Myths Former Lawyers Believed Before Leaving the Law [TFLP193]

On today’s podcast episode, it’s another series episode where Sarah is sharing more feedback directly from Collab Members. Each series episode asks the same question to multiple members so listeners can learn more about their experiences. 

Today’s question is: What’s one thing that you thought was true that you’ve realized is not true? 

Each of the five respondents shares a myth that they believed was true, and how it held them back from making career decisions. With more clarity upon completion of the Guided Track, each of these respondents could reassess their careers.

Myth 1: Your Job Should Not Be An Uphill Battle.

The first respondent discovered that your job should not be a constant uphill battle. There should not be tears shed each day. Jobs exist that allow you to enjoy your daily tasks and not cringe at the thought of going to work each day. You don’t need to be constantly tense at work. 

Myth 2: Leaving Law Would Make You Unmarketable.

The second respondent shared that they thought they’d have difficulty being marketable outside of traditional law practice. It was assumed that leaving a well-regarded law firm would look bad and push other potential employers away. They learned that reality was actually the complete opposite. Companies were impressed by their experience and resume, which was viewed as a positive.

Myth 3: I Just Can’t Hack It as a Lawyer.

The third respondent said that they believed they were the problem, which is something many of the podcast guests mention during conversations. It’s the assumption that everyone else is able to cope better and handle it fine, but in reality, many people are struggling at the same time. There was an assumption that it was normal to be miserable at work. It’s almost becoming normalized for lawyers to be treated in really abusive ways and you should just be able to push through it. You are not a failure for feeling this way. It’s OK to want to leave the profession and find something that is more supportive and less toxic.

Myth 4: I Thought I Wanted to Be a Lawyer to Help People.

The guided track was extremely beneficial for the fourth respondent, and it helped them uncover their real motivators, values, and priorities. They thought they wanted to be a lawyer to help people, but through the work in the Collab, it became obvious that they were really just doing what they thought they were supposed to do to meet other people’s expectations. Now, they can do the work to start their own practice and use the new self-knowledge to figure out the best path going forward.

Myth 5: Everyone Will Bad-Mouth Me If I Leave Law.

The final respondent was incredibly concerned with what others might think if they told them they wanted to leave. There was a lot of fear that there would be pushback and opinions. Instead, they realized that most people aren’t concerned with their decisions and the people who do concern themselves with these decisions will be supportive and will understand. It’s important to let the people who care about you know about your struggles so they can help to support you. You’ll also probably find others who have similar thoughts to yours.

Join the Collab and Figure Out What You Want to Do

These myths probably sound familiar to many lawyers. If you are a lawyer who wants to figure out what you could do other than law or work on your career path with others who feel similarly, join the Collab and take advantage of the self-paced program and the community. Tune in again for the next podcast in this series of questions.

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.

Welcome back to our summer series where you are getting to hear directly from my clients about some of their experiences in the Collab and in the Guided Track and in figuring out what it is that they could do that is not practicing law. Today, you'll hear from my clients about something that I think is incredibly important because I guarantee you that for each of you who are listening who are thinking about doing something else, there is some myth or belief that you have that is, in some way, impeding your progress towards figuring out what it is that you want to do.

Today my clients will be answering the question: What's one thing that you thought was true that you've realized is actually not true? In other words, what is a myth that in some way was impacting their attempts to figure out what it was that they could do that was not practicing law that ultimately they realized was not true and had been holding them back? So without further ado, let's hear from my clients about these myths.

Client 1: That outside the bubble of law, your job is not supposed to be an uphill battle every day, it is not supposed to make you cry. Outside of the alternate reality of the legal profession, you can actually enjoy your day-to-day tasks and not cringe at the thought of having to go to work, do work, and stress over the uncertainty really, and just the constant tension that is found so often in the legal profession and the adversarialness.

Client 2: I thought I'd have a hard time being marketable outside of a traditional law practice once I started looking around for new jobs. I thought people would see that I was leaving a well-regarded civil litigation firm and hold that against me as if to say, “Well, he couldn't make it there for whatever reason. That makes us skeptical of bringing him into work for us.” What I found was actually the opposite, that my experience and the reputation of the firm that I was looking to leave was viewed as a positive and was something that other employers saw as a feather in my cap, as opposed to something suspicious.

Client 3: This is a big one. One thing I thought was true that now I've realized is not is that I was the problem and that I just couldn't hack it as a lawyer. I thought that everyone else was just able to cope better than me or to do their job better than me, and then I just needed to deal with being treated in a really abusive way by multiple bosses across multiple firms, that lawyers are supposed to be miserable at their jobs.

I thought it was true that I was also supposed to be miserable at my job. That in particular, beyond being miserable at my job, I was a failure. I was miserable and failing. I've realized that just isn't true. There's something particularly insidious about this profession.

