How to Explore Your Career Options After Law with Patience and a Plan [TFLP235]

In today’s episode, Sarah offers important advice to listeners. While practicing law, she constantly thought about what she wanted to do outside the law. But then her brain would start telling her everything that would make it a bad fit and instantly become negative. Lawyers are just trained to do this, and it’s important that you recognize that ahead of time.

Stop telling yourself that something isn’t going to work before you’ve actually spent any time looking into it. People start worrying about finances and skills they don’t think they have, and begin convincing themselves that it’s a bad idea. Sarah calls this “Lawyering yourself.” You take an idea and then prematurely decide it’s impossible. 

If you’ve found yourself thinking this way, you aren’t alone. As lawyers, your job is to look for all the things that could possibly go wrong and any weaknesses in an argument. You’re trained to poke holes in ideas. But when you are dreaming about your future and what would inspire you, you need to take the time to consider the possibilities without instantly shutting them down.

Another reason this happens is lawyers have zero emotional energy left over to work on something they fear won’t work out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of it, take a step back. You might have a list of different ideas, but you don’t need to pursue them all at once. You can slowly gather information about what a career path might be like without jumping to conclusions.

One of the benefits of working with The Former Lawyer Collaborative is having a group of people who are slowly building up their information on different careers and industries. It’s a group of supportive people with similar experiences and learning together. Sarah recommends putting together a brainstorm list where you have a running list of options that come up while you’re working through the framework. Once you have a list, you can start gathering information.

Part of information gathering is talking to people in other industries. This can be challenging for lawyers, and there is often some resistance. Lawyers like to enter a conversation with all the information, but this is your chance to explore the possibilities, and you have to remind yourself of that and remain open. 

Don’t allow yourself to stop exploring an option because you tell yourself it isn’t realistic, or start immediately listing out reasons it won’t work. Follow the process and gather the intel. The framework with The Former Lawyer Collab helps guide you through this process and gives you resources to lean on. 

If you find yourself shutting down because it’s a lot of information, take a pause. You don’t have to run out and figure everything out in a day. Allow yourself patience to explore. Start with just one thing, like, “Can I find someone who does this type of job and have a brief conversation with them about what it’s like?” Starting simple will be much less overwhelming than structuring all the facets of each job. The important thing to remember is not to convince yourself that it’s not going to work before you’ve even explored it. 

Make sure you’ve downloaded the free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law, for more helpful information on discovering your next moves.

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.

If you like the idea of the Collab but would like to do some one-on-one coaching in addition, then you should consider the Collab Plus One-on-One Program. It's a hybrid program which combines the Collab with one-on-one coaching, three months of one-on-one support from me to help you move through The Former Lawyer Framework.

The way that it works is that you get everything you get in the Collab including lifetime access to the Collab, you get four 60-minute one-on-one coaching calls with me that you can schedule anytime over three months. You also get a free video resume review where you send me a copy of your revised resume during those three months and I will send you back a video reviewing it giving suggestions for how to change, add, etc, and then you're also going to get two free assessments that are otherwise paid: one is a strengths assessment and one is a personality assessment.

The goal of the Collab Plus One-on-One Program is to give you access to some one-on-one coaching and also all of the resources of the Collab. So, if you're someone who's thought about the Collab but is also drawn to the idea of one-on-one coaching, then definitely go to the website and check out the information. It's

I want to share a reminder with you today that is something that comes up with my clients all the time. When I look back at my time in practice as I was thinking about what it was that I wanted to do outside of the law, I can see that I did this all the time.

The reason for this is because we're almost trained into it as lawyers. Okay, so what am I talking about? Stop telling yourself something isn't going to work before you've actually looked into it. Here's what I see happen, and it is super understandable and it makes total sense, but it is very unhelpful if you're going through a process of trying to figure out what it is that you can do or want to do that is not practicing law.

