Today’s podcast marks a special milestone. It’s the 200th episode of The Former Lawyer Podcast. To celebrate, Sarah sat down with Stacey Harris of Uncommonly More, who Sarah works with to produce the podcast, to talk about how the podcast came to be and what it created.
The Origins of the Former Lawyer Podcast
The Former Lawyer podcast started before Sarah started her business. Most of the podcasts Stacey works with were businesses first and then podcasts, so it was an interesting switch-up. The original idea for the Former Lawyer podcast came to Sarah in 2010 when she worked in Biglaw. She would find herself talking to her husband about not loving Biglaw and not knowing what she wanted to do. There wasn’t much out there when she’d look for other ways to use her education.
Sarah remembers telling her husband back then that there should be a podcast called The Former Lawyer Podcast where people come on and talk about what they do now after law and how they figured it out. So in 2011, they bought the web domain. It was a someday project that she kept in the back of her mind, but she also knew back then that she didn’t want to take advertising money from anything associated with the legal profession, so she didn’t think a podcast would be sustainable.
The actual episodes for the podcast started when Sarah’s youngest child was around a year old. It had been percolating, and she just felt like it was time.
Conversations With Others Who Just Get It
The podcast is a place where Sarah has been able to show up and say things about her experience, but also allows others to do the same. She can converse with people who really understand the things that are impossible to explain. Law has such unique and specific realities, and the podcast conversations help her feel understood.
Sarah has been able to amplify a conversation so other people get the sense of “I am not alone. I’m not crazy.” So many others aren’t able to have conversations with others at their firms or in their lives, so this podcast is a place where they can hear other’s genuine experiences and feel seen. Sarah’s husband had been her sounding board for years, but she wanted to provide that same service for as many others as possible.
Most Talked About Episodes
After 200 episodes, there are a few that people talk about the most or have generated a lot of feedback. If you are new to the podcast and haven’t heard these episodes, they are must listen.
The first one that comes up a lot is about burnout with lawyers and featured a conversation with Ilona Salmons. The conversation is about the system within the legal profession that was built to attract lawyers and then tear them apart. Many people reach out to Sarah after listening to that episode because they feel like it was describing them. Sarah explains burnout as a feature, not a bug. The system is designed like this, especially in Biglaw.
There was also a series featuring Annie Little where they discuss Bullshit Jobs and how a lawyer fits into this group. Each episode in the series features a different question, and they talk through how it pertains to law for them. It’s a fascinating conversation.
The No Assholes Rule episode also receives a ton of feedback from listeners. Anyone who has worked in a law firm has probably heard, “Oh, we have a no assholes rule. There aren’t any assholes here.” The episode dives into that fiction and just how low the standards are when that is a selling point.
Sarah shared some of her own tough experiences in the Your Job Should Not Make You Cry episode, which is based on her driving to the office crying and not even really knowing why half of the time. It’s all the stress, anxiety, and general awfulness that many lawyers can relate to.
Over the 200 episodes, Sarah has loved the conversations that she’s had with so many former lawyers. She also gets great feedback on the solo episodes she did for a while in 2020, which has helped remind her that she has helpful and valuable insights. That’s probably the biggest surprise for her in this journey.
Turning the Podcast Into a Business
The community that was created by this podcast was incredibly important for Sarah, and she wanted to create something more formal. Having a space where you can connect with others who understand where you’re at and what it’s like to get out is valuable.
The first paid coaching work that Sarah did was for a small group. Her conversations in this situation gave her the idea of a collaborative community-based container. She received messages, emails, and DMs every week where people were thanking her because they didn’t realize that other people out there felt the same way. All of this led to The Collab.
An organized group that works together and shares their experiences helps people realize they are not alone. There’s power in a community. The legal profession can be a horrible trap for many people. If your sense of rightness in the world is tied to external things telling you who you are and what you’re doing is valuable, it’s hard ever to leave, even when it makes you incredibly anxious and unhappy. Lawyers often struggle to think outside of the law. By hearing other people in the same situation share, it helps shift your own perception of yourself.
