Thinkin’ of a Master Plan (To Leave Your Firm)

A1C William Pitsenbarger

A1C William Pitsenbarger preparing for a water jump. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Action plan time!  It’s a new year, your bonus is in the bank (if you were lucky enough to get one), the distractions of the holidays are behind you, and you feel as unsure as ever about staying at your firm.  What should you do?  Even if you haven’t yet decided what to do next, or even whether you are definitely going to leave the law, you can and should start laying the foundation for a successful transition – just in case.  Broaden your options, if you will.

Let me suggest a two-part approach to preparing your exit strategy.   In order to make a clean getaway, you need to prepare both your resume and your bank account.

Your resume:  If you’ve read Life After Law, you know I recommend figuring out the skills you like using, which may or may not be the same set of skills you use at work every day or get praised for.  Once you know what you love being good at, you can start lining up examples of how you have used those skills.  Those examples will help you rewrite your resume and talk your way through a winning interview with a nonlegal employer.

While you are still at your firm, your goal should be to accumulate as many example of using those preferred skills as you can.  You should use your employer as calculatingly and coldly as it uses you.  Yes, of course, you have to do what your firm requires.  You want to leave on your terms, not theirs.  But when there is leeway, and there often is for those who ask for it, you may be able to find more opportunities to show off your preferred skills.  Let’s say, for example, that you like counseling or advising, but you’re stuck in document review.  Could you sit in on, or even help with, witness preparation for a deposition?  If you can help counsel a deponent, you can add to your storehouse of experiences using a skill you enjoy.  On a transitional resume, you wouldn’t describe it as “deposition prep.”  You’d use words that a nonlawyer would understand, like “advising executives in preparation for interviews.”  Your colleagues don’t need to know the real reason for your eagerness in seeking out new (and carefully chosen) professional experiences.

Your bank account:  One of the most common reasons to fear leaving the law is the potential, if temporary, loss of income.  Set up a separate “escape fund” to accumulate funds for the swing period between jobs or careers.  Having an account dedicated to your eventual transition may help you feel more secure about making this change.  How and when you direct funds into that account is entirely up to you, but every little bit will make a difference.  If you distract yourself by shopping online, as I used to do when I was unhappy at work, you might consider diverting the money you were planning to spend into your “escape fund.”   Building that fund will do more for your long-term happiness than you might think.

Bonus advice: this week, I had the pleasure of advising an unhappy junior associate on Slate, together with some of my favorite post-law counselors.   I hope you find it useful too.

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