People will have an idea of something that they want to do or that they're interested in, some other role, some other industry, something, and immediately their brain goes to, “But here are all the things that I don't know that would make me not a good fit for a role like that. Here are all the things about finances that would probably make that not great. Here are all the ways in which I probably need to work on getting more skills related to that that I don't have yet. How would I have time to do that? Also if I was doing that, what would an X or Y person say or think about me versus what I am doing now?”

I've talked about this on the podcast before and also on the YouTube channel, but I basically call this lawyering yourself. What you're doing is you're taking an idea. Often it's just like, “Hey, I have a kernel of interest in this, or there's something about this topic, or subject that is interesting to me, or maybe something that I've thought about doing in the past but went the law school route instead.”

People will have these ideas but will not even allow themselves to explore them because they prematurely decide that it's not possible, or that it wouldn't be a good idea, or that it wouldn't work in XYZ way.

There are a lot of good reasons for thinking this way. One, as lawyers, many of us, our job is to basically look for all the things that could potentially go wrong, all the ways, all the weaknesses in an argument in favor of something, and poke those holes.

That is part of what we're trained to do, and often what we're doing when we're thinking about a potential option and immediately shutting it down, we're doing that, we're lawyering ourselves.

But also I think another piece of it is that especially if you're particularly unhappy in the job that you're currently in as a lawyer, it can be very hard to have the emotional energy to sustain enthusiasm for a bunch of different options.

So I think for some of us, it's basically a way to keep ourselves from expending too much emotional energy on something that we are afraid won't work out. I think one of the most important things to remember if you find yourself doing this, is that if you have different ideas about what it is that you might want to do, you don't have to pursue all of those options all at once, and you don't have to know that something is going to work in order to pursue information about what it might be like.

In fact, you can't make a decision about whether it's going to be a good fit until you have that information. This is a big part of what people are doing and they're working through the framework inside The Former Lawyer Collaborative. Honestly, this is one of the hardest things for people to do.

Often people have compiled ideas. I have basically suggested that people put together a brainstorming list that they can keep sort of a running tally of options and things that come up as they're working through the different exercises in the framework. Then people get to the point where they need to get more information about these options that they are considering.

For a lot of lawyers, there is a lot of resistance to talking with other people outside of the law even just about what their job is like. Because there is a sense of like, “But I need to know more before I talk to these people.” This is like another facet of the same phenomenon where you as a lawyer feel like you need to know everything already, and if you don't know everything about an option, the easiest thing to do is to just say, “Oh, that's probably not a good option.”

If you notice this happening, if you notice yourself just shutting down options that you think about, or just being like, "Oh, that's ridiculous," or like, "Oh, that wouldn't be responsible," listen, I'm not telling you to just randomly pick something, do no research, quit your job, and be like, "I'm doing this other thing.” That is not what we're talking about here.

But what I am saying is that a huge part of figuring out what it is that you want to do involves actually exploring options. Even if you don't end up doing the exact thing that you start thinking about and getting information about, often that exploration helps you move into a place where you're able to see other options that ultimately are the right ones for you or the right one for you.

However, stopping yourself from even thinking about something because you're just telling yourself like “It's not realistic,” or like, “It wouldn't be good for X and Y reason,” that completely short circuits and is just a total end run around that process.

That is something you need to be pursuing those kernels of interest in this process. That's part of what I work with my clients to do. That's part of what the framework inside the Collab helps people do in a structured way.

Notice if you think about options, things that you might want to do outside of the law, and how quickly you shut yourself down, if you notice yourself lawyering yourself and shutting it down very quickly and deciding it's not going to work before you've even done the research to find out what it's like to work in that job day to day, just take a pause. Let yourself pause.

You don't have to run out and do all sorts of things with respect to that option, just start with one thing. Like, “Can I find one person who's doing this type of job, who I can have a brief conversation with, just to learn more about what it's like to do their job?”

That's actually a really good place to start and it is much less overwhelming than like, “How will I structure all of the many facets of every piece of what it is to have a career before I even go and get those initial pieces of information?”

Just don't convince yourself it's not going to work before you've even explored it. That'll serve you really well in this process. Thanks so much for listening. 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.