Thursday, 26 April 2012

Are You A Lawyer Who Feels Your Talents Are Wasted?

As a child growing up, I had always dreamt of being a lawyer. My parents joked that I came out of my mother’s womb asking probing questions and my childhood bookshelf was littered with John Grisham novels. I had grandiose ideas of advocating class action lawsuits in US courtrooms against morally bankrupt corporations.

I attended the top law school in London and at the age of 24 left law school and joined the top litigation firm in the UK. Whilst I could immediately feel that something didn’t sit right with me, I believed my elders who told me that I was getting the best training that I could get, and that I would be crazy not to stick it out.

After two years, it was clear to me that I didn’t belong in an environment that was predicated on sycophancy, a face-time culture and working for the big corporations (which I had come to learn was far from unique to my own firm). My soul felt claustrophobic. So I took the next obvious, unhelpful, albeit financially prudent step, and went to work for a US firm that paid me more money.

Whilst there I caught the eye of a rival and very reputable US firm and was offered the opportunity to live in Los Angeles for a couple of years working as an international lawyer. I jumped at the opportunity, thinking, “Here it is. Here’s my shot – most lawyers would literally kill for this opportunity.

Less than 6 weeks in, I was already contemplating my exit from the firm. In spite of everything that I’d achieved, life at work was abject misery. I felt like I was experiencing some kind of emotional death characterized by depression and substance abuse. My soul was crying out and it was high time to listen. The problem was, I was petrified because I had only ever known the law.

Winter of Discontent

The potential causes of disenchantment in the law are wide-ranging but the most often cited gripes invariably include: the dehumanizing hours, the despair that comes from generating piles of meaningless paperwork, the yawning gap between our ideals and the reality, the effects on one’s internal compass, the relentless obligations to clients and courts and the tedium of handling other peoples’ problems.

But if so many people are so unhappy in the law what’s stopping them from leaving and doing what they really want?

Among the factors cited in a 2009 YouGov survey for being unable to leave the profession were:
  •                The possible drop in salary – 70%
  •                The affect on the family – 37%
  •                Feeling too old to change career – 27%
  •                The cost of retraining for something else – 26%
  •                Not having the right qualifications for what they really want to do – 23%
  •                Apathy – 17%
  •                The area they want to enter is too competitive – 8%

Whatever the reason given, for many, the crux of the problem is over-identification. Due to the drawn out and specialized process of becoming a lawyer, law is often not just considered a job, but an identity. To make matters worse, the psychology of the profession is inherently conservative and therefore even small changes can evoke a great deal of anxiety in people trained to closely follow the rules.

What many people do not appreciate is how difficult the actual process of disengagement from the law can be. As I discovered on my own journey, the emotions connected to saying good-bye and disconnecting from a regular income do not pass easily or quickly and confusion often reigns. What follows for many is a crisis of confidence, and possibly a period of depression caused by loss of work relationships, prestige, status, the feeling of “letting someone down” and the isolation of going through a process that feels totally out of step with the rest of the world.

Spring Awakening

Whilst it’s no great secret that firms might be best advised to look into ways to better engage their employees (ways that are increasingly being embraced very effectively in other industries) in the absence of a cultural revolution in the city, it’s up to each of us, as individuals, to choose a better life for ourselves.

However, whilst many lawyers are outwardly extremely competent and relatively financially successful, inwardly we can feel a degree of uncertainty about our own decision-making capabilities (born out of analyzing how we managed to get ourselves into such a position in the first place). Whilst we yearn to take the bold step out of the profession and into new world filled with passion, purpose and possibilities, many of us don’t know where to begin looking for the necessary reassurance, practical advice and support.

Deborah Arron (author of “Running From The Law”) offers some advice,

First, unhappy lawyers must listen to their inner voice……..the pivotal point occurs when unhappy lawyers can clearly visualize a future away from the law…….No matter how they handle the financial arrangements, it’s their vision of a more satisfying life after lawyering that keeps them motivated.“

So how does one begin to tune in to this ‘inner voice’ and go about forming a clear vision? For trained and pragmatic lawyers this sort of jargon can sound hokey at best. The answer, thankfully, is both beautifully simple and heartwarmingly effective– find yourself a trained, qualified and experienced coach.

Summer Loving

So why a coach and what does a coach really do? Well, let’s start with what coaching isn’t. Coaching isn’t consulting or counseling. A business consultant will typically use their specific knowledge and prescribe a course of action to achieve an objective. They TELL the client what needs to be done and may even do the work that is required.

In contrast, coaches work off the principle that the clients have all the answers themselves; they just need a little help identifying what they are and putting them into action. Through asking the right, often bold, questions, a good coach will identify the values that drive you, your vision of a fulfilled future and then work with you to overcome the limitations that have, up until now, stopped you from having what you want. They will co-create a detailed action plan with you, then teach you how to access and engage your energy and resources, all the while holding you accountable to your action plan to ensure that you reach your goals.

Put simply, coaches empower clients to create their own customized and personal solutions and become the drivers of their own success. Coaching does not deliver a single solution – it permanently increases the client’s own ability to repeatedly develop their own solutions.

Coaching is also not counseling. Counseling aims to heal mental and psychological issues and often examines PAST events. It usually centers on diagnosing a ‘problem’ that needs to be addressed. In contrast, coaches see opportunities, not problems, maintaining a focus on the current situation and actively developing plans for the FUTURE. Counseling focuses on helping people to live functional lives. Coaching focuses on helping functional people live extraordinary lives. 

Some typically focus areas for career transition and life purpose coaching include:
  •     Financial security;
  •   Work-life balance;
  •     Core values;
  •     Self-esteem; and
  •     Time management.

Whatever your belief, the truth is that the education, training and wisdom that lawyers have at their disposal offer an almost infinite number of employment and self-employment opportunities. A coach’s role is merely to serve as a mirror to reflect back the magnificence of the real “You”, offering support, encouragement and practical solutions every step of the way (e.g. ideas to help you transition or get established on your own) giving you everything you need to turn your dreams into your daily reality. 


It’s fair to say that the prospect of leaving the legal profession can feel much like stepping off the proverbial cliff into an abyss of uncertainty. It is so daunting that many choose inevitable suffering over facing their fears and taking the leap.  But for those who are willing to tune in and listen to their inner voice, a coach can be an invaluable tool on the personal path to freedom and joy. The question is simply ‘How ready are you to explore your true potential and bring your dreams and visions into reality?’

To learn more about coaching options that are available OR for a 30min Complimentary Coaching session please contact Anna Margolis at 07958 270 452. 

(Live testimonials available by request)

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