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The best laid plans of mice and lawyers!

Lawyer Life, Life after Law, work-life balance

Written by Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist 

When I studied law I imagined that I would do great things – be a defender of justice. Of sorts. I had planned on building a name for myself, having an Ally McBeal kind of reputation – the “benchmark” when I was still studying law.

But sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. And I have started to understand that it is actually ok – the going awry bit.

It is ok to change your course, to change your focus, to change your career. To simply change.

As my friend, Adaptive Attorney, CEO & Founder of Impassion-Transcend Yourself, Jennifer Amy Stoler would say – “You are not a tree, you can move”. And that really puts things into perspective. Having roots can be a very powerful thing. Especially when you think about your home and your family. But roots can also keep you “stuck” in a place you do not fully want to be in. Preventing your evolvement into something new.

Suffocating you, without you fully realising that you have stopped breathing….  

So stop. Take a deep breath. And let’s dive in – the water is fine (I promise).

Diving in!

Like many people who have studied law, I thought – this was it. I would be in a law firm all my life. I would pay my dues, work the long hours and deal with the back stabbing and corporate politics (which I despised). I convinced myself that the money I would earn would be enough. Enough to sacrifice everything else – like my happiness. And for a while it worked. I believed I was “happy”. I had the flashy car, earned a decent six figure salary and was able to buy the things that made up for the hollowness I felt deep inside. But after more than a decade of practising, I slowly began to realise that money was not enough (not by a long shot). And the soft whisper of “I don’t want to do this anymore” started ringing louder and louder in my ears.

Until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I give up

But what would I do? My specialty was the law. In drafting contracts, in advising, in giving opinions and in winning arguments. I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know how to really change (like fundamentally change). Not that I hadn’t tried over the years….

I mean, I had moved around quite a bit in my career (in search of “my place” in the world) – from law firms, to my own legal consulting practice, going into corporate to be in house-counsel trying renewable energy and insurance law on for size. But nothing quite fit. At least not comfortably.

Lana Del Rey’s song “Blue Jeans” comes to mind – “You fit me better than my favourite sweater”. But I simply was not feeling it – the legal sweater kind of made me itch.

And I realised (after having a very honest and frank discussion with myself in the mirror) that it wasn’t them, it was me. And a break up was imminent.

You see, it wasn’t the law I disliked. I actually appreciate the mechanics of the law and have the utmost respect for my colleagues who practise with fervor day in and day out. It takes guts, it takes grit, it takes dedication and it takes sacrifice. To practise law requires an unwavering passion – because being a lawyer is a true calling. The practice of law is a vocation to be respected. And I honestly do. I am just not sure I have the right amount of grit to grin and bear it.

But what is life without the law?

Acknowledging that you want to take a path away from the law and actually stepping on to a path are two very different things. 

What path should you take?     What path can you take?     What path do you want to take?

Which direction should i take?

And therein lies the problem – because I do not think any of us (that have studied law) have really been equipped with the right tools to understand that there is more “out there” than just working in a law firm.  That there is more to us than just being a lawyer (even though being a lawyer is enough, if that is what you want).

In fact, in various discussions regarding the future of law, many have said (myself included) that lawyers need to do more than “just” expense legal advice. Lawyers need to be in the thick of it, getting their hands well and truly dirty. Lawyers need to focus on the business end of doing business in order to better advise their clients – who now expect their lawyers to be “more” than just lawyers (whatever that means).

And in this same vein of “being more”, lawyers like myself, are coming to their own conclusions that they can be. More.

They just need to figure out what they want that “more” to look like.

Sisters doing it for themselves!

Frieda, Jennifer and I walk into a bar, all with the same vision of wanting to change the legal profession. In some small, but significant way.

While we are all in the general vicinity of law, the three of us have found our own little niches within the legal space that are both new and exciting. And most importantly, right for us. We have all found a way to utilise our individual legal backgrounds and skills gained over the years to “be more than just lawyers”

A content management company – The Legal Belletrist by Alicia Koch

“I want to remove the stigma that all lawyers are uptight and only speak in legalese. We are people, with a sense of humour and a sense of irony, too”.