Having The Collab allows Sarah to gather people together in small groups and encourage them to share and learn from each other while exploring their options. Tools are provided to help members use the right language when describing their skill sets and find a new path that feels right for them.
The business expanded from there as Sarah had more conversations. Some people need a deadline and accountability. She created the framework, which is a full curriculum that people go through. For those who need that extra accountability, there’s now the Guided Track, which matches you up with a small group, and you work through the framework at the same time.
Eventually, Sarah also added a one-on-one coaching option. She was initially reluctant because integrity is her number one value, and she didn’t want to present herself in the problematic and sometimes scammy way that many online coaches do. But again, she listened to the people signing up for her programs and knew that some needed that additional one-on-one attention. And the feedback has been incredibly positive.
All of the tools Sarah has created benefit those who are about to undergo a huge life transition. It is incredible to have a support team that understands that process and the emotions that come with it.
Even after 200 episodes, Sarah is still amazed at how many stories are still out there to share. The possibilities are endless. It’s just a reminder that the structure of how we practice law is not working.
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.
You are listening to the 200th episode of The Former Lawyer Podcast, which is wild. I can't even tell you, there aren't words for the feelings that I have about this podcast, how it's grown, how many lawyers I hear from who have listened and have made changes in their careers and their lives for the better, and the clients that I've been able to work with as a result of this podcast. I just cannot. I cannot, I was going to say as the kids say but probably it's not what the kids say anymore, let's be real.
I am really excited to share this episode with you because actually, I am being joined by a non-lawyer on this episode, Stacey Harris, who is the owner of Uncommonly More, which is the podcast production company that I use, asked if she could interview me about the experience of making the podcast which I was really excited to do because one, I love talking about the podcast, two, I love Stacey, her team, and everything that they've done in terms of helping the podcast become what it is, but also I think it's so interesting to hear the perspective of someone who is not a lawyer but has listened to many, many, many episodes about lawyers and former lawyers, the legal profession, and what it is like to be a lawyer or to be someone who is a lawyer who's not happy as a lawyer.
We talk about all sorts of things in this conversation and I'm just truly and profoundly grateful that I get to be here and share this podcast with you and the fact that we are here at 200 episodes is just magical.
Oh, one thing before we get to my conversation with Stacey. When this episode releases next week, the fall Guided Track is kicking off. To get all the information about that, you can go to formerlawyer.com/guidedtrack. But the Guided Track is essentially for you if you have thought about joining the Collab, you want to have access to The Former Lawyer Framework and the process that I've created for my clients to go through to figure out what it is that they want to do that isn’t practicing law but you also want some additional accountability, live calls, regular meetings so we will be meeting for 10 weeks starting on September 19th which is eight days away.
Yes, because today, the day this is going to release is going to be a Monday and it will be eight days. Anyway, math. The math is mathing. In the Guided Track, you'll join a small group of people, eight people max this round. You will be working through The Former Lawyer Framework using an action plan that I've created to move you through it in 10 weeks.
You also will get some of the assessments that I recommend that are paid assessments included. Plus you'll get an additional 60 minute one-on-one call with me that you can schedule anytime within six months of enrolling. You will get an invite to a half-day CliftonStrengths Workshop, which if you haven't listened to my episode from last week or the previous week, one of the recent weeks, go to the show notes, there will be a link where I talk about that workshop, the things that I've seen come out of that workshop, and how helpful it is. Definitely go check that out.
Anyway, the point is you will get access to that workshop in addition to the other things I mentioned and that all starts in just over a week. Enrollment will close next Monday or whenever all the spots are gone, whichever comes first. If you're interested, go to formerlawyer.com/guidedtrack and you can see all the information and enroll.
Okay, here's my conversation with Stacey to celebrate Episode 200 of The Former Lawyer Podcast.
Stacey Harris: I’m so excited to jump in with these questions now. I want to take us in the Wayback Machine. Does anybody remember that website? There's a website called the Wayback Machine and you can go look at old versions of your website. I did it with my first business and it was dark.