While maybe it's more pronounced at firms, especially big firms or firms trying to emulate a block culture, I think that it's become normalized for lawyers to be treated in really abusive ways and that we've been made from law school onward to think that if we can't deal with it, if we can't hack it, if we can't push past whatever abuse and negativity and claw our way to the top and become partners and thought leaders despite being in terribly toxic environments for decades, that we failed. I've realized that's just not true.

It's not me. I am not a failure for feeling this way and I'm not a failure for wanting to leave the profession and seek something that is much more supportive, much less toxic, much more aligned with my personal values, and ultimately much more rewarding. I hope that other people will be able to also realize that maybe these feelings that they thought were true are actually not, that it's not actually them, and that it's probably the profession.

Client 4: I thought I had gone into the legal profession solely to help people and that all my career choices boil down to my desire to help others. I thought that was my primary motivation in life.

Well, yes, it turns out that wanting to and being able to help folks is a core part of my innate strengths and personality. But I now realize that up to the point of joining the Guided Track, I had been making most of my career choices based on what I thought I was supposed to be doing, which was to meet the perceived expectations of others. But I had convinced myself that I was operating independently of others' opinions of my life.

What I learned, which Sarah managed to coax out of me through her curriculum and the support of the Guided Track, what my own therapy journey had been unable to get to the heart of, was what my values, priorities, skills, and needs actually are on a fundamental level. That information, that self-knowledge has been an invaluable tool in moving forward with my career.

I am so much more internally self-confident, and no, I don't have to play by someone else's arbitrary and what were my own self-imposed rules of doing things a certain way. I'm still in the early stages of building my own practice and exploring other business ventures but I've never felt more sure of myself. For that, I am so thankful to Sarah and the Collab.

Client 5: I think a lot of it revolves around what I thought other people would think of me once I told them I wanted to leave and once I told them I am leaving, and that I will be leaving. I had this great worry about what other people thought of me. Even family, friends, and my partner, I thought that they would not understand that there would be pushback, criticism, people telling me to just stick it out, tough it out, you've worked really hard for this. Why don't you just stay?

To some extent, there was some of that messaging. But what I realized was actually not true is twofold. One, not a lot of people are thinking about me. All the people, this amorphous crowd in my mind of “people” that are bad-mouthing me, that's not actually there. Two, the people who care about you most, they will understand, they will come around, and they will support you.

Even people who you have maybe just interacted with infrequently or people that you don't think of yourself as being necessarily close to, like you've had a relationship with like friends, co-workers, they will also understand and they will also be supportive. Once you let people know what your struggles are, I think it's easier for other people to tell you about their struggles.

I was really afraid to tell people that I wanted to leave and that I didn't want my job. Especially once I knew that I was going to part ways with the job, I was really afraid of letting people know. But once you do, you'll start to learn about other people's struggles and it's actually more of a punting experience. I guess the thing that I realized was not actually true is that everyone was going to look down on me for wanting to leave this job, but it was actually just, in fact, the opposite.

Sarah Cottrell: Thanks so much to each of my clients for answering this question. One of the things that I think is really important for you to hear when you're listening to these answers, particularly these answers about the myths, is how important it is to find some community that can support you in this process of figuring out what it is that you want to do.

In particular, because it is so easy to believe things that are not actually true that keep you from figuring out what it is that you could do that is not practicing law without having the perspective of other people who are like-minded who are working in a similar direction and who maybe have the ability to illuminate some of these myths in ways that you're not necessarily going to be able to see yourself.

I know that you heard that in some of the responses that people gave to this question, and as I've been sharing with you throughout the series, the way to start if you're interested in getting the support from me, from the community that I've built with Former Lawyer is to join the Collab.

The Collab is my entry-level offer for lawyers who are wanting to figure out what it is that they could do, what they want to do that is not practicing law. You can see all the information about the Collab at But in brief, the Collab is a self-paced group program where you get access to Circle, which is a community platform where you can interact with me and all the other lawyers who are part of the Collab.

You also get access to the curriculum, The Former Lawyer Framework Curriculum that I've created to help you methodically work through the process of figuring out what it is that you want to do next. You'll have access to the replay library, which is, at this point, over 40 workshops and panels that are geared towards all sorts of different things that you will have questions about.

The workshops are geared towards things like how to optimize your LinkedIn profile, how to identify transferable skills and to structure a resume for a nonlegal job, and all sorts of other things related, for example, to boundaries at work. Then of course, we have panels with former lawyers who have done all sorts of different things: legal ops, legal tech, recruiting, DEI, HR, higher ed, voiceover work, marketing.

Each of these panels has multiple former lawyers talking about their experiences working in these different fields, how they move from practicing law to these fields, and what it is like to do those jobs day to day, which is of course, a very important part of the process of figuring out whether a particular option is something that you truly want to pursue.

Again, if you're interested in joining the Collab, you can go to That's it for this week. Next week, you will hear from my clients answering the question: What is the biggest surprise they've experienced so far in this process? I'll talk to you next week.

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