The Most Challenging Part of Leaving Law is the Emotional Work [TFLP237]

In today’s podcast episode, Sarah shares the hardest thing about leaving the law. She’s talked to many clients, peers, podcast guests, and people in her life; everyone encounters their own unique obstacles. However, the biggest thing keeping people from making a change is the practical reality. 

Lawyers get stuck trying to figure out things on the front end, like reworking resumes or convincing someone they can work in a role other than a lawyer. People get stuck in the process of the practical things that get you a new job. This is the part that many assume will be the most challenging.  

Sarah has found that the hardest thing about leaving the law is the emotional part. After discussing this process with many people, she found that the pieces related to identity are often the hardest to process. It’s hard for people to walk away from a job that has impressed people and resulted from years of hard work and achievements. 

At the beginning of the process, people sometimes have an awareness of this pending identity shift, especially if they are podcast listeners. However, most people are still spending their time thinking about the practical aspects of the change. The truth is, you won’t get to the practical checklist if you are fighting yourself to let go of your identity as a lawyer. 

Therapy is such a great tool for everyone. It’s one of the things Sarah suggests on every podcast. This tool can help lawyers think through the questions about what they want to do. They can help you answer questions about your value in the world, who you are aside from being a lawyer, and much more. There will be a lot of emotional baggage, and a therapist is an excellent person to help you work through that. Without assistance, freeing yourself of that weight tying you down will be challenging. 

Lawyers must understand the practical items required when changing career paths, but that piece is much smaller than the big questions surrounding your identity. Getting to a better understanding of who you are and why you want to make a change will require more emotional capital, and it’s important to prepare for that. 

If you know you want to leave law but aren’t sure when, start the process today of figuring out where you want to move. The more time you have to work on that, the better. It will take more than one therapy session or one morning with your journal. 

There’s a good chance that listeners think about the practical side of things, which feels daunting. You aren’t wrong, many people feel that way. However, those items can all be solved with education, instruction, and guidance provided in The Collab and other helpful resources. Discovering more about your identity and drive requires more solo work with the help of therapy. Understanding your achievements and appreciating where you’ve come from to help you move forward and away from the law takes time. This is the real work that will help change your life. 

Get started today by joining The Former Lawyer Collab and work with other individuals facing the same transitions and gain access to all the helpful resources.

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.

Today, I want to talk about what, in my opinion, is the hardest thing about leaving the law. In other words, all of my clients, all of the people who I've interviewed on the podcast, myself, all of the people who I know, who have left the law to do other things, there are all sorts of different obstacles that they encountered, that we encountered, that I encountered, etc.

But often, as lawyers, we assume that the biggest struggle, or the real sticking point, the thing that's keeping us from making a move, is the practical reality. It's the “I don’t know how to revise my resume in a way that works for this non-legal job.” It’s “I don’t know how to convince someone that I could be a good fit in this role that isn't necessarily a completely logical progression from my career path as a lawyer.”

There's a lot of concern and focus I think on the front end before people really get into the process about and around these practical things around how to get the job that you are targeting.

But honestly, in terms of challenge, in terms of where a lot of energy ends up being spent, in my opinion, the hardest thing about leaving the law is not resumes, cover letters, interview prep, and learning how to pitch yourself, position yourself, brand yourself for a different type of role. Yeah, that's work, that's involved, as I've said on the podcast many times, like in the Collab and with people who I work with, of course, that's part of what we do.

But I honestly don't find that that is the most challenging part for most people, even though on the front end, most lawyers assume that's going to be the most challenging thing.

The thing that really is the most challenging for people is dealing with some of the issues that we talk about on the podcast all the time because they come up in so many people's stories.

That is things like, “If I started on this path to become a lawyer in order to impress people or so that people would look at me a certain way or because I had this sense that this career path was going to be a secure career path for various reasons,” or “I am an achiever and this has been the culmination of all of my years of achieving. Now I'm thinking about walking away from it,” really the things that become the most challenging and the things that people really have to work to process through are those emotional pieces, those pieces that are related to identity.

Often when I talk with lawyers before they've started the process, they do have some awareness of this, especially if they're listeners of this podcast. But I think it's still true that on the front end of the process, often it is still the "practical pieces" that tend to loom the largest.

But honestly, the reality is that you will never get to those practical pieces if internally, you are fighting yourself because some part of you can't let go of your identity as a lawyer or if some part of you can't let yourself really consider all of your potential options because you feel so defined by your job.

This is one of the many reasons, of course, why I talk about therapy on the podcast all the time because therapy is not just good for you in general, in my opinion, but in particular, when we're talking about this process of figuring out what it is that you want to do, if you do not work through, and meaningfully work through, these questions around, “Who am I if I'm not a lawyer? Who am I if I'm someone who walks away from an achievement? What is my value in the world if it is not being this particular type of person?” if you don't really work through those questions and you also try to go through the process of figuring out what it is that you want to do, it's going to be so difficult.

Because a lot of that baggage, that emotional baggage that we all have, let's be real, it's almost like you're trying to run a race with weights tied to your ankles. Yeah, you will eventually get there probably, but it's going to take a lot longer. It's going to be a lot more difficult.

That's why I think it's so important for lawyers to know the practical side of things in terms of positioning yourself for a job and revising your resume and all of those things, it's something you have to work on it's part of the process, but it is so much smaller in terms of the emotional capital required, the effort, and just the internal challenge, it is so much smaller than these big questions about identity, how you see yourself, what you think your job says about you, how to unravel that, what pieces of that you want to carry with you, what pieces of that you want to continue to influence your process, and what pieces you want to potentially set down and walk away from.

This is also why I often talk about the fact that if you know you want to leave, but it's not right now, starting the process of at least figuring out what it is you want to move to, the earlier you can start, the better, the more time that you have, the better.

Because as I'm talking through some of these issues that people often run into and have to work through, I'm sure you can tell that this is not something that you can just have a single conversation, do a single journaling exercise, or have a single session of therapy and then be like, “Well, all of my feelings around my identity and my worth and value and achievement are completely resolved and I no longer have to explore any of that.”

I say that all just because I think it's important for you who, if you're listening, there's a decent chance that the practical side of things feels the most daunting and you're not wrong if you feel that way because many people feel that way, but the thing is that practical side of things can be solved with education, instruction, and guidance of the type that I provide in the Collab, to my clients, and that other coaches, career coaches provide.

The thing that is much more internal that has to come from you is sort of unearthing what are the things that might keep you where you are beyond that. Where do you drive your identity from? How do you understand your achievements? Are you able to appreciate how you ended up where you are but also to see what pieces of the reasons that you went to law school in the first place are good for you at this point and which ones are things that you don’t want to continue to carry?

That is the real work. That is the work that will really change your life. And it is the work that will allow you to identify the thing that you want to do next. If you need help doing that work, of course, you are always welcome to join us in The Former Lawyer Collab. You can find all the information about that on the website. Thanks so much for listening. I'll talk to you next week.

Are you sick of just thinking about it and ready to take action towards leaving the law? Join us in the Former Lawyer Collab. The Collab is my entry-level program for lawyers who are wanting to make a change and leave the law for another career. You can join us at Until next time, have a great week.