like moving into a space where I could make better decisions and not be just desperate to get out, and then also in my case, my husband and I made the decision that we wanted to pay off our student loans before making any super big shifts.

That’s what we were doing in that seven-year period basically after I decided I don’t want to do this forever. For me, it was really helpful because it felt like I knew I was going in a direction that I was happy with even if at the exact moment, I wasn’t doing the exact thing that I would want to do forever. I know this very problematic thing, if you’re constantly trying to figure out the thing that you want to do forever, but we can talk about that separately. Is that what you mean when you say you decided you wanted to leave before you left, or did you mean something different?

Jan Newman: Yeah, that’s what I mean. I recall this, you would ask me about, I don’t think you directly asked me when I decided to leave, but I remember having the jolt this was not the right thing. On my first day of law school, there was this legendary trial lawyer talking to us and he was talking about all these meaningful things he did but then he just really started talking about all the downsides of law and did that whole, “It’s a jealous mistress,” and I’m like, “What are you talking about? Dude, what are you bringing up, mistresses? What’s going on?”

Then I rode home on the campus bus because I hadn’t got a parking pass yet because in my law school, we were lower than low, and I was riding with this air force who’s a physical therapist getting his PhD in physical therapy, I guess, and he was just beaming, and I asked him, I was like, “I’m so sorry, but you look like you’re really happy. Is everything okay?” He said, “I just started my first day of my PhD program. I’m so excited.” He just gushed about it in how he loved what he did. I felt that somebody punched me in the stomach. I wanted that feeling that I had this sense that I’m meant for something bigger and this sense of meaning and purpose. What I had just heard on my first day of law school was just not that. I had thought that Atticus Finch kind of thing, that would be it, but I realized, “This is not the way for me to do this.” I didn’t know anything besides that, but just now, that was the first day of law school so obviously, although I had thought about leaving, I didn’t.

I stayed and I did some things like I took a semester and medical school classes to see if I thought I might want to do a medical school. I was like, “I just want to get finished with something.” But my real crisis that happened when I said I’m leaving was in the regional law firm I was working at. We had this really big deal that we had to go to New York constantly. It was during my wedding planning, and wedding, and I was called to New York and missed my bridal shower. I was pulled off the plane and almost tackled by security because I had already gone through and then I’m coming out because some partners tell me, “No, you gotta stay in New York, you can’t leave.” I was driving FedEx stuff to the airport. There was no regard to my life, to my health. One of the partners I was working on to deal with, he fainted, and it was basically from adrenal fatigue, and I remember sitting there at 11:00 PM and he fainted. Before anything happened, I saw another lawyer walk over his legs to get to a file. I thought, “Everybody’s lost their mind. This is crazy. What are we doing?” But I knew that I had to do something.

This is kind of hilarious, in my wedding vows, we wrote our wedding vows, and I basically put something in there to my husband like, “Knowing that you’ll stick by me no matter what,” it’s something that’s more eloquent than that, but I meant, “Buddy, I know I’m making a great salary but I’m leaving this popsicle joint, are you okay with it?” He and I knew what that meant but I needed to make a statement. I knew I couldn’t leave because of financial issues and some other issues, but I needed to make a statement. I talked to friends about it in my law firm, and I was treated like an infected zombie like, “Don’t get that on me. Don’t get your hope on me” I was just supposed to, and I hate to use this reference because it’s so morbid, but I was just supposed to drink the Kool-Aid and they just didn’t want to hear it. They didn’t want to hear, “Hey, I want to leave and I’m taking it by doing it for real,” they just didn’t want to hear it.

I started at that point trying to find somebody to help me and I tried career coaches. I got a test and it said I would be a really good funeral director, that was super helpful, like what in the world? That didn’t work. I tried to see a therapist, but that didn’t work. She’s like, “You know why you’re sad? You work all the time, you need to quit your job.” I’m like, “Thanks for the news flash. I really appreciate it.”

Sarah Cottrell: You’re like, “I am aware that my job is terrible.”

Jan Newman: I am aware, right. Would you like to pay my mortgage? I canceled appointments a lot because I had to work late because some partner told me to do that. I paid her for the missed session but there was a lot of lecturing about my boundaries. You know, I mean, if you’ve worked with a partner that doesn’t care, they just didn’t care that I had a life outside because we were working on this huge deal. I think that’s when I made the decision. I couldn’t find anybody to really help me, so I got the book What Color Is Your Parachute? Some kind of warrior. I really worked through all the components of that and asked about geography and your environment like where you want to live, then the place you want to work, then the people you want to work with, and then also the skills, abilities, and all of that stuff, but I made a plan and then I pretty much did it like an experiment.

