This week, I’m sharing my conversation with Lauren Tetenbaum. Lauren is, of course, a former lawyer, and now, practicing therapist, licensed as a social worker that specializes in providing mental health services and advocacy related to maternal wellness. She’s joining me to share her journey pursuing mental health after leaving the legal profession.
What’s interesting about Lauren’s story is that a large number of former lawyers tend to be drawn towards various helping professions including therapists.
I personally have a very strong interest in talking about mental health and making sure that other lawyers feel comfortable talking about their own mental health. In this article, you’ll learn a bit about Lauren’s journey in the legal profession and how she realized that becoming a therapist was the right path.
Lauren’s Journey In The Legal Profession
Lauren Tetenbaum is a former lawyer who left the law to pursue mental health. Like many, she went into law school with a profound duty to help others. But this wasn’t fulfilled during her time there. So, she decided to pursue a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) and her law degree (JD) at the same time.
After graduating from both of her courses, she moved to London with her husband, working at a global law firm called Fragomen. Then, they moved back to New York City, where she worked at a much smaller boutique firm.
After years and different roles in the legal profession, and the birth of her son, things changed for Lauren. She felt that Biglaw was not worth the mental and physical toll it was taking on her. So, she decided to make a change.
Her next career was still in the legal profession, but in an alternative legal role focused on professional development, where she got to work with expecting parents in an alternative legal role. She said that this role really brought out the social worker in her.
Pursuing Mental Health After Leaving The Legal Profession
When the pandemic hit, Lauren was caught again in a tug of war between her professional and personal lives. She felt that now more than ever, parents were in real need, but she felt that there was another way she could do that.
So, she took time for reflection, thinking about what was most important to her, what would work for her, what she wanted to provide for her community, and what she could do. Then, she did some research into what it would take to pursue mental health.
Lauren realized that everything she was doing in her present role, and previous roles, she could do explicitly as a full-time therapist, but in a different way. Lauren was fortunate that she already had the MSW and license.
She went into private practice, working mostly with young women at the start of their careers. Her practice is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) oriented with the main goal of supporting others. In reflection, Lauren said that believes she had been preparing for this role her entire life.
Interested In Leaving The Law To Become A Therapist? Here Are Some Tips:
The feeling of wanting to help others is similar between those that pursue mental health and those that go into the legal profession, which is why so many people that go to law school end up feeling like they want to do something else to follow their dream of helping people.
If you’re thinking about leaving the legal profession to become a therapist or social worker, here are a few pieces of advice from Lauren to help you to decide if this is the right path for you.
Research What’s Available To You
If you’re interested in becoming a therapist, start by doing some research on what is available to you. What is a good fit for you and your life? Once you’ve found a path that interests you, connect with others that have done the same things you have, and ask questions.
Remember that there are different degrees like psychiatry, psychology, licensed marriage and family therapist, social worker. There are different levels of clinical, and research training. By looking at all of these different avenues, you can find the right fit for you, your goals, and your values.
Set Boundaries For Yourself
Lauren’s path pivoted when she became a mom and was struggling with that elusive balance of being a professional and a parent. While it’s not normal in the legal profession to have that perfect balance, it is absolutely possible.
The important thing is to have the right boundaries and support systems in place to make that happen for you effectively. And that starts with you. Start setting boundaries for yourself, your work life. and your home life according to your priorities.
As I said, there is a shocking amount of people who leave the legal profession to pursue work in mental health. Just like Lauren, this could have been the right path all along, but it takes a few stops along the way to realize that becoming a therapist and helping others is what you were meant to do.
If you want to learn more about becoming a therapist after leaving the legal profession or to inquire about Lauren’s services, you can contact Lauren on her website. And, if you haven’t yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law to help you make the leap to the right career for you.
Where You Can Find Lauren Tetenbaum
Mentioned In This Article:
Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. On this show, I interview former lawyers to hear their inspiring stories about how they left law behind to find careers and lives that they love. Let's get right to the show.
Hello everyone, this week on the podcast, I'm sharing my conversation with Lauren Tetenbaum. I'm really excited to share this conversation because Lauren currently practices as a therapist, she is of course a former lawyer, and there are so many people who have mentioned to me—in terms of what they're thinking about doing next, what they're interested in—a large number of lawyers tend to be drawn towards various helping professions including therapists. I have a couple of interviews and episodes coming up that we'll be releasing with therapists—former lawyers who are therapists—which hopefully will be very helpful for a lot of you because I know that there are many of you who are contemplating this possible career path. That is all from me. Let's get right into my conversation with Lauren.