I am an admitted attorney with over a decade of post qualification experience (PQE). I started The Legal Belletrist (TLB) during lockdown of one of the most difficult years in recent history. It initially came out of necessity (as I was out of work and did not really have any idea what my next step ought to be) but in truth, starting TLB resulted in the discovery of my “heartsong”. I mean, I had always loved writing and had been writing legal articles for GoLegal, for a number of years. But it had never occurred to me that I could actually make a living from writing full time. I mean, earning a living from doing something you absolutely loved was a completely foreign concept to me. Until I did.

After panicking about how I was going to find a job during a global recession in an industry inundated with brilliant legal minds, I bit the bullet, changed my title on LinkedIn from Legal Counsel to Legal Writer and Researcher (a big moment for me), built my own website using Wix and designed a logo using Canva (all free platforms that are easily accessible). But my vision was absolutely clear. It still is. I knew exactly what I wanted my future to look like. And I built it – from scratch. Without knowing for sure it would work, without much of a plan. But I started. And within a few days of doing so, had secured my first regular client and have been happily writing ever since. And earning a living! I can’t believe it – I sometimes pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming….

  • My determination to succeed comes down to this – is the juice worth the squeeze? Because the truth is – you can do whatever you want, if you put your mind to it. If it is worth it and truly meaningful to you, no amount of difficulty will stop you. You just need to start.

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Frieda Levycky - Braving Boundaries

Life coaching for legal professionals – Braving Boundaries by Frieda Levycky

“I want to provide a safe place for lawyers to discuss their struggles (both professional and personal) without the fear of judgment or repercussions, so that they can start to build happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.”

Frieda is an admitted (and practising) English solicitor with over 15 years’ of PQE. She has navigated her way through the legal world from trainee to in-house counsel to partner (in a “Big Law” law firm) and now life coach. She loves the practice of law and has thrived in her international M&A practice. But it was the structure and hierarchy of law firms that made her realise that they are sorely short of the all-important “soft skills”. The skills that most people take for granted, but desperately require, in order to not only survive each day but also to thrive in their careers (and personal lives).

Law firms are unfortunately notorious for paying lip-service to mental health issues, but doing little to encourage good mental health practices amongst their staff. This is an area of the legal profession that Frieda wants to change both at the corporate and individual level. Being a solicitor herself, she is fully aware of the range of situations in which a lawyer’s health and well-being is challenged. Through her Braving Boundaries practice, she provides a safe space for lawyers to voice their personal and professional struggles and supports them in making the changes they desire to create happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives (both professionally and personally). She also seeks to help law firms and corporates tackle poor practices contributing to poor mental health and well-being issues through group coaching and workshops.

For a lot of her clients, it is the need for a change that drives them to seek her guidance – because they simply do not have the first clue about how to make a meaningful change themselves. Again, they do not possess the tools they require to recognise what else they are good at in order to create change in their lives. And this is where Frieda steps in – she helps you discover the skills and capabilities that you already possess to make the fundamental change you desire.

To this end, Frieda is on a mission to humanise the law – to bring it into the modern world – and rid it of institutionalised and archaic practices that no longer serve the industry.

  • Frieda’s determination to succeed comes down to finding courage in one’s self to make the change. And we all have it in us.

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Jennifer Amy Stoler

An alternative legal practice – Impassion – Transcend Yourself by Jennifer Amy Stoler

“I want to empower and educate my clients so that they can envision and achieve their own goals – the power is not only in the hands of the lawyers but in the hands of the clients as well…”

Jennifer’s life was full of law – she had surrounded herself in and with it. She always understood where she wanted to be, but she knew it would take small steps to get there. During her (decade long) legal career, with the assistance of her erstwhile mentor, she ran a thriving family practice which, from the get-go, she had decided would be run differently to other family law practices. Not everyone agreed with her methods – but she powered on, always setting out to develop a trust relationship with her clients ensuring that she could engage the law in a way that would serve her clients in the best way possible. For them. She took on a very active role in setting up her successful practice by speaking at events and seminars, by creating a podcast called the “Lawyer and the Layman™, by doing radio and TV interviews and by presenting workshops to educate and empower people with legal information.  

This took immense sacrifice on Jennifer’s part – creating the content for the workshops and the seminars, ultimately resulted in her complete burn out. She suddenly recognised that she was missing out on some fundamentally important aspects of her life – like simply living.