I started with a hypothesis of things that I can change and I tried to do it in the least painful, the most least painful, I guess, order. I didn’t just go boom, I’m quitting my job. I worked out of it in a way that I can deal with financially and emotionally. I think that was really helpful just like you had said because I think a lot of lawyers think that you’re just going to walk out and leave. That’s why they’re so scared to do it. That didn’t work for me. I couldn’t have done that. I can tell more about that but that’s just generally when I knew it was really a moment of, “Holy cow, I can’t keep doing this.” But my plan after that is surprising because it would sound to most like I went back into the belly of the beast because I left original law firm to go to Biglaw, which probably doesn’t make sense to anybody. But I can explain that.

Sarah Cottrell: Two questions that first come to mind, how much time lapse between the time you started making the plan and working the plan and when you left the regional firm for the Biglaw firm, and then what made you make that choice? We've had one other person on the podcast who did a similar thing where they decided they wanted to leave the law and went back into Biglaw, basically to make enough money to be able to get out faster.

Jan Newman: Yup. But there was a little bit more to it than that. But to answer your question with the timing, I think the real existential crisis there was around my wedding. Within six month of that, we went to the Cayman's for a trip and I remember it took me five days to acclimate to being okay with being gone and then it was time to go back and I remember that’s just horrid feeling and going, “I’m in the Cayman’s and I can’t even be in the Cayman’s. What is even happening?” It was probably six months after everything was my wedding and then I just said, “Okay.” That’s when I got the book and made the plan.

I started implementing the plan pretty much immediately. We had a break after that deal and I had come up with some hypothetical careers, and I started doing stuff related to those. I moonlighted as a photographer because that was one of the things that I wanted to do. I took some classes at the university that were in psychology because I had started to think about that, and I can talk about where I got with that in more detail later but just generally, I had formed some hypothesis about things that I’m just gathering information, but I started doing that pretty much immediately. I started saving money, cutting back on spending.

But then I did not leave regional law firm until it was probably from the time when I got married to when I left, it was probably a year. Then I left the regional law firm to go to Biglaw but I went somewhere in particular based on my values. I did not go to New York or San Francisco, I went to Colorado. I made San Francisco money with Biglaw in Boulder, Colorado. That decision to go there was made when I thought it would help the geography, I felt like the outdoors energized me, my husband’s from Colorado. I felt like it would be like those paddles that resuscitate you that maybe it’s like green eggs and ham, maybe I can take the green eggs and ham in Boulder, Colorado, maybe I could eat it there. But I had this working hypothesis going, me leaving law, me staying in law and changing it. I was working both of those at the same time. I really looked at it like an experiment and anything, whatever happened was data, I was trying to collect that data, so that decision to go to Biglaw was heavily leveraged by the fact that I was going to go to Colorado.

Ironically, I had a good friend in my regional law firm who left, and he helped me get the position. He knew I wanted leave law too. He didn’t care, I guess, but I did a series and I could talk more about that but stairsteps of that. But I went further than your question, I’m so sorry.

Sarah Cottrell: Oh, no. It’s totally fine. When you went to Biglaw in Colorado, you were thinking that maybe this is going to be enough of a change essentially. Or maybe I’m still going to want to leave. Ultimately, you did end up leaving. Talk to me about what that process was like, once you’d made that move to Biglaw, how long it was from the time you got there to the time that you were like, “Oh, actually, yeah, this is not going to work,” and then how you ended up making the transition to psychology.

Jan Newman: Okay. When I left, my plan basically was to come up with several careers. Based on looking at my values, the things that energize me, and what I wanted to do, and some more practical things like how long can I do this? My hypothesis, I will tell you, they were photography, dive instructor, because I’m an avid scuba diver, and psychologist, or coach, mediator, something in that realm, I didn’t know exactly what. Those were my hypothesis. When I moved to Colorado, I was working with those hypotheses, but the job that I had was going to give me a lot of money to save money while I was doing it, and so I went with that hypothesis. When I hit the ground in Colorado, they also hired me to do IPE, which I liked much better than corporate. Right out of the gate, I was happier.