Hey Lauren, welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.
Lauren Tetenbaum: Hi Sarah, thank you so much for having me.
Sarah Cottrell: I am excited for you to share your story. As I was just mentioning before we started recording, I have several therapists coming on the podcast in the next couple of months because among other things, one, I personally have a very strong interest in talking about mental health and making sure that other lawyers feel comfortable talking about their own mental health, and then also a therapist is a very common potential career that comes up when lawyers come to me and are thinking about doing something else. Two reasons, it's a bit of a preview for everyone listening, but why don't you introduce yourself to the listeners?
Lauren Tetenbaum: Sure. I'm Lauren Tetenbaum. I am a therapist, licensed in New York as a social worker, and I am also a former lawyer licensed in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Two of those states are now inactive as I recently decided to focus on providing mental health services and advocacy related to maternal wellness, and I have a particular interest in supporting parents in the workforce, which was brought about when I became a mom myself. I'm a mom of two. My son is five and my daughter is two and a half.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, I have kids who are very similar ages, and I just had a conversation for another episode that I'll be releasing in a few months at the time that we're recording this, talking about how, if you have kids, often that can sometimes very much shift your priorities or even just perspective in terms of what you are able to see, in terms of problems within industries like the legal profession, but we will get there. First I want you to tell me, how did you decide to go to law school, and as you're sharing that, can you also talk a bit about, was this idea of being a therapist something that was also in the mix or what was going on for you when you made that decision?
Lauren Tetenbaum: Absolutely. I actually pursued my JD, my law degree, and my MSW, my masters of social work at the same time. I completed college. I went to the University of Pennsylvania and I took the LSAT my senior year. I really wanted to be an advocate for women and plainly I wanted to save the world, so I went straight to law school like many young people do, and felt a bit disillusioned once I got there during my 1L year, I felt I was learning about 18th Century property law instead of actually helping people. I was familiar with the MSW program near me at NYU, my mom had actually gone when I was in high school, so it was somewhat of a recent memory, and I applied to get both degrees, and I did within four years. Usually, it takes two to get an MSW, three for JD, but I did both within four years, and really I had the goal of supplementing my legal career with the MSW by learning about how to be the most supportive advocate that I could be. I always wanted to work with young people, with women for dealing with vulnerable situations, whether they were immigrants, or survivors of domestic violence, or other kinds of abuse, or trauma, and the clinical training that I received in my master's program really helped me be a compassionate and well-trained source of support for my legal clients.
Sarah Cottrell: It sounds from what you shared of your story, that part of why you ended up pursuing the masters in social work was because you basically got to law school, and you were like, “Oh, this is maybe not going to be as focused on the helping people, or supporting people, or advocating for people as you might have expected,” which I think is interesting, and you can tell me if that's an accurate representation, but I think that is true for so many people, so many lawyers go into the legal profession, go to law school because they really care about helping other people, and I think, like you said, it can be a bit of a rude awakening when you're like, “Okay, let's talk about civil procedure and contracts,” which is not to say that those things don't often come into play in terms of protecting people, but it sometimes can be a mismatch I think, for the kinds of people who feel drawn to law school.
Lauren Tetenbaum: Absolutely, and I wonder if maybe my path would have been a bit different had I taken time in between college and grad school to work for a law firm, or elsewhere, because I think, law school itself is quite different from college and that's also a rude awakening. For me, ultimately, it worked out, because I was able to get the hands-on practical, more compassionate skills, and environment from my MSW program that I felt I personally was missing from my law program, but I agree that it's a bit of a shock, I think, when you get there, if you have certain goals, that 1L year doesn't necessarily meet.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, and it's interesting. You mentioned that your mom had done the MSW program when you were in high school, so it sounds there certainly was some family background on that side of things, but I would love to know, you're graduating with your two degrees after four years, at that point, was your thought process like, “I'm going to be a lawyer with some additional skills from this other degree?” or was it more balanced like, “I don't really know which one I'm going to be leaning more into”? Can you tell me what you were thinking on that front, because one of the things that of course, people talk about a lot on the podcast, is feeling their identity got a bit wrapped up in being a lawyer, even just coming out of law school like, “Well, I've gone to law school, so now I need to do this certain type of thing with this degree.” Can you tell me about that?
