Leaving The Legal Profession After Practicing For Years with Landis Wade [TFLP149]

On the latest episode of the Former Lawyer Podcast, Sarah sat down with former lawyer Landis Wade to talk about his journey in leaving the law after practicing for a long time. 35 years, to be exact. 

In their conversation, Sarah and Landis touched on many common themes on the podcast and in lawyers that are desperate to leave the law. 

Whether you’re new or want to leave the legal profession practicing for years, this conversation will get you thinking further about what could be next for you. Let’s get started. 

Going Into The Legal Profession

Landis graduated college in 1979 with a liberal arts degree. At that time, he had no idea what to do for a career. He took a year off and worked a few different jobs, but after seeing how well his father did in law, he thought about taking the same route. 

His father told him that he’d be set as long as he had a law degree. So, Landis made the to go to law school. After graduating, he started working at a smaller-scale law firm that began with 18 people and was a very collegial environment. He enjoyed employment litigation and eventually grew into his role as a lawyer and eventually made partner. 

Changes In The Legal Profession 

While telling his story, Landis noted how the legal profession changed in his time. Landis started practicing in 1983 when mindsets were different, and so too was the economy. 

For example, the billable model has changed workplace culture. In the ‘80s, it wasn’t uncommon for a senior partner to have lunch with junior partners, where the latter would learn quite a lot. Now, most law firms would only see that as a loss of a billable hour. 

The Cycle Of Trying To Leave The Legal Profession

When a lawyer tries to leave the legal profession, they often go through a cycle. They think, “I need to get out of here,” but end up talking themselves out of it for whatever reason. They’ll end up saying, “It’s not so bad.” Then, those doubts circle back, and they’re left wondering why they didn’t get out when they had the chance.” 

Landis also experienced this cycle during the on-and-off merge of his company. When this happened, Landis took stock of whether or not he enjoyed his work in the legal profession, only to talk himself out of it. However, he eventually concluded that this wasn’t the life he wanted to live.

When Landis was in his early 50’s, he asked himself, “Is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?” He ultimately concluded that he didn’t want to be in the legal profession anymore. He started thinking about what he would do after leaving. Landis decided to do something entirely different once he left the law. He was going to take a leap and get creative. 

Challenges Of Leaving The Legal Profession After Practicing For Years

Many people face challenges when leaving the law, but it can sometimes be extra challenging for someone who’s been practicing for a long time. Landis faced many challenges when trying to leave the law in his 50s. 

Fear Of Change 

When someone has been practicing the law for so long, they may think, “I’m too old to leave” or “I wouldn’t know how to do anything else but the law.” This is a common fear of change that can stop you from doing what it is you truly want.

 Lawyers tend to be rule followers, very linear in their career paths. So, to think about getting creative and making a change can seem quite scary. But taking that leap of faith might be the best thing you’ve ever done. 

Thinking A Career Change Has To Be Drastic

Another hurdle for many lawyers that want to leave is the thought of having to do something super-creative or entirely different from what they do in the legal profession. But it doesn’t have to be. 

There are several options between continuing to do it or completely throwing it away and trying to become a famous novelist overnight. Get out of the box of black-and-white thinking. 

You don’t have to make a huge career change at first. You can get to the same place by making smaller steps that won’t be so ini\timidating or drastic. 

Financial Mindset Obstacles

Very often, lawyers can build their own prisons within their minds. Once a lawyer has gotten so far into their career, they have become comfortable with their income. So, when they want to leave, they’re often faced with having to take a pay cut to follow their passion. 

If what you want might come with a lesser form of compensation, the only solution is to balance those things out.  Of course, everyone has bills to pay, but you have to avoid that tunnel vision to see if what you want is worth the pay cut. 

What’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back, or you can transfer your skills to something else. There are always options. 

Writing A Book After Leaving The Legal Profession 

After leaving the legal profession in his 50s, Landis published a trilogy of novels that he described as “a cross between My Cousin Vinny and Miracle on 34th Street.” The books are The Christmas Heist, A Legally Binding Christmas, and The Christmas Redemption

The trilogy happened by accident, after Landis followed a whim of writing a short story while watching Miracle on 34th Street. Then, he found himself writing a collection. Now, he’s written a new book and hosts a podcast called The Charlotte Readers Podcast.

Deadly Declarations is Landis’ newest book. It’s a lighthearted legal thriller that is set in a retirement community in Charlotte, where an unlikely trio solves the mystery behind the controversy behind the first American Declaration of Independence.

Advice For Those Leaving The Legal Profession After Practicing for Years 

With his experience in leaving the law in what he called “Act 3” of life, Landis shared a few tidbits of advice for anyone looking to do the same. 

The first piece of advice is that if you make a switch, start with a combination. That means doing whatever you want to do next on the side while still practicing law. This will give you the time, space, and finances you need to explore your options. 

Next, remember to look at your situation from all sides, meaning what’s working, what’s not, what you can improve, and how you can go about it. Start getting creative in your off-time to open your mind.

The Former Lawyer Guided Track

Former Lawyer has a special offer for anyone looking to leave the law and is interested in getting a proven framework that helps you finally put the legal profession behind you. 

The Guided Track is a live 10-week small-group intensive for lawyers who want to jumpstart their search for an alternative career. You may have already heard of the Former Lawyer Collaborative. The Guided Track builds on the curriculum with Collaborative and adds this experience of a small group plus Sarah for ten weeks. You can also get weekly coaching as you move through the curriculum.

The next session of the Guided Track kicks off this fall. The orientation will be on September 13th, running through November 22nd. Calls will be on Tuesday evenings at 8:00 PM Eastern. 