The move to Colorado was extremely positive. I wasn’t working as much as I had been at the regional law firm, which I know is kind of ironic, but it was just more the nature of IPE. I’m doing a lot of maintenance work. I wasn’t integral to the deal like I was when I was an M&A lawyer. I had a lot more of our predictable schedule. I was skiing every weekend, hiking, and my husband and I were going on trips, but I was still saving a ton of money. I worked with a psychologist in Boulder, and did some research with her. I did some more moonlighting with photography with a really well-known photographer. The diving instructor thing, I started to rule out because I was like, “What am I going to do as a dive instructor when I’m 60? Am I really going to be able to do that?” Maybe I can own a boat and do that but it just started to sound like, “No, this sounds like a lot of work.”

I think what started to come clear to me was that my real problem was the lack of meaning and purpose in law. That was really what was getting to me. I can remember there was a woman named Penelope Trunk, I think, and she talked a lot about how doing what you love is pipe dream and it’s just stupid and silly. That makes people, “You’re not going to have enough money in your IRA if you don’t just do what you have to do. Graduate school is stupid,” and all of that. I just kept focusing on the meaning and I kept working. I'm trying to get pregnant this time. Even though I was working less, I was still just always thinking about work and I was skiing and all these things, but I wasn’t healthy. My doctor was like, he didn’t say it quite as crass, but he’s like, “Jan, you gotta think about making your body hospitable, and you’re not. You’re too thin. You’re not taking care of yourself. You’re not getting enough sleep.”

I started looking at it and I’m like, “Oh, you are working a lot. You’re just not working at the office. You’re working at home and you’re doing eight to eight is normal for you.” I started realizing like, “Wait a second, I’m getting hooked by the money.” I started to realize that the money, although I was saving and doing all that, when you can go to Fiji for two weeks and not even feel it, that’s kind of alluring. I started to realize I wasn’t really taking the actions I needed to take and I was going to have to really work as planned. I stepped up my savings. I talked to a financial planner. My husband was extremely supportive of this and I think that’s really integral to the whole piece is that he really felt like I couldn’t make it in law anymore, he had wanted to believe that I could but he just was like, “I don’t think that you can do this anymore.” I just kept following that plan and getting my money in line.

Then I applied to PhD programs for psychology because I was really thinking that’s what I wanted to do. It’s just a pretty complex decision but I applied and got in while I was in Colorado, that was three years, I applied and got in twice. Then the last time I got in, I decided to go. But it took me that long to really get okay. It was like jumping into a cold pool after you’ve been in a hot tub. It was like, “Okay, I’m going to go. Not yet. Not yet.” Then I let into it and I went from living in Boulder, Colorado, going skiing every weekend and hiking, which was just wonderful, to a small southern town in the southeast which was really hard. I had two kids at that point, both babies, and I lost bonuses, multiple six figures. In the end, it was a big change, but I had been really doing a lot to get myself ready for it for a while. I had a ton of money saved up and it really helped. I can’t lie that it didn’t help. It really helped.

Sarah Cottrell: This episode of The Former Lawyer Podcast is sponsored by my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law. I know that there are a lot of unhappy lawyers out there who are overwhelmed at the thought of leaving the law and literally don’t know where to start. You can grab this guide and take the guesswork out of it. Go to and grab it today, seriously. You can get it and start today.

Talk to me a little bit about that financial piece because I know there are people who I hear from who are thinking about going back to school but they’re like, “I have law school loans. I haven’t paid them off yet. Do I really want to go to another program and potentially take out more student loan debt, and be in school as opposed to working and making money?” Talk to me about that decision and some of the ways that you think people could think through that or just what you learned from your experience.

Jan Newman: I think that’s a really important part of it and having your partner on board. Those are two barriers I see when I’m coaching lawyers who want to leave. I really felt like talking to a financial planner was helpful to let me understand. I essentially realized that I was self-medicating my depression, which I don’t think was severe depression but just everyday depression about my job with expensive sushi take out and season passes at Vail and trips to different places just for the moment, flight somewhere, but I was doing that to cushion all of the pain I was feeling. All my spending was on leisure and healthcare. He pointed that out to me and he’s like, “I totally am behind your goal but you can’t spend this much money per month and do what you want to do.”