But I want to take us inside of the Wayback Machine because you were really unique for the podcasters I work with to be honest, whereas the show started before the business started. Let's take it way back to starting the podcast, what was the driver there to start having a container for these kinds of conversations?
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I tell people, people will ask for business advice and I'm like, “Basically, just do the opposite of what I did and that is probably the more recommended way.”
Stacey Harris: There's no one set path. That's the takeaway here.
Sarah Cottrell: It's true. I've talked about it in the podcast before but the original idea for the podcast came to me all the way back when I was still working in Biglaw. We're talking way back in 2009, 2010, 2011.
Stacey Harris: Which feels like a different world.
Sarah Cottrell: Which was a different world. The reality is I was having these conversations with my husband, Ed, who's been on the podcast now and basically talking about how I was just a couple of years into practice, I really did not like Biglaw. I was pretty sure I didn't want to be a lawyer in the long term but there's this idea of “You can do anything with a law degree,” except that I actually had no idea what it was that I wanted to do and I felt like I wasn't qualified for anything.
I felt like when I looked for information about what could I do that's not practicing law, there just wasn't a lot out there. It would be like, “Oh, well, you could do compliance, or here's an article about a super famous person who used to be a lawyer and is now doing something that's not replicable,” does that make sense?
Stacey Harris: Yeah.
Sarah Cottrell: Not like, “Oh, yes, I can see myself doing that or even want to do that.”
Stacey Harris: There were exceptions, not rules.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I remember us having some conversations, because we both were really into listening to podcasts at the time, and I said to him, “There should be a podcast called The Former Lawyer Podcast where people come on and talk about what they do now and how they figured out that that was what they wanted to do.” We bought the Former Lawyer domain formerlawyer.com back in 2011.
Stacey Harris: I love that.
Sarah Cottrell: It just was one of those things that was always like, “Someday I would like to do this.” I had a vague sense that maybe it could be a business but I knew it couldn't be like a podcast ad revenue type business because even though I knew there was a market for the podcast in terms of an audience, one, I knew it was not going to be the numbers that would be like a self-sustaining thing but then also I was like, “I don't really want to take advertising money from pretty much anything associated with the legal profession because I want to be able to say what I want to say about what needs to be said about this profession and about what it is to work as a lawyer that people are not saying.”
Anyway, that's a long rambling way of saying that the idea for the podcast was from way back, and then the reason I started it honestly was that I had left the law, our youngest child was born, she was getting close to a year old, it had been percolating forever, and it was just like, “Okay, I'm going to do it,” and so I started podcasting.
Stacey Harris: I love that. I love that it really stemmed from a desire to have a place just say the things. Because I think that's one of the things that's so appealing about the podcast now 200 episodes later is it's a place where not only you show up and say the things but a place where you have created space for other former lawyers to come and say the things and share it from their perspectives. I love that it just happened as it could happen in your life.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think part of it too is I knew that being able to have conversations with someone who really understood all of the things that are impossible to describe to someone who hasn't been in your exact type of workplace, done a very similar job, or dealt with the specific realities of the legal profession and working in a profession that is so obsessed with prestige in a very specific way, I knew that there was huge value in feeling understood and knowing that I wasn't crazy.
I had that built-in in a spouse who felt very similarly to me but there are tons of people who didn't have that and I knew that. Part of it was just how do you amplify a conversation so that other people have the same sense of “I am not alone. I am not the only one. I'm not crazy.”
Stacey Harris: This is something you and I talk about a lot. I've been working with you on this show for, oh my goodness, we should have looked this up first, a while. I think a couple of years now
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Over two years.
Stacey Harris: Yeah, a 100 episodes probably because I think we also did your 100th episode together. It's funny because you and I have had this conversation a few times where I learned so much about the lived experience of the legal field in producing your show.
I have joked with you that my backup plan to having a business, the thing I always say when I am in stress is “Maybe I'll just burn it all down and go to law school,” and there's been nothing better than this podcast to prove to me that that's a terrible idea.
Sarah Cottrell: I mean what higher praise could there be for a podcast? I have achieved my life goal.
