When fighting with people got to be too much, Liz Brown asked ex-lawyers how they changed their lives.
Law school is famed for being a sure path to a decent (if not astronomical) salary, job security and an intellectually engaging career. But Liz Brown’s success as a litigator started making her feel — in short — icky. So, she turned her back on the money and decided to see where else her Harvard Law degree could take her.
Her exploration became a book, “Life After Law,” where 30 ex-lawyers weigh in as a primer for J.D.s on how to leverage lawyer skills in fields as diverse as psychology, rabbinical leadership and journalism. Brown is happy to report that her work as a professor of business law at Bentley University, where she teaches law to business students, is a great fit.
Why did you write “Life After Law”? I wrote the book because it’s exactly the advice I wanted to have when I was going through my own transitions. I had no idea how to leave the legal profession. I was embarrassed, because who wants to leave a nice high-paying job like that?
Yeah, why did you? I just didn’t enjoy litigating anymore. I didn’t enjoy spending my life billing clients for work that honestly could have been done in half the time.
That sounds lucrative. I spent my days fighting with people and my values had changed to the point where I wanted to do something collaborative and creative. If you don’t like fighting, then you’re in big trouble if you’re a litigator. When I was in my 20s, it was fun to write snarky letters to opposing counsel or bite people’s heads off professionally. In my 30s, it got old and a lot of the fight went out of me. The drive to do something important was still there, but I didn’t know what it was. I knew I wasn’t spending my life doing something that I was proud of and that was bothersome.
What are do you think traps lawyers into the profession? I think that a mistake that lawyers make is to think all they can do is practice law in a different way or in a different setting. My book is about reframing the skills that lawyers have. It’s not like starting over, it’s moving over. The way you move over as a lawyer is translating what you’ve enjoyed doing as a lawyer into terms that a non-legal employer is going to find valuable.
How can unhappy lawyers figure out what to do? They should think about having a rewarding life and career. I want them to think beyond law firms and about what interested them in the law in the first place. Was it the writing? Was it the counseling? Was it the interest in justice?
What’s your advice to students looking into a career in law? My advice to people who are considering law school is to research intensively what lawyers actually do. Get a good sense of what legal jobs you want specifically before you go to law school. So many people don’t understand what it is to work at a law firm, and I think if more people saw the day-to-day realities, they would make a better informed choice about whether or not law school is right for them. The legal profession plays a very important role in society. The problem is not with the law itself, it’s a problem with a lack of knowledge of what the practice of law in all its forms really looks like.