So we really drastically basically cut down on going out to eat. We actually started doing paleo and ate at home more and we switched to Winter Park Season Passes and we tried to stay and do stuff in Colorado that was cheaper but we started just intentionally really just cutting down our spending. But I didn’t feel deprived because we still were doing stuff. We both had used cars that we paid off. My husband had one that was not and we sold it and we got a used car so we did some stuff and made some decisions and then we really saved. I think I had almost $200,000 saved when I went. I had done a lot of work.

Now, I will say this, I did not have law school debt and that’s really important. I went to a large state law school that’s very well known, but in-state tuition was not that bad and I got a scholarship and so it wasn’t just anything like what most people are dealing with. By the time I went to Colorado, I had no debt. That’s huge. I also think my program, part of the reason I chose my program, if you want to be a psychologist, there are different ways that you can do it, I mean you could be a therapist and just get a master's, but there are reasons I didn’t want to do that. For doctorate, you can get a PsyD which is a professional degree like a JD, you don’t have to do a dissertation or research, or you can get a PhD which involves research and with the PsyD, there was actually a school in Colorado, University of Denver, that had a program and I think it was close to $75,000 which was crazy and I wanted to stay in Colorado so bad but I could not make that make sense.

The PhD programs I was looking at in clinical psychology, they don’t admit many people, it’s actually harder to get into than most law schools and medical schools because they pay your way. My tuition was free. I got a $30,000 stipend as a research assistant, and so the price I paid was a ton. The process from entering that program, it’s a clinical program meaning, from pretty much day one, I’m seeing clients doing assessments, learning how to do that, having lots of supervision, caping what I’m doing, it’s very applied unlike law school so that was great, but then it’s four to six years for most people. I did it four, and then I had to do a clinical internship for a year, which is like a residency. I could have gotten a master’s in a shorter time but I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I can do now, plus I’d have a lot of debt.

I just had to get a really present moment with it. I had to really focus on whether I was happy or was my family happy, were my kids happy, and not go, “Well, I could have been a partner now,” there’s a lot of that going on. If I went there, I couldn’t be present with what was happening because I was happier right now. I wasn’t making the same amount of money but I was a lot happier. On the financial piece, I reasoned through that and I decided I was going to do this longer path that was harder in many ways so that I didn’t have that debt staring at me. It was so hard to live with a family of four on my husband’s salary and me making $30,000 with the savings, but we timed it pretty well and we didn’t run out of cash until we were done. We were like flighting in the home plate.

Sarah Cottrell: Oh man. So tell how you ended up choosing psychology as your new field. Also, I think a lot of people struggle, especially if they are thinking about going back to school like, “Well, I chose to go to school once and that hasn’t worked out super well for me. How do I feel confident in my decision to enter a new program? How do I know that I’m making a decision in a different way than I did before?” Does that make sense?

Jan Newman: Yes, absolutely. I can hear myself saying the exact same thing. I didn’t do it right the first time and that sunk cost fallacy is what gets us I think with law, we spent three years there, and we didn’t get it right so I’ve already got all this time, money, and that, so you should keep going. I looked at it and I was like, “I’m in my late 20s. There’s a whole lot of work life left there. Too much for me.” But I think to answer your question, I want to mention that I had, and I think this is really important, I had a mentor, one thing about me is I love to talk to people and networking is something I look at as a hobby, not really for getting anywhere, I just really like to talk to people and connect with people.

I met this man who was in his 60s I think at that time through a mutual friend who had been a federal prosecutor. He was now a clinical psychologist and this was when I was at the regional law firm. He was so wonderful and pretty much took me under his wing and we talked through all of that stuff, through me being in Colorado, through me being in my PhD program. He had already done this. I thought about psychology because one of the career encounters I went to, she did give me something, she said, “What books are on your shelf right now? What books do you have on your shelf that are related to law or something?” I was like, “Human behavior, neuroscience, psychology,” but not self-help but it was more like nerd-out psychology. I started thinking about it. She assigned me to informationally interview some psychologists. He was one of the ones that I found but I’d had experience with people in my family not getting the help that they needed. I definitely felt that way as a lawyer. I felt like people who are high achievers and highly intelligent, I felt guilty for going and trying to see a therapist, and then she ended up making me feel guilty because it was like you’re doing this to yourself, you need to leave the law.