Stacey Harris: Not in like it will talk somebody who's really passionate about the law out of being a lawyer but the things I'm looking to avoid are the things I would be stepping into if I were to follow this path. The stress I'm experiencing now is not going to get better with that option.
I love that you have created a space where people who don't have the ability to have conversations with someone else having that real lived experience of this space, for me, selfishly, it was the “Oh, God, that's not what I want,” but for other listeners, being able to replicate a part of what you had with your husband, where you had that sounding board of “No, I'm not nuts. I'm not broken. I'm not doing this wrong,” there is a reality there that I'm seeing and that no one is talking about.
Giving a space for that I think is so important. I'm wondering if the early days of the podcast, because obviously, we talked about the podcast started before the Collab, started before the business started, were there conversations that happened in those early days that helped you see, “Okay, it's time for us to shift this into a more, I'm going to say formalized space, a space where people can actually get the support to make them move to do something,” were there conversations in those early days where you're like, “I have to do this” that prompted evolving it into a business and more than just a place for these conversations?
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think going along with what we've already talked about, I knew that it was powerful to be able to be in community with people who understood what it was like and who were also interested in getting out.
From the early, early days of the podcast, I knew that I wanted to potentially create something like that but because this entire thing was, and still in many ways, is a labor of love, I had to get to the point where I was able to see that yes, this is something that I can offer that will be genuinely helpful to people and that people are asking for.
The first paid coaching work that I ever did was for a small group and it was in the context of talking with people who were thinking about joining that program that those conversations came around again to this idea of some sort of collaborative community-based, I hate to use the word container but let's just say container.
Stacey Harris: It's the word that was in my head too if it helps.
Sarah Cottrell: Because I think one of the things that I hear the most from people who listen to the podcast is I'll get emails, I mean I get emails every week, DMs, or wherever that are basically like either “I thought I was crazy until I started listening to your podcast and realized there were other people out there who feel this way,” or “Thank you for talking about this because I don't have anyone else in my life who really understands what this profession is like. Just knowing there are other people out there who get it is really helpful.”
Anyway, that all led to “Okay, I want to provide more than what I'm able to provide in the podcast and what is that going to look like?” What that looked like was starting the Collab.
Stacey Harris: I love that because it feels like the podcast, the community, and the conversations evolved into the need to build a space for you to coexist with them, for them to coexist with each other. It's interesting because, again, producing this podcast I've listened to all the episodes, one of the things that so often comes up in conversations with former lawyers is the prestige point that you were talking about earlier and that often the people in their lives, their family, their support systems are part of the reason they have ended up in the law.
It can probably feel really isolating to be like, “Maybe this is not where I'm supposed to be,” when everyone in your immediate life who has no lived experience in the field is telling you, “No, it's perfect. It's the exact right thing for you.” Is that something that comes up a lot?
Because it's something I hear a lot in the podcast interview so I'm wondering if it's something that also drove that need for there to be a community component, not just you working one-on-one, I know that that exists now but even still it's paired with that community component of getting to see these other people also going through that. There's something about the normalization here that just feels really important.
Sarah Cottrell: Oh, yeah, 100%. First of all, there are a lot of people who decided to become lawyers who have many similar or overlapping personality traits or experiences in their family of origin and all of those things point to being the type of person who really cares about doing a good job, is always a super hard worker, did really well in school, and by virtue of the various things, learned that pleasing other people, that external validation is what they should be pursuing.
That's why the legal profession is such a horrible trap for so many people because, and I know I said this before on some other episode but it starts out where it actually is calming, it's soothing to your nervous system because it's like, “Okay, there are clear ideas of what you're supposed to do. There are clear paths and I know if I do X, then that is good and whatnot.”
The problem is that if all of your sense of rightness in the world is tied to some combination of external things telling you who you are and what you're doing is valuable, while it might momentarily decrease anxiety, it ultimately increases anxiety to a ridiculous extent because your perception of yourself becomes tied to your job, your career, and almost disappears to the point—and this is something that comes up all of the time with pretty much everyone that I work with—people really internalize that to the point where it's like, “Who am I if I'm not a lawyer? This is the thing that gives me value in the world.”