But, through this burn out, she came to understand that all the time she was spending creating content for the workshops, seminars and podcasts, fueled her soul and helped her discover what she wanted to focus on. She sought to build a practice where she could connect with people and impact the legal space in a new way – in her own, unique way. Her aim was to build a practice surrounded by trust, where she was seen as a human being before being seen as just a lawyer.

Jennifer started to think outside the box and discovered that her power was not only found in the law, her power lay in the education and empowerment of her clients. Her practice is designed to encourage trust, both in the process but also in the legal system (a term she has defined as “trustice”) through the development of small “self- help”, practical and actionable steps to ease her clients through their legal crisis (a term she refers to as “legal easement”). Through the use of trustice and legal easement, Jennifer assists her clients to attain the justice that had previously eluded them.

Essentially, Jennifer’s successful alternative legal practice comes down to four important pillars – empowerment, education, trust in the legal system and practical actionable solutions.

  • Jennifer’s determination to succeed came from trusting herself and her vision and just taking the leap. When taking this leap, she didn’t know how she was going to fly, but she built her wings on the way down, and they are purely liberating.

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I WANT WHAT THEY HAVE!

If you are looking for a change from the law, but are struggling with where to start, Frieda, Jennifer and I have come up with the following “pearls of wisdom”:

New career chapter one

Get to know yourself – what is your vision, what do you want, what do you want your future to look like, what are your passions, what are your beliefs, what is your purpose, what gets you out of bed? Get clear on who you are. It’s the most important step. If you need some support in discovering your skills and capabilities, seek the help of a coach, like Braving Boundaries to help you develop a plan to get you to your end goal.

Research – Get on to the internet, speak to recruiters, talk to law professors, talk to family friends – find out about what other careers lawyers have switched into. There are plenty of us out there. I know of journalists, geologists, CEOs, entrepreneurs, doctors – all who have been lawyers too!

Educate yourself (humbly becoming a student again) – Once you know what you want to do, work out if you’ve got the skills to do it. If not, it’s time to go back to school (well, figuratively) – do workshops, webinars, whatever it takes to get you to your end goal.

If time is on your side, use it – Sometimes we are thrown into situations where we have to find new jobs and careers merely to pay the bills. When it comes to a change in career though (and you have the job security), use the time wisely. Don’t jump until you are sure you like where you will be landing.

Do not entertain doubt – acknowledge that imposter syndrome is something which you are highly likely to experience – and is very real! Shake the monster from your head, look yourself dead in the eye (in the mirror of course) and repeat “You have got this” until you believe it.

impostor syndrome

If you are going solo, acknowledge that things are going to feel pretty uncomfortable for a while – Be prepared for comparisonitis (constantly comparing yourself to other businesses in the same area), overwhelm, self-doubt and the crazy notion of “What was I thinking!” – Don’t worry! This is all perfectly normal. You’ve merely stepped out of a well-oiled corporate machine and are learning to build a new (and improved) one from scratch. Be patient. Freak out with your support network (I know I have). And remember why you decided to make the jump of faith in the first place.

Understand that even the best laid plans of mice and men go awry – even with the most well thought out plan of action, things don’t always go according to plan. But having a plan fail, does not mean all is lost – “it is never rejection, it is re-direction”. Get up, dust yourself off and try again.

How you feel today will influence how you feel tomorrow – so change the thought and the feeling will follow.

Get up and show up – Every time. Make your bed, have a cup of coffee (or tea) and take a deep breath of the fresh morning air. Sometimes a simple change in perspective can help you see clearly.

coffee

The juice will be worth the squeeze!

Remember change and transition is very difficult. For anyone and everyone. But if the regular legal route is not your thing, you can become something else. In fact, you should become something else. And there are so many other options out there. We have given you only three examples of alternate legal routes that three female legal professionals have taken. During 2020 of all years! But there are many more routes. Many more possibilities which are (honestly) endless. And better years to make a change….

There is no limit to what you can do – think outside the box.

Change is good, even if it is hard – the juice will be worth the squeeze!

And if you need some more encouragement –

”If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living” – Gail Sheehy

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance” – Alan Watts

So dance, dance and dance. And if you don’t know the steps, seek a partner who can teach them to you….

Cha-cha-cha my friends, cha-cha-cha!

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time for a career change?

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Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism. 

About the Author, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.

Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.

Email: legalwhizz@gmail.com 

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