I think that all just came together. It offered me the opportunity to teach which I actually was able to be a professor for a while. I really liked the variety. But it was always still a hypothesis, I pretty much said that I’m going to do a data check in the six-month mark when I go to my PhD program and see what’s going on and how I like it. But the good thing, and this is something my mentor had told me, is he said, “You go in there from day one and you’re going to be able to apply what you’re learning.” Law school is like a three-year bookmark. Unless you’ve had maybe a clinic, and you really don’t know what it’s like to practice law and your summer clerkships are just kind of a little bit of a dog and pony show, just a little bit. It’s not real to me. It didn’t seem real at least.

I loved it. I loved the classes. I learned how to do IQ tests and administer IQ tests and all kinds of complex logical evaluations that I like to do in therapy. It was all research based. I had basically a master’s in statistics to get a PhD because to get out, I had to do a dissertation, a thesis, it’s all based on research that involves quantitative analysis, so my nerd brain was just going crazy. It ticked all the boxes for me and the meaning and purpose was huge. To me, that was the ball game and what I had been missing. It really took care of that. Now, sometimes, it takes care of it too much. I’m like, “I need less meaning and purpose. I need to watch Netflix.” But I think this feels like the best decision, me, thinking through it objectively to pursue this career, but I was still looking at it like this is an experiment and I don’t have to stay there. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to stay.

We got, I think, a nine-month lease. We were already like, “Maybe it won’t work.” But I just kept hanging with that and had a mentor, I could remember just having a conversation with them. It was so ironic that you said that where I’m like, something happened with my thesis, and I’m like, “Okay,” his name is Landy, if you’re listening to this, Landy, you’re awesome. But “Landy, what do I do? What if this is just law? I’m three years in now.” And he’s like, “We’re three years in and you need to finish. Two, you would always say trust the journey. Think about potentially, if you’re ever out of this, and you do assessment therapy or whatever, with a high-functioning executive or physician or lawyer, who is miserable and doesn’t want to be here anymore, is this all there is? Do you think that some run of the mill therapist is going to be able to help that person? Really? I don’t think so. You’re going to get it in a different way and you couldn’t have got it if you wouldn’t have done what you’ve done. You had to do what you did first to get that. You cannot get that any other way.”

To me, it’s really a question of is that worth the journey? That has happened to me where I’ve worked with lawyers and I’ve seen basically myself and I’ve been able to help them and empower them to help themselves, and it’s so rewarding. It brings it all full circle and I realize that I couldn’t have done that. That’s the first thing they say is, “Oh, my gosh, you get this. You’re not some psycho bubble you-need-to-quit-your-job person, you really get this.” I think that’s what kept me going, was just trusting the journey and not trying to figure out that exact destination that I was going to get to. But I want to go west, I’m just going to go west until I run into something that looks good. That is what helped me get through it. I really don’t have any regrets. I’ve had them, of course, I have those thoughts but I don’t regret going to law school at all. I have friends from law school, I think one of my best friends in law school, he helped me, just the other day, he’s helped me so many times, I just can’t imagine the people that I met and the experience. It had to be part of it.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that’s so helpful and important for people to hear because I get asked, unsurprisingly, based on the fact that I host The Former Lawyer Podcast, about whether I regret going to law school and all of these sorts of things. What I always tell people is maybe in a perfect world where you have the ability to know all the things beforehand, which is not the world we live in, I probably would have made a different choice. But like you said, the experiences that you have for good or for bad, ultimately put you in the position to do the thing that you’re doing right now, or the experiences you’re having right now will put you in the position to do the thing that you’re doing next.

I know we’ve talked about this in the podcast before, but lawyers can get really wrapped up in the sunk cost fallacy of like, “Oh, I put in this money,” or “Oh, I don’t want to be a quitter,” and all these kinds of things. The reality is you take with you, from whatever experiences you have, so many things that can apply in so many new circumstances. I think it’s important that people realize that you don’t have to think so narrowly about what your options may be or whether a particular experience was valuable because there are a lot of different ways that they can help you or just give you perspective on the next place that you go.

You said that you do some work now with lawyers, so talk to me about what you’re doing now with your psychology degree and whether that’s changed at all overtime, or whether you’ve been doing similar stuff from the beginning. I'd love to know more about that.