I think one of the ways to combat that is that often, someone will think that about themselves but is much less likely to see that to project it onto other people. When you are having interactions with other lawyers who are all having similar internal experiences and describing them but you as the person having that experience can look at that other person and see, “But that's not true about them,” eventually, it helps to shift your idea of yourself where you realize, “Oh, actually, everything about me does not just come down to the fact that I'm a lawyer.”
Stacey Harris: I love that. What comes to mind as you're talking about this is a series of episodes you did I think early this year. We'll link to them in the show notes but there were a couple of months I think that we talked a lot about mental health and these components and these traits that play a part.
The episode that springs to mind that you and I have talked about you getting a lot of feedback on is that burnout in lawyers with, I can't remember.
Sarah Cottrell: Oh, Ilona Salmons.
Stacey Harris: Yeah. That episode comes up a lot. Is that language of burnout often tied to these conversations with clients that you're having around, “No, this was built to attract you and immediately give you that immediate gratification and then burns you out,” it feels like that episode really speaks to that experience.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's like the system within the legal profession was built to attract lawyers and then destroy them basically. And yeah, it does it comes up a ton. I hear from people all the time who message me and they're like, “I just listened to this episode about burnout and essentially realize this is describing me.”
I think part of the thing is that many lawyers are very resistant for lots of different reasons to the idea that, for example, it'll be like, “I don't really think I'm depressed. My job is just depressing,” which is fair. They’re situational depression. I'm not trying to diagnose anyone.
But the reality is that I think what is playing a much bigger role for most people, and certainly this can overlap with anxiety, clinical anxiety, depression, etc., is burnout because if you look at the definition, and this is one of the things we talked about in that episode with Ilona, if you look at what creates burnout, it's literally, in particular, how law firms are run.
It's as though you created a recipe for burnout and then you're getting that result but the people in the system, and this is particularly true in Biglaw, are basically constantly being told like, “Oh, but there's some way to avoid being burnt out. It has nothing to do with the system, it has to do with you and you managing your life in such a way that you avoid burnout,” with no real recognition that the primary driver of burnout is actually structural. It's beyond the individual person's individual ability to control their outcomes.
Another episode that comes up a lot is something that I know I've probably said in multiple episodes but especially with Biglaw, I tell people that burnout is a feature, it's not a bug. It's not, “Oh, something went awry, you're burnt out.” This system will create this. It's a feature. If you're burnt out, it's not because there's something wrong with you, you're doing something wrong, you can't hack it, whatever, this system is not hospitable to human life.
But everyone who's in that system is constantly being made to feel like it's a bug, and by that I mean it's their fault, they're doing something wrong, it's them individually not being able to operate appropriately as opposed to what it really is which is it's just what the system does.
Stacey Harris: It's built to attract lawyers and destroy them.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, yes.
Stacey Harris: It's just what it's built to do. I love that and I will make sure we point to those episodes in the show notes because I think even if you've listened to them before, they're 100% worth revisiting but if you're somebody who's not heard those episodes before, they're must-listens because they are. They're the things that when we sit down and we plan what's going to come up on the show and who you're going to talk to, those are the episodes you're like, “Well, I'm hearing about these a lot” every time.
There are probably some others, one that I think of that has come out fairly recently when you're hearing this is the series you did in the spring with Annie Little about is being a lawyer a b*llsh*t job. That’s also a really must-listen series as you work through these questions for yourself.
Are there other episodes that come up for you that are like, “These are the ones that I hear about from people all of the time?” Now that you're looking at 200 episodes, that's a lot of episodes but I know that there are those ones that come up in conversation over and over again, are there any other ones that are top of mind?
Sarah Cottrell: One of the ones that I got a ton of feedback on initially and still get a ton of feedback on, and by feedback, I mean people saying, “Oh, my goodness, this is so true” is the No Assholes Rule episode. Anyone who has worked in a law firm, definitely a large law firm, has probably heard at some point, at some point interviewing with some firm, “Oh, we have a no assholes rule. There isn't anyone here who's an asshole,” which is just not even true. I talk more about that in the episode.
