Monthly Archives: February 2013

What’s Your Cover Story?

As we’ve finalized the cover for Life After Law over the past few weeks, which my editor described as the “fun part” of the process, I’ve been thinking about the power of first impressions.  We have enormous flexibility in how we present ourselves, although that is easy to forget if we interact with the same people all the time.  In moving from law practice to an alternative career, much depends on your own “cover.”  GoldTooledVellumCropped

Consider the difference between these two candidates for a development (fundraising) position at a major hospital.  Both are soon to be former lawyers, and neither has worked in development before.  Candidate A’s cover story, as expressed in his cover letter and CV, goes something like this:  “I’m a patent lawyer, with five years of experience handling depositions, arguing motions, and coordinating discovery.  I was Order of the Coif and on the Law Review.  I’m interested in hospitals, having stayed in quite a few.  I’m exploring the possibility of development because it sounds like it could be an interesting.”

Candidate B has similar experience, but her cover story goes like this:  “My professional training in persuasive reasoning has made me a successful advocate for my clients, including some of the most sophisticated organizations in the country.  I’m a skilled writer with years of experience persuading decision makers in matters affecting the health care and biotech fields.  I work effectively in teams and independently.  I will be able to use these persuasive writing and speaking experiences to advance the hospital’s interests as part of the development team.”

The most successful career changers do what Candidate B has done.  She thought about the skills, experience and success she has had as a lawyer, and translated them into terms that would appeal to an employer in a different field.  She learned, presumably through networking, something about the skills that development professionals might find most valuable, and illustrated her use of those skills.  She makes the value proposition of hiring her quite clear.  She is entirely truthful and mindful of the power of first impressions.

It takes work to get your cover story right, starting with a lot of self-assessment.  In the end, however, your reward is work you love more than what you do now.   Making a great first impression is a vital part of a successful career change.  Employers, like readers, definitely judge a book – at least in part – by its cover.

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Your Turn: What Do You Want to Know from Ex-Lawyers?


mikeWhat would you really like to ask former lawyers who have gone on to fabulous new careers?  I’m looking for your feedback as I start a new series of posts called the 0.1 Hour Interview.  I will be asking some of the most interesting former lawyers a few key questions, and I’d like you to help me choose those questions.

My hope is that it will take just six minutes, one tenth of a billable hour, for you to read these interviews.  In that time, I hope you’ll learn something useful to your own career upgrade, or at least entertaining.  If we all had more time, I’d love to do something akin to the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair with a different ex-lawyer every month, but alas, we don’t.

In Life After Law, which we are choosing covers for now (very exciting!), you will be able to read profiles of thirty former lawyers and law students.  Every one of these profiles grew out of my interviews with these wonderful, generous folks.  While those interviews varied widely in their content, I usually started by asking people why they went to law school in the first place and what, if anything, they enjoyed about practicing law.  Their answers took us down paths that I found fascinating, and I hope you will too.

For present purposes, however, the plan is to ask short, punchy questions that will lead to helpful information for you all.  Which of the following questions should become part of the template?  Choose as many as you like – and thanks for your help!’


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Joy as a Career Strategy

While I was speaking at Harvard Business School last Sunday, I was asked to give the some advice on career planning to the many students in the room.  My advice, in essence, was to pay close attention to the skills you enjoy doing every day, and then find a way to use them more often – ideally in a field or for an organization that means a lot to you. As I talked about the long-term value of finding joy in your work, I could sense some cynicism in the room.

There was, I’m sure, some internal snickering.  Joy is certainly not one of the traditional values espoused by most graduate programs. I would have been snickering myself, had someone given me that advice in law school.  I was cynical about the potential overlap of work and happiness for years. I thought of work as something to do so that I could afford what made me happy.DSC_6657

After two career turns and extensive research into alternative careers for lawyers, much of which is reflected in Life After Law, I now believe that happiness at work is vital to long-term health and happiness.  That includes the health and happiness of your family members, who suffer or thrive in proportion to your own joy. Disliking your work and your colleagues, conversely, can lead to cynicism, incivility, and soul-crushing boredom.  And if we reserve happiness for our off-hours, what happens as those off-hours diminish?  The omnipresence of email accessibility means that it’s harder to have true off-hours than ever before, which is another reason why happiness at work is so important.

More people are recognizing that joy plays a vital role in a smart career strategy (not that I initially had one).  Alison Rimm wrote a wonderful column for the Harvard Business Review recently explaining that joy at work is a right, and that paying attention to how often you are happy has significant advantages.

Even so, we do not pay enough attention to joy as a career strategy. Paying close attention to what had made me happy was the key to my first great career move.  Realizing that using those skills didn’t make me happy in my next job, due to a number of other factors, impelled me toward my current work as a writer and business law professor, which I love.

Finding work you love may or may not coincide with finding the highest-paying work you can do, a message that may not sit well at first with students or recent graduates facing a mountain of loans to repay.  But paying attention to your own joy levels can help keep you on a sensible and sustainable career track that will let you build a good life over time.

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Coaching Lawyers with Depression

We recently talked about how to find the right career coach.  Vivia Chen, over on the Careerist, suggests that having an on-site career coach may be the next big thing in law firm perks.  But some lawyers benefit from a different kind of coaching – the kind that helps them manage depression.  Dan Lukasik, who combines his legal background and his personal experience with depression to help lawyers struggling with this issue, has some perspective on this.   He writes:Dan Lukasik

“There is an epidemic number of lawyers in this country who are unhappy with their jobs or, worse yet, are suffering from clinical depression.  One survey by the American Bar Association found that as many as fifty-five percent of the attorneys now practicing are dissatisfied.  Studies have concluded that approximately twenty percent of this nation’s 1.2 million lawyers are afflicted with depression.  Seven in ten lawyers responding to a California Lawyers magazine poll said they would change careers if the opportunity arose.

Many of these lawyers are what I call “depression veterans”.  Their jobs are a major cause of their depression. They feel stuck.  They go to a counselor and/or take medication, but it’s not enough to get them unstuck; to help them explore different career avenues either in or out of the law.

Some of this problem comes down to the fact that they don’t see their counselor often enough.  For many, at best, it’s once a week or a mere four times per month.  For those who also see a psychiatrist for antidepressant medication, it may even be less – perhaps once a month.

I feel that lawyers who struggle with unhappiness and depression need more than that – much more.  They need a positive and affirming structured relationship in which to get their lives back together.  Having helped and dealt with hundreds of unhappy lawyers from across the country, I felt a calling to become a coach to them.  I felt uniquely qualified because I have been a lawyer for the past twenty five years and suffered from depression for the past ten.  I know a lot about lawyer and a lot about depression.

Coaching isn’t the same as therapy.  It’s a relationship where I work with the depressed lawyer, come up with a set of positive goals to move them towards a better life at home and work and hold them accountable to meet those goals in an encouraging and positive way.  It is a great adjunct to those already in therapy and/or those on medication.  It provides yet another support system for those who need as much positive support in their lives as possible as they seek to recover and build a healthier life.”

If you or someone you know might benefit from working with Dan, please visit website at for more information about his services.

Readers, how do you decide what kind of coaching you need?  Have you ever suspected that you might be clinically depressed rather than just unhappy?  Is it possible to make sound career choices while you’re suffering from depression?

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