There are nine spots available. This is a small-group experience where you’re going to be able to get a lot of personal feedback from Sarah. And, included in your enrollment is membership in The Former Lawyer Collaborative. You get support beyond the 10 weeks of the Guided Track. When you enroll in the Guided Track, you get access to the Collaborative immediately.

If you’ve thought about working with Sarah, you want more support than what you get in the self-paced Collab, this is a perfect opportunity for you.

Connect With Landis 


Charlotte Readers Podcast 

Mentioned In This Podcast 

Charlotte Readers Podcast 

The Christmas Heist  

A Legally Binding Christmas 

The Christmas Redemption 

Deadly Declarations 

Guided Track

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.

We really need to talk about a piece of advice that I have seen people give to lawyers about their jobs. I think that this advice is trash. We're going to talk about it today. This isn't just advice that's given to lawyers, this is often given to people in all different sorts of jobs.

But the advice that people often hear is something like, “You need to learn to love where you are before you go find another job. Because if you aren't happy in your job, and you don't essentially learn to love it or be okay there and you go somewhere else, then you're just going to take all of your problems with you because, essentially, the reason you're having problems in your job are things like you don't have good boundaries, etc. If you don't work on those things before you go somewhere else, then you're just going to have the same problems or similar problems.”

Here's what is so terrible about this advice, and this is true of most things that are really damaging, there is a kernel of truth there. I know we've talked in this podcast before, many times, about the fact that if you approach a career change from the law to something else and you expect changing your job, changing your career, to fix every single problem that you have, and essentially for you to not be the person that you are in that next job, that you're going to be disappointed.

True. completely true. I am never going to be someone who says, “There's nothing for anyone to ever work on.” Especially, let's be real, a lot of us who became lawyers do you have a hard time setting boundaries. Now, there can be a lot of reasons for that, among other things having difficulty setting boundaries can be something that you develop in response to trauma or a negative experience either from childhood or in the workplace.

In other words, it's adaptive, and that means that to just tell someone “Well, just don't do that” is not helpful. It's not based in actual neuroscience or the way that we work. It's a much more complex issue than just “Fix yourself. Set boundaries without a more comprehensive approach.” One of the many reasons that I recommend therapy.

Anyway, the point being I absolutely think that it is important for you to recognize the things that you might be doing that are making your experience of your job worse or harder that you don't want to take into your next job or career if you're a lawyer who's thinking about leaving the law.

But here's the thing, taking that kernel of truth, that thing that is real and telling someone, “Well, that means that you shouldn't leave where you are until you have figured out how to do all of those things, until you have essentially learned to be okay where you are” is not rooted in reality.

Because the reality is that the vast majority of lawyers who are thinking about leaving their jobs are thinking about doing so, in part, because the environment that they're in is somehow toxic—if not outright abusive, often, we call things toxic in the legal profession when in fact what we really mean is abusive—but regardless, if your work environment is toxic, if you are in an abusive environment, I mean, let's think about this, if you had a friend who was in a relationship and that relationship was abusive, you would never tell them, “Well, you just really need to work on yourself and make sure that you don't have any problems before you think about breaking off this relationship. Because otherwise, you're just going to take those problems into another relationship.” No, obviously not. You would say, “You need to get out of there. And yeah, we all have things to work on, and sure, you can plan to work on those things, but right now, get out.”

This is the problem with the kind of advice that I see people giving to lawyers about how they need to come to a place where they're okay with their environment, where they need to come to a place where they're somehow not affected by their work environment, it completely ignores the reality that for most lawyers who are thinking about leaving, there's some element of toxicity or abuse in the environment.

If that is true, telling a lawyer to somehow figure out a way to be okay with that is extremely unhealthy, it's not helpful, and ultimately, it actually sets lawyers up to have an even harder time figuring out what it is that they really want to do next. Because in order to make yourself “be okay” with an environment that is toxic or abusive, or just highly problematic in some way, you essentially have to ignore the signals that your brain and your body are giving you.

If your nervous system is telling you, “This is not an okay situation. This is not a safe situation. This is not a situation where you can flourish,” and you are trying to tell yourself, “Don't feel that. Don't think that. Don't react that way,” you essentially are training yourself out of listening to yourself.

If you've listened to this podcast for any length of time, you know that I think that one of the most important things for you as a lawyer who's thinking about leaving the law to do something else is to be able to learn to listen to yourself, to really know what it is that you want, what it is that you like, what it is that you don't like, what your values are.

So putting yourself in a position where you're actively trying to not do those things because you think you need to feel a different way about your environment in order to be able to leave it, do you see how this is a horrible vicious cycle that sets lawyers up for a lot of needless misery?

Anyway, so if you're a lawyer who's in a situation like this, and you have been given this advice or you've heard this advice, if you've thought, “I want to leave, but I really need to learn how to do all these things, like setting boundaries, et cetera, et cetera,” yes, great, those are things that you should definitely work on, and also, it is a lot easier to make progress on those things when you are not in an environment that's actively harming you, that's actively harming your mental, emotional, physical health.

If you hear someone say “You have to learn to love where you are before you can move on because otherwise, you're just going to take all the problems with you,” you have my permission—If you want my permission, you don't need my permission—to just throw that advice in the trash, because it is trash advice.

I would love to hear from you. If there is advice that you have heard about making a change, if you're thinking about making a change but you have some ideas of why you shouldn't, why you should wait, or whatever, I would love to hear from you what those things are, because I would love to talk more on the podcast about some of these things that you might be hearing that may or may not actually be helpful for you. Thanks so much for listening. I will talk to you next week.

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