Stacey Harris: I guarantee that the person I'm telling you that is the asshole.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's just this ridiculous fiction. On top of that, when conversations that I've had with many of my clients about that episode is how low our standards must be that that is somehow considered to be a selling point, like a really notable feature that you should be specifically mentioning how low are our standards in this profession if that is considered to be a worthwhile thing to say.
Then on top of that, how ridiculous it is because it's not even true. It's just not true. Another one that is from forever ago that still comes up a lot is the Your Job Should Not Make You Cry episode.
Stacey Harris: That's the other one I was thinking about.
Sarah Cottrell: I will frequently either be talking with clients, people in the Collab, my one-on-one clients, or just someone who listens to the podcast and has emailed me and they'll say, “How are you in my brain? How are you literally saying exactly what I think or what I'm experiencing?” I tell them, “It's because I'm literally just saying all of the things that I felt and saw when I was practicing it as a lawyer.”
Your Job Should Not Make You Cry episode is 100% based on me driving to the office crying and half the time not even knowing why exactly I was crying but just the stress, the anxiety, and just the general awfulness of just feeling so oppressive. It's an experience that so many lawyers in all types of practice can relate to.
In fact, there was a recent episode with Andrew Sohn and I had a client message me, one of the things he talked about in the episode is he talked about being in his office, he was working for a large law firm at the time. It was evening and he was looking out the window and he was just so miserable. He could see his reflection in the window and was just like, “What am I doing?”
A client of mine messaged me and was like, “Oh, my goodness, I have had that exact moment,” and I was like, “I have had that exact moment.” I know there are tons of lawyers out there who have had that experience of feeling trapped in your office super late at night looking out of some skyscraper, seeing yourself in the window, and just being like, “What am I doing with my life?”
Stacey Harris: I've said this already and I'm going to say it again but the thing I so love about this show and the Collab, and I want to talk more about the timeline here as we talk about how even the Collab has evolved alongside the show and how the show has evolved, but the thing I come back to over and over again is I love that this is a space where there's a normalization that the system's broken, you're not broken.
There's this normalization of “You're not the only one feeling this. You are not the exception. You are in fact the rule and this is the result the system is built to create.” Let's keep talking about this evolution because you open the Collab, you had the Collab when we started working together.
After we started working together, in no way related to our working together but I just know the timeline in my head, I know you launched other versions of the Collab, additional ways to work with you including the Guided Track and one-on-one.
I know we've, in the last couple of weeks, months talked about the difference in choosing what's right for you and we'll link to that in the show notes but is there something in the evolutions of the conversations you were having, either on the show or with clients, that led you to build other versions of working with you?
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Honestly, there are two big things. One is that I am a weirdo.
Stacey Harris: That's why I love you.
Sarah Cottrell: And I have learned through this process how much of a weirdo I am, which is I'm the kind of person that if I enroll in an online course or whatever, it's like I have enrolled, this will be completed. The end. It was maybe two summers ago, I enrolled in self-study in a Google ads course and I think it was a 10-week course and I did it in 10 days. That's because I am not normal.
In part because, unlike most people, actually having someone being like, “Here's your deadline” for me is actually stressful. I'd rather just be like, “I'm going to do it and do it.” I realized over probably the first two years of the podcast that most people are not like that. Most people like having some amount of, “Hey, we're going to do this and then we're going to do this. We're going to have a call and you're going to come. These are the things that you'll have completed before that.”
Having deadlines, having accountability is really important and helpful for a lot of people. The Collab started in April of 2020 and when it first started, it was a little bit more just providing the community and resources. I hadn't yet built out the full curriculum. Now there's a full curriculum that people go through to go through the steps of the framework in terms of figuring out what it is that they want to do.
Once I had the framework in place, that created the opportunity to have something like the Guided Track, which is basically you join the Collab and then you're in a small group of people who we have weekly calls for eight to ten weeks depending on the track, and each week, everyone is working on the same things in the framework.