Lauren Tetenbaum: Sure. I definitely relate to the last bit of what you just said, which is that I felt I had to complete my JD and then I had to use it as a lawyer. I wanted to. I thought that was right for me, but yes, I really grew up, I believe, I would say, in a family of helpers. As you just said, my mom did have that background. She's always worked with the elderly, so we were interested in working with different populations, but both my parents really instilled in me the drive to give back to my community, and the values of compassion, and empathy which I've had my entire life, and I'm grateful for that.
I went to law school, and I stayed in law school, and I completed law school because I felt that as an attorney, I could impact change in individuals lives and in society the best way versus I felt at the time as a therapist, which—and we'll get to—over time that changed, but I certainly did feel that I “should”—which is a big trigger word—but should be an attorney and work in the legal field. Then I graduated from my programs and shortly after, I actually moved—after all my bar exams, after all my licensures—I moved to the UK, I moved to London with my husband. That also made my career path a little non-linear, but I stayed in the legal field for the following, practically, a decade subsequent to my graduation.
Sarah Cottrell: That is so interesting because it tracks a lot with other stories that people have shared with me, where, like you said, there's this sense of “Well, I've graduated from law school, I should be a lawyer. This is what I should be doing” even though in your case, obviously, you're very much drawn to something else since you went and also got that additional degree. I find that many people then spend quite a bit of time, like you said, 10 years, or sometimes even longer, sometimes a little bit shorter, in a phase that I think often people would characterize as trying to make it work, it not really being a great fit, but it having this sense of “Well, maybe it's not totally working, because something about me is not trying hard enough to make it work,” or these sorts of things. Can you tell me about your experience in those 10 years? Did you feel you threw yourself into it and then eventually, you were like, “Maybe this is not the thing,” or did you have that sense from the beginning of “I'm going to try to make this work” and it never quite felt like it was a fit for you?
Lauren Tetenbaum: I went through phases. I'm sure you hear that a lot as well. As I said, I really wanted to save the world. Now, what did that look practically? I didn't quite know. I do recommend, if people are considering law school now and they're still in college, my usual advice is to take some time, at least a year, to work at a law firm or a non-profit in the legal fields, because I think that it shows you the true ins and outs of what being a lawyer is, rather than law school itself. I worked for several years as an immigration attorney, which I actually really enjoyed, but I started, while I was in London, I worked for a very large global firm called Fragomen, and then I returned home to New York City, and I worked for a boutique firm, so that was an interesting experience. I worked really hard, really long hours, and then I had an opportunity to move into Biglaw, which if you had told me that, I would be working for a top large global law firm back when I was in law school. Even though I was doing immigration law, I was still a more corporate-y associate, and that was completely not part of my plan. I never ever thought I would work in Biglaw, but once I was in it, I was excited about the opportunity, obviously about the financial compensation, the prestige certainly got to me, and I thought it was really exciting.
That of course, also brought along very long hours, billable targets, teams that were wonderful friends—I made great friends. We still text literally all the time—but it was not what I had expected back when I was in grad school, and then frankly, things changed for me a lot as well as we talked about earlier when I had my son in 2016. I felt that the hours and the compensation, which was not necessarily market, although the hours were, I felt it wasn't working for me anymore and it wasn't matching what I wanted for myself professionally or personally, and it wasn't good for my mental health so that popped back up again. I was more aware of what was adding to my life instead of just adding stress to my life, and I chose to pursue a change.
At that point, I did a lot of self-reflection and thought about what I was good at, what I wanted to do, and again it came back to supporting people. In my role as an immigration associate, what I really liked about it was that I was helping people change their lives. I was getting people's visas to work or to just live in the US, whether they were transferring within their companies, or they were investors, or they were coming here for marriage. Whatever it was, the individuals were always super grateful. It was this new life chapter that I was helping them navigate, and I also really liked working with the employers or whomever was also involved. It was very people oriented and I wanted to continue that orientation in my next role, so I actually went into professional development at another large global law firm, and I was at this firm for four years in different roles, where I did career coaching related to professional development, and I helped manage the pro bono program, so I was able to give back that way still, and I worked very closely with the new and expecting parents, the associates, who were preparing for, or coming back from parental leave, and also on mentorship, and morale programs. In many ways this shift from being an associate in Biglaw to my next role, I was going back to the social worker in me, and I was using my skills and my personality traits that now I utilize explicitly in my work as a therapist, but I was really focused on helping people, and yes, it was in a law firm, but it was an alternative legal role.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I know quite a few people who feel drawn to that work, because, like you said, there can be a significant aspect of, like you said, the helper role in some many development positions, professional development positions. You made that shift after your son was born and then you were in that role for four years. Can you tell me, what made you decide, ultimately, to leave the professional development role?