Jan Newman: When I graduated, I was actually a professor at a doctoral program and as part of that, ran a treatment program for delinquent use or at risk use, or I would say lots of hope for youth (I don’t like the term delinquent or at risk), and I was supervising PhD students, working with physicians, physical therapists, and Applied Behavior Analysts, and all kinds of people that help these kiddos. I was testifying in court all the time. It was really fun, the lawyers tried to hang me up on stuff and I’m like, “I’m not scared of you, buddy. Stop it.” I did that, then I wanted to move back to North Carolina, which was where I’m from, and I made the leap to go into private practice. That’s what I’m doing now. I’ve been in private practice for about three years. My psychology practice, most of my clients are high achievers, perfectionistic, hard on themselves, multi-passionate, incredible, brilliant people that have symptoms of anxiety, depression. Trauma is another one that I work with a lot.

In my practice, I’m very behavioral, meaning, very action-oriented. I want to teach my clients how to fish and not give them a fish. I want them to be their own best therapists. I really love it and I also do parenting so I really enjoy working with lawyers and executives who are trying to parent, don’t have a lot of time, think that they’re messing up their kids, and really helping them with that. That’s what I do in my psychology practice and I’m also an executive coach. I work with lawyers who are in a different place. I think a lot of the lawyers I work with in the beginning, it’s just a lack of information and education and knowledge on emotional intelligence and present moment awareness, and neuroscience around all of this. They don’t know it and then situational factors get so difficult that then that can turn things into anxiety, depression.

When I’m working and coaching, I’m usually hitting people earlier in that process so that is really wonderful to be able to help with emotional intelligence that might be on how you work with a managing partner or how you as a managing partner work with your associates. But then you’re also seeing how this can apply to your everyday life, and helping them with different skills and training that can help them in their work but it translates to life. I really enjoy both of those roles and I speak at a lot of law firms locally and the bar and have been doing some stuff with that, and some law schools. That’s been really fun. That’s what I’m doing now.

Sarah Cottrell: That’s so cool. If someone’s listening and they are thinking, “Yeah, I’m working as a lawyer and this is not working for me. I don’t know if I want to leave but maybe I do,” or they’re like, “I hate this and I definitely want to leave, but I don’t know what I want to,” what advice would you have for those people?

Jan Newman: I would say that I do think it helps to have an outside perspective. Finding someone who gets it I think is really important because you don’t want to be by yourself in eco-chamber and I really don’t want people to think, “Oh, if I go to this provider, whether it be a therapist or a coach, and I’m not feeling good about it, then there’s something wrong with me.” I would put that burden on the coach or the therapist that they need to give you some help that’s not conditioned upon you leaving your job. That’s just silliness, that boom, you need to leave. I think a lot of people that come to see me have tried this before, and the person didn’t get them so they’re saying there’s something wrong with them. But I would say that’s not the right fit. You really need to have the right fit with you and that person to get anything done.

There are books that I would recommend if that’s not an option for some reason, and some education on some of this stuff can really help. That would be another option besides talking to someone. I think day-to-day, it’s really thinking about what matters to you in terms of your health and your relationships, and trying to do small steps everyday that are towards those values. That can include something related to this potential new career or not, but it’s those steps that we take every day that really end up making the difference. Those would be some thoughts.

Sarah Cottrell: You mentioned books, and I know earlier in the conversation, you specifically mentioned What Color Is Your Parachute? Is that one of the books that you would recommend and are there any other books that you specifically recommend to people?

Jan Newman: Yes. I think What Color Is Your Parachute? One downside to that book is it really appeals to our lawyer information gathering part, which actually allows us to avoid a lot. I think it was helpful to me, but sometimes it overwhelmed me. I would recommend people to start with my favorite book, The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris. It really lays out a comprehensive strategy for how to manage difficult thoughts and emotions, and take values-based actions so that you have more psychological flexibility with things that are happening to you day-to-day. It’s based on behavioral therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It sounds a bit mushy but it actually means accept, as in radically accept your reality, and commit to values-based actions. It’s actually a very effective therapy for many things.

Then there’s a coaching model for it that you can do in coaching that’s not a therapeutic model as well. There’s not any books on that perspective but I think The Happiness Trap, he has another book I like called The Confidence Gap. You can see a theme here. He definitely likes the rhyming. I think there’s a book by Susan David called Emotional Agility. I think that one is really good. But usually where I’m starting with people is either values clarification or emotional intelligence. I’m going to cover both of them but really getting that emotional piece, and that emotions are not like feelings are for people who are weak, feelings are for soldiers and Jedi, and people who want to read their environment accurately and respond. If you shut down those emotions, you can’t navigate your environment.