Honestly, a big part of what brought that about was people saying, “We would like this” essentially. That was the Guided Track. People who joined the Collab and then were wanting some more one-on-one help, I had been doing that from pretty early on from when the Collab started but I hadn't really offered one-on-one to people just coming into the Collaborative working with me.
I guess it was a little bit over a year ago now that I think it was a combination of realizing the same thing that I realized with the Guided Track which was that there are some people for whom this is the best way to do this work. It's going to be the thing that is the most helpful for them based on their particular circumstances, situation, and factors.
But also part of it was like a me thing, and Stacey I know you have much experience with the “online business world” but when I first started Former Lawyer in the podcast, there was and still are so many people holding themselves out as coaches online that I just found to be extremely problematic and scammy.
I would say now I was overly concerned with not holding myself out as more than what I was or as more able to do whatever. Now, of course, I can reflect and say, “Oh, I know that I have this extreme commitment to integrity.” For me, integrity is one of my top values, but to a point that was like, “Hey, you actually have a ton that you could offer in these other ways of working including one-on-one and let people be the judge of whether they want to work with you.”
That was the combination of factors that ultimately led to me starting to do the one-on-one work. I actually just got an email the week that we're recording this from the very first person who I worked with in that new external facing one-on-one offer that was just like, “This was so amazing. This was one of the best things I've ever done,” and I was just like, “Ah, I just can't describe how great it is.”
Stacey Harris: I love that. What's interesting from the outside of it, in case that's helpful, is it feels like a really of-service way to show up for these people who are making this big, huge, can't-be-understated transition and shift in their life and making these decisions. I think especially when you're making a decision to change such a major part of your life that you can come up against this, “Well, I chose poorly the first time, what am I going to do now?”
You almost start to distrust yourself and that makes it hard to make any decision moving forward. It's one of the things I love about what you do with the podcast now, the episodes we've done over the last couple of months talking about the Collab, the Guided Track, and one-on-one and some of the things we've talked about over the summer are such good examples of you creating these tools to help them make these decisions for themselves and help listeners see what's best for them and where they can get the support they need.
It's almost a little bit of a trust crutch. It helps you make the decision in a way that feels supported but it's also still a decision you're making so you can start rebuilding that trust with yourself. Do you know what I mean?
Sarah Cottrell: Oh, yeah, 100%. This is part of why in every episode, I'm like, “By the way, do you have a therapist? Because if you don't, you should get one.” But it's true, I think so many of us who became lawyers learn to make our decisions about what we should do based on what other people told us or what we thought we should do.
A big part of why people struggle, a big part of why you have these incredibly accomplished lawyers who have practiced for years and have so many skills and so many strengths, there's a reason I'm getting emails from those people saying, “I literally don't feel qualified for anything else.”
I think people not in the profession would probably think, “What is this person even talking about?” But people genuinely feel that way and I think a big part of it is that we've become so disconnected from our real selves. It's almost less that they think they're unqualified, although that's how we think about it as lawyers, it's more that there's no true idea of what it is that they would actually want to do.
A big part of the work, whether it's in the Collab, the Guided Track, or working with me one-on-one or if you're someone who's doing this process and just out there listening to the podcast is being able to actually connect to who you are because that really is truly the only way that people are going to come to a decision that is the right fit for them.
Anything that involves getting some other external idea of what they should do, it's just another way of doing what many of us did when we went to law school which was essentially something like, “I have a liberal arts degree. I don't really know what I want to do. Law school seems like a good idea. It fits a lot of my skills.” Those are typically many of the people who I end up working with because that's actually a decision based on what you're good at which is not necessarily what you should be doing for your career.
Or the reality that many lawyers are good at lots of things and it's just a small segment of the things that they are good at that might point towards lawyering. Just because you can do something and you're good at it doesn't mean it's the thing that you should do or that you're going to like doing and so a huge part of figuring out what it is that you should actually do that would be more satisfying and fulfilling is figuring out who you are, who are you really. It's very disconcerting at age 30, 40, 50, or 60 being like, “Wait, I've been doing this career for however many years and I don't even know who I am. What is happening?”