Lauren Tetenbaum: Sure. I was working in professional development and pro bono for a large law firm for four years, and I really enjoyed many aspects of it. But then the pandemic hit and once again I was caught in many ways. It felt like I was caught between the personal and the professional. Even though much of my professional role was all about supporting others, I felt a lot like I needed more support. I think all parents felt that way back in March 2020. It was a very tough time. I'm so grateful and privileged in many ways. Thankfully, my family and I remained healthy, most importantly, but it was certainly a time again for a reflection and for considering what was most important to me, what would work for me, what did I want to give back to my community, to people that I could provide services to, and I took a few months over the pandemic to really evaluate my priorities, my goals, what made me happy, and I did some research into what it would take to transition to being a therapist, obviously, I was very fortunate that I already had the license, and I hadn't been in a clinical setting in a while, but everything I had done up to that point was still all about, whether it was as an associate, in professional development, or otherwise, everything I had done was about supporting people and helping people make choices that were the best choices for themselves.
I realized that I could be doing that explicitly full-time as a therapist, as a social worker, as an advocate in just a little bit of a different way than I had been doing the past 10 years. I went into private practice and my therapy is cognitive-behavioral-therapy oriented, feminist-therapy oriented. I pull from a variety of orientations, but my main goal is to support others, and we've been talking about that it really always has been that way, so in many ways, I think I've been preparing for this career shift my whole life.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I love that. I think one of the things that comes up on the podcast fairly often is people will share their stories and they'll say “I didn't necessarily know that I was going to end up here, but when I look back at all of the different things that I did, it makes sense.” One of the things that I always like to remind people who are listening is that it can sometimes look, when you're reflecting back, like the person knew exactly what the path was going to look like, and I think it's just important for people to know that sometimes, when you're in the middle of it, it can feel very messy or you don't necessarily know where you're going, but you can often get to this point where you look back and see “Oh. All of these different experiences have prepared me for the thing that I'm doing now.”
Lauren Tetenbaum: Absolutely. A large part of my clientele are young women, young professional women starting out in their careers, whether they're in corporate settings, non-profits, education, whatever it is, but they're ambitious and they're anxious. That's really the mental health issue that I deal with the most, is anxiety. These clients are anxious about their careers, and my experience in law firms, and just as a young professional in New York City, certainly lends itself in addition to my clinical expertise. It's been really rewarding to be able to work with people starting out in their career paths or perhaps considering a shift or a return after having a family, or whatever other reason caused them to take a pause. It's really wonderful to be able to tap into what my own experiences have taught me personally.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that is super powerful, and part of it, of course, is being able to connect, which there are all sorts of studies that show having a strong attachment, connection to your therapist can be very beneficial in terms of the whole therapy process. Can you talk a little bit, for people who may not know the specifics, about what cognitive behavioral therapy is? Because it's been mentioned a couple times in the podcast, and I think it would be helpful for people to know a little bit more about that.
Lauren Tetenbaum: Sure. CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy is an approach designed to acknowledge and modify any negative thoughts, which in turn will help modify behavior that is causing stress, or that you want modified so that you can be the best version of you. It can be more short-term than traditional psychodynamic therapy, which is the Freudian on the couch psychoanalysis for the rest of your life, which some people enjoy, and that is absolutely wonderful and important, and people need to find what works for them, particularly in the moment that they're in. Just because I'm very task oriented, I tend to be drawn to CBT as both a client and a provider because I'm very task oriented. I like to have, let's say, solutions or outcomes, and with CBT, a lot of the work involves tracking emotions, tracking reactions, tracking behaviors, and then working with your therapist to reflect and analyze, “Was my reaction the appropriate level of the incidents that was creating the reaction in me?” Or “Am I having distorted thoughts?” “Am I thinking too generally just because one comment was made that made me anxious?” “Is it true that, let's say, everyone thinks I'm stupid?” or something like that, that's something I see often come up.