I see a lot of lawyers doing that, like shutting down and believing, “I can think my way out of this problem.” That works well and good if you’re not going through an intense sympathetic nervous system or else you’ll lose your mind. That’s when you send a three-page email to your opposing counsel, ripping them to threads going, “Oh, great. They could just give this to the judge. What have I done?” Those two things are important and covered in those books that I mentioned, so I would recommend those.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that is so true that lawyers or the people who are maybe drawn to the legal profession really think that they can think their way out of whatever they’re doing. All they need to do is put their mind to it and they can figure out what they should do next. I think we’re in a certain sense trained to discount emotions or anything somatic body type things. Even when people hear these kinds of suggestions, I think a lot of lawyers, like you said, may feel like, “Oh, that sounds ridiculous,” or “That’s a woo-woo for me.” But I’m like, “Okay, but there’s all of this massive unhappiness in the profession and maybe part of that is because the way we’ve been doing it isn’t really working for us.”

Jan Newman: Yes. Often, when I cover this with lawyers, I draw in a lot of my experience working with soldiers, veterans, and my training. I learned a lot of the things that really helped me from working with special forces and typically, more elite trained soldiers get more around emotional intelligence than others and they are pretty much like, “If you don’t get that you’re afraid because you’re human and you can’t figure that out, then you can’t respond.” If you’re a sniper or something, your breathing rate and heart rate are going to be affected, and you are going to miss your target, which could tell everybody where you are, get all of your squad killed, you killed, and it’s just non-negotiable. They don’t have a problem identifying the physical sensations and must do that to be effective.

Now, they told me that it was much different and more difficult to do with their partner but I think lawyers aren’t really getting that anywhere in their work. They’re not getting how it could help them in their work. When I use those examples, that can help, and then actually there’s a biofeedback device called emWave which shows you your heart rate and it can basically show you that you’re going through the fight or flight stages. Sometimes, I’ve had to use that with lawyers who are telling me, “My heart rate is fine. I’m not stressed.” I’m just like, “Okay. Let’s just put this on and see.” Then they’re like, “Oh, my gosh. My heart rate is like 150.”

Really making that tangible and really getting it, if you think about it like athletes get this, it’s essential to performance. I think when lawyers can see, “Oh, this is normal. This is something I can use to be more effective in a courtroom or in my firm or whatever,” then they’re like, “Wait a second, this is actually helpful,” but it’s just making that switch. But you’re right, there’s nowhere that they would get it, it’s not our fault that we didn’t know. The books that I mentioned are things that would discuss that. They can get that information and see what they think.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that. Jan, as we’re getting close to the end of the conversation, is there anything else that you’d like to share that we haven’t talked about yet?

Jan Newman: I guess I would just encourage lawyers to remember what we talked about earlier that I think, people, when they think about leaving law, their brain just goes to boom, I’m going to be living under a box, I’m not going to be a lawyer anymore, and I’m not going to make enough money. They just start thinking about this first, this big step and second, that it’s going to be horrible, and I think that there’s another way of really looking at it instead of a judge, looking at it more like a scientist. A scientist has a hypothesis, gathers data, and doesn’t really go, “Oh, bummer, I found out that my cure for cancer doesn’t work.” They publish those findings so other people don’t do that and then they retool and do the experiment again. It’s more like the first attempt to learning equals fail so I have to try and I have to fail to succeed. It’s really that ability to frame this as these are smaller steps but I do think the moment that you are living in that direction, even if it’s small steps, you start to feel better. I felt better before I graduated from my PhD program. I felt better long before that. Just making any action towards it made me feel better. It’s not all or nothing.

Sarah Cottrell: Yes, oh my goodness, I agree 100%. That has definitely been my experience. Okay, Jan, as we’re wrapping up, can you tell me where people can find you and connect with you online?

Jan Newman: Absolutely. I am on social media, Twitter, LinkedIn, all the usuals, and my therapy practice is I have resources there that might be helpful to people. I can only work with people in North Carolina for therapy. I also have a coaching site which is That is the place if people are interested in talking to me about coaching. I’m also glad to try to help people with referrals if they want somebody that’s local to them. Those would be the two places to get more information about me and see if I can help in any way.

Sarah Cottrell: Awesome. I’ll drop those links in the show notes and then I’ll also drop links to the books you mentioned so people can find you and find them if they’re interested.

Jan Newman: Okay. Thank you so much, Sarah.

Sarah Cottrell: 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 Until next time, have a great week.