Stacey Harris: Yeah. That makes me think of an episode you did, and again, we'll link all of these in the show notes but there was an episode about the reality that there are numerous people looking to leave the law after 20-plus years in the law. This isn't something where, “Oh, I did it for a year and it's just not for me.” These people who have made a whole career, a whole life, to your point, a whole identity out of the law and out of being lawyers and so I can see where that would shut off your openness to looking at anything else to seeing anything else.
We'll link that on the show notes. As we start to wrap this up, as a podcast person I'm curious, are there things in the last 200 episodes that were some sort of unexpected delights of this conversation? I'm assuming it's going to be the incredible guests and people you've talked to but are there some things that stand out to you as being like, “I do want to keep doing this”?
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's interesting, the guests for sure, especially the guests who I've connected with who care a lot about things that I particularly care about like mental health and the law and the experiences that lawyers have related to those sorts of things.
But the other thing is, and I suppose, Stacey, I have you to thank for this, is that in the beginning, I mostly only did interview episodes. It wasn't until the spring of 2020 when everything was on fire, we had two young kids at home, and there was only so much that I could handle that I did some short solo episodes. Because at the time, I was also doing all of my own editing and all the things. I was doing all the things. Now I do more of a mix. Again, thanks to your podcast brilliance.
Stacey Harris: Because when we first met, I was like, “I really like these solo episodes.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. They're extremely popular. I regularly have people tell me, “Yeah, I go back and listen to X or Y solo episodes once a month because I just literally need to be reminded of whatever it is that you've said in that episode.” I think that goes along with what I was talking about earlier, which is that I think when I first started the podcast, I saw the value that I was bringing to the table as the content, the information.
I think you can see over not just the podcast but also the development of the business and the offerings in the business that I also, not to use the cheesiest term of all, but I also went on a bit of a journey of “Hey, I actually have value here beyond just being their resource gatherer and sharer. I also have insights that are really helpful and valuable based on not just my experience but now the experience of working with so many clients and the experience of interviewing so many people for the podcast.”
I think the solo episodes, the popularity of them, and just how much I hear about them are one of the things that have been surprising for me over the last 200 episodes.
Stacey Harris: I selfishly love that you said that because I think that's one of the things that podcast hosts are often sold a bill of goods on a little bit around “You have to bring in guests because it's more engaging. You have to bring in guests because it'll help you grow.”
There are all these reasons to have guests, but especially when you are trying to create a community that is supported who is maybe asking themselves hard questions, being able to just talk to them and not talk near them, which is what happens with a guest because you and I are having a conversation and someone else is listening to our conversation, whereas when you're solo, you can talk to the listener, you can talk to them directly and say the thing that needs to be said, the thing they need to hear so that they can get into a place where they can have, honest to goodness, these uncomfortable conversations inside their own brain.
We talk a lot about hard conversations and difficult conversations in the world but sometimes the hardest ones have to happen with yourself, especially when you're evaluating such a massive change, especially when we talk about lawyers who have been doing this for 20-plus years and have built whole lives, whole careers, and whole identities around this.
I love that you keep doing the solo episodes. I love that they're a bright point for you because I think they are really valuable and they're some of my favorite episodes you do too.
Sarah Cottrell: Well, I'm glad. Stacey’s podcast genius is proved once again.
Stacey Harris: And I'm always happy when that happens. As we wrap this up, is there anything you want to leave your listeners with as we close out episode 200?
Sarah Cottrell: Gosh, we’re 200 episodes in and the thing that is so amazing to me is there is still no end to the stories of people who have done all sorts of different things who have left law and found something that works better for them. It's not like I'm scrambling like, “Oh, no, how will I find someone or a handful of people for this next quarter's episodes?”
The possibilities truly are endless. I believe that even more today than I did when I started the podcast. I also think that it's important for people to hear that there really is a problem with this system. The structure of how we practice law is not working. It's broken.
Again, that's something that I believed when I started the podcast but here 200 episodes in, having interviewed a lot of people, worked with so many people, and heard from so many listeners, I believe that then and I believe it even more now. There's nothing wrong with you. You're not broken and there are better options. That's what I have to say.
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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