I'm a big fan of CBT but I certainly believe that all methods have their place and time, and as you alluded to, I absolutely believe that the most important piece of a therapeutic bond is the relationship between the client and the therapist, and knowing that the therapist will support and provide reflection and allow the clients to grow, and feel that they are not alone, that's certainly the most important thing, so the relationship no matter what the orientation is, in terms of the therapy provided, is absolutely the priority.
Sarah Cottrell: That's really helpful. Because I'm so open on the podcast and elsewhere about my experience with clinical anxiety, panic, and therapy, and having been in therapy for many years, and also the fact that I very frequently recommend that people go to therapy, I often get asked, “Okay, as a lawyer, what type of therapist should I be looking for in terms of the type of therapy?” First of all, obviously, I am not qualified to tell individual people what sorts of individual types of therapy might be good for them, but ultimately, what I do tell people is essentially, you need to find someone who you connect with. That is going to be a really important part of the entire process. But Lauren, I'd love to hear from you, if a lawyer were to ask you “What type of therapist should I be looking for?” how would you respond to a question like that?
Lauren Tetenbaum: Sure. I was nodding my head emphatically while you were speaking. I know you can't see me, but you answered your own question, which is, like all lawyers like to say, it depends?
Sarah Cottrell: Literally I’m like, “Is it too lawyerly to say it depends? Because it totally depends.
Lauren Tetenbaum: It totally depends. If someone came to me for an intake, what I usually do is, in social work, there's a value of “meeting the client where they're at,” which that phrase tends to drive me crazy, perhaps because it ends in a preposition and that's the lawyer in me, but I believe in the sentiment, “meet the client where they are,” I would say, and in intakes, and in just general inquiries, I always ask the person “What are you looking for?” “What are your goals?” It certainly depends of course on the issue that they're encountering. If someone is dealing with a lot of trauma, they should of course go to a trauma-informed therapist, which also means that they could be receiving a variety of different modalities, it would just be trauma informed. Perhaps they do want to really explore how their childhood is affecting them as an adult. That would be more of a psychoanalytic approach that might work for them. It sounds like the questions that you get, probably, are from lawyers who are considering making career and life changes, in which case, that's a little more future thinking, not thinking about the past. I tend to again lean towards cognitive behavioral therapy or a version of it which is called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) or DBT which is helpful for distress tolerance skills, but those are all under the CBT umbrella, and it's more about thinking about what's next and how do I solve my current problem instead of how did my past affect the person I am today.
Generally, I would say, probably, CBT, if they're looking for changes to be made, but I would absolutely go back to the default of “it depends what are you looking for,” and you can start by just having brief, most therapists offer free consultations, few minutes can go a long way when you're trying things out before an intake session, and it is really important to just see if you get along and connect, because again, it comes back to the relationship.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Another important thing for people to know that maybe is not obvious, is that if you're working with a trustworthy therapist, they know what is within their scope of practice. Speaking from my experience, I've worked with a therapist just doing general talk therapy. I've been referred to a therapist that specifically uses more CBT, DBT for specific things. I have worked with a therapist who specializes in EMDR, which is related to trauma, and in all of those situations, it hasn't been like, “I need to choose this or this”, it's like, “Okay, we're working on this, and there's this other thing, and someone with these skills would probably be the best person to work with on those.” In other words, you don't have to make all the decisions yourself, because a qualified therapist will be able to say “Okay we're making progress here, but this thing has come up, and this is probably best approached in this other way” and “Here's a referral” or “Here's a recommendation” or “Look for someone with these credentials or experience.” I think that's another thing that is helpful for people to know.
Lauren Tetenbaum: Absolutely, and it's also really great to be working with someone who collaborates often with other professionals, whether they're a psychiatrist or whatever it may be, that can really provide comprehensive care when and if you need it. That's what I like about social work in particular. Social workers are trained to think about systems and be very collaborative, and I've just always appreciated that I'm trained to think about, “What are the pieces of the puzzle here to best help this person?”
Sarah Cottrell: Yes. Let's talk a little bit about trauma and particularly little “t” trauma, and the legal profession. I find that most lawyers, if you tell them certain types of working environments, may have caused you—well in certain cases depending on what happened, it could be big “T” Trauma, but in particular, the whole concept of little “t” trauma and the fact that you could experience that in the workplace, and that might be something that's playing a role in either your own professional experience or something that you're carrying with you into other things, I think, there's often some resistance to that. It's in part, I think, because so much of our understanding about trauma is relatively new. It's just not necessarily something that people have learned about before, but I find that it comes up in conversations more than I think some people might expect. Could you share a little bit from your perspective? Because you mentioned for example that if someone has trauma, they should be looking for someone who has a practice that is able to help them to process that, and I'm just thinking that there are probably people listening, who might not recognize themselves as someone who would be helped by that type of therapy.
Lauren Tetenbaum: Absolutely, and I appreciate that you're differentiating between the little t and the big T, but I've seen so much little t, certainly, in my years in the legal industry, and of course that's often the case in other high-pressured environments, whether it's finance or fashion, or what have you. My own experience in the legal industry, when I was a Biglaw associate, it became normalized that we wouldn't leave the building from 9:00 AM until midnight to get fresh air, we wouldn't even go pee because we would just be in the zone drafting. I wouldn't see my 13-week-old son for five days in a row at night. I only see him in the morning for 45 minutes. The anxiety levels are very high. The legal profession has some of the highest rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, ideation if not actual suicide, so there's a lot of stuff there to navigate and it becomes very, I think, normalized, which it's not normal, and I want to emphasize that it's very important to have support systems in place, whether that's through therapists, family members, significant others, all of the above, to remind you of what is important, and that is, and should always be, your health, including your mental health.
I grew up in New York City. I am not afraid of working hard, but I think there's a huge difference between working hard, and being ambitious, and giving something your all, there's a difference between that, and like I said, not getting fresh air for days at a time, or thinking that you can't even get off your desk to go to the bathroom, and I've seen that a lot, and I see that a lot with my clients who then once they leave this toxic situation, whether it's at a law firm or otherwise, they're so much lighter. It's truly almost tangible, the weight, the burden of what they're carrying with this anxiety, and this pressure, and then when they step away, and they get tools to manage the anxiety that comes from it is an amazing thing to see.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that's just so true, and I think like you said, there is so much that is normalized. There's a level of lack of mental wellness that is normalized in the legal profession, because like you said, I think many lawyers feel like, “Well, this is crushing me but I guess this just is what it is to be someone who cares about working hard and doing a good job.” There tends to be this inability to disentangle things like working hard and doing a good job from many of the much more toxic parts of the profession, and so I just think it's so important for people to hear that a couple months ago, probably was a year ago at this point because time has lost all meaning, but I released an episode that the title was something like sheer misery is not normal, if you are being crushed by your job, that's not normal. That's not just like, “Oh, I guess I'm just a hard worker, and feeling like this job is destroying my life, that's just how it is for everyone,” it's not, it's really not.
Lauren Tetenbaum: I know it's really not, and listen, we all have bills to pay, prestige is valuable to a certain extent. I get it, but there have to be boundaries put in place, and I work a lot with clients on creating those boundaries, and on managing the anxiety that arises when they feel like they can't go home before midnight, even if they have an infant at home, because they're expected to be in the office even if their work is done, let's say. I’ve heard about supervising attorneys who make comments like, “Well, I don't see my kids” or “I was sending emails from the delivery room at the hospital when I gave birth.” Those things are not normal. They are statements that will only create a toxic environment, and if you as a listener are hearing those, please reach out for support. You are not alone, and it does not have to be this way, as you said, Sarah.
Sarah Cottrell: I love that. Okay, so I'm sure there are people listening who are lawyers, who have an interest in becoming a therapist, but they've heard your story, Lauren, and they're like, “Well, but she got a master's in social work when she was in law school, so making this change was pretty ‘easy’ and I could never do that,” and all of these things that we tell ourselves when we hear these types of stories. Can you talk a little bit to the people who may be listening and have an interest in pursuing a career as a therapist but don't necessarily have the same educational background as you did, what would you tell them?
Lauren Tetenbaum: Sure. I would tell them to start by researching; everyone's favorite activity. No. But really looking into what is available in your area, financially, etc., what practically makes sense, and what is the best fit for you, and then connect with others who have done it, and ask questions, and do the research. There are so many different pathways to being a therapist. There are different degrees, psychiatry, psychology, licensed marriage and family therapist, social worker, there are different levels of clinical, and research training. Personally, I'm not such a fan of biology. I never was. The PhD programs with a more scientific focus were never going to be the fit for me. Some people might love that, whether they're lawyers now or not, so it certainly is worth exploring if that is tickling your fancy.
For me, and what I have experienced, I am partial, of course, but I do think social work really corresponds to a lot of the goals that lawyers tend to have because it is a more solutions driven and collaborative profession than perhaps, some of the more clinical routes to being a therapist. Also, usually, it depends, but it's usually a two-year program versus a longer time of schooling and then there are different trainings that you would do with field placements and clinical trainings etc., but the actual school master's program is usually two years. That's a consideration to be sure, but really anything else when it comes to a career change, it comes down to researching and connecting with people who have been there before, and who can provide insight that certainly the school's websites can't,and really just learning as much as you can so that you can make an informed choice, and you want to make the choice that best fits your goals and interests because you've already put in a lot of work to get to where you are at the moment, and now you want to try something new, so it's important to do the research that you can.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that's so helpful and honestly, I think in almost all cases, the answer comes back to some variety of research and talk to people, and get a sense of what it's actually like, basically things that many of us, or at least, I will speak for myself, did not necessarily do a ton of before choosing to go to law school.
Lauren Tetenbaum: Yeah. Same, same, but we were young. We were so young and that's okay. Here we are, and it all worked out.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, totally. Okay Lauren, as we're getting to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you would like to share that we haven't had a chance to talk about yet?
Lauren Tetenbaum: Sure. I will just mention because I did allude to, and probably I think, explicitly say that a lot of times, my path pivoted when I became a mom or when I was struggling with that elusive balance of being a professional and a parent, but I want to make clear that it is certainly possible to do both. To have kids, to be a lawyer, or to be whatever you want to be, the important thing is to have the right boundaries and support systems in place to make that happen for you effectively. The legal industry, like many other industries in America and throughout the world, has a lot of growth to do when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and supporting women in all levels.
I had experiences that did change my path that I wouldn't wish for other lawyer moms, and that's why I'm doing what I'm doing as a therapist, and just more generally as an advocate supporting and working with moms. I think it is so important to make clear that we shouldn't have to hide the fact that we're moms at work, and also hide the fact that we're working when we're on the PTA or whatever it is with our kids, but I think it is so important to encourage conversations around paid parental leave for both parents, dads too. It's so important for dads to take the leave, too, for them to get the leave. It's important to have conversations around what returning to work after leave looks like, what boundaries are when it comes to leaving at a certain time, or logging in at a certain time because you have child care responsibilities. It is important to support parents in whatever they need and to not make them feel that they have to leave the legal industry because they want a family. It is truly my mission to empower moms, women, and lawyer moms, particularly because I get it. I hope that my experience, which I have no regrets about, but I hope that my experience teaches people that it doesn't have to be a certain way, and that, with the right support, you can make your career and your parenting journey what you want it to be.
Sarah Cottrell: Thank you for sharing that, Lauren. I think it's true. The legal profession would be very well served to start being able to treat all people as full human beings, with lives inside their work, their career, and outside their career. I think there's this false idea that you can separate those things and people can still thrive at work. It is just a false one that hopefully, slowly, we are seeing some change around.
Lauren Tetenbaum: Absolutely, and a lot of these suggestions I have are for the individual, but I believe that the more that people set their own boundaries, the more that culture and society, and the organization as a whole will change. It starts at home, it starts with you as the individual, and don't be afraid to assert your boundaries. I had a wonderful experience, when I was in the professional development department, I was considered a staff member, not an associate, not an attorney, even though I'm licensed as an attorney, and staff at the time got no paid parental leave. That was unacceptable to me, and I basically led a coalition of other staff members, colleagues, from around the US in different departments, marketing, recruiting, etc., and we gathered information, and I submitted a presentation to management and they changed the policy.
It was a bit scary and intimidating, and it had been talked about for years, but nobody felt they could do it, and with the support of my colleagues and friends, and the information that we had gathered from other colleagues and friends from outside the firm, we were able to make that change. It doesn't always end happy, but it did at that time, and we’re individuals who knew what was right, and we knew our values and our boundaries, and we advocated for it. There is hope, and I think again, it goes back to finding support. I wouldn't have been able to do that without the support and the collaboration of those amazing colleagues of mine.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, that makes total sense. Okay, Lauren, if people want to connect with you where can they find you online?
Lauren Tetenbaum: Sure. My website is latcounseling.com and I'm on Instagram as @thecounselaur.
Sarah Cottrell: Nice, I like it. Thank you so much, Lauren, for sharing your story today. It's been really wonderful talking with you.
Lauren Tetenbaum: Thank you so much for having me. I am always happy to speak with former lawyers or aspiring former lawyers, but it's really truly been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
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 formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.
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