June 28, 2017

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 8): Last Lessons From a Couple Personal Ethos Heroes

Employee-Motivation

 

Last week’s post introduced the concept of personal ethos — your core, essential self, the inner drive that defines you, that will be expressed simply because you are alive on this planet, here and now, doing what you do, for no other reason than that’s what you do. You don’t need motivation to do that. Besides, it’s what you do best, and love doing to boot.

Let’s end this series with a couple sports stories. Bear with me if that’s not your thing, but it’s a nice wrap up.

I once heard an interview in which Michael Jordan’s father said, “God decided to make a perfect basketball player, so he made Michael.” He wasn’t the only one who used that kind of language to describe his son. At the end of the 1986 season, Jordan came back from a broken ankle (too early, risking his career, the experts said) and played only 18 games, then burned the Boston Celtics for 63 points in a playoff game, causing Larry Bird to famously remark,

That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

It was a folksy thing to say. But what if he was right… I mean, really right? What if the sentence could be completed by someone observing your life and saying, “That was God disguised as [your name]”? Where would you find something that strong?

By looking at what you already do. What you’ve always done. What you’re going to do anyway, because that’s what you do, and you love doing it and you’re good at it.

When God decided to make a perfect _______, he made [your name].

I know, it sounds corny, but try it on. Go ahead — it won’t kill you. According to the concept of personal ethos, those bold statements are not a reach for a stress-fueled motivational challenge, they’re facts that come from the essence of who you are, at the level of your deepest, core self.

Tap that, and you can quit making trips to the dry, stressful motivation well. You won’t need it, You will do what you will do, irrepressibly and indomitably. You won’t be able to help it; you won’t want to. That’s what it means to operate from your personal ethos.

Larry-Bird

Sure, you’ll face the challenge of staying focused on individual and collective mission and goals, but you face that challenge already anyway. Only now you’ll face it with more honesty, authenticity, and laser focus. Which means you can expect more explosive results. You’ll become this:

Michael-Jordan

Now, isn’t that a whole lot better than the carrot and stick you’ve been waving around?

If you’re interested in more about personal ethos, I wrote two books about it. Both are available as FREE downloads. For more, click the book covers.

 

Running-for-my-Life

One reader said this: “Running For My Life is a unique and thought provoking read. On the surface it is a story about a man with primary progressive MS reshaping his life through a+ strict diet and extreme exercise regimen. However, if you take the time to explore the pages, you will find that it is really a story about Kevin and about yourself. This book invites you to take a look inwards at your own limitations, and then holds your hand as you figure out how to push past them together.”

 

EthosEthos is a stand-alone version of Book Three of Running For My Life. It is a Personal Ethos Credo — the things I believe about it, and how I practice it.

What’s Up For the New Year

rhodesThe past couple years, this blog has been mostly about profession-wide trends. When it began a few years ago, it focused on personal development. This year, we’re going back to that beginning, with some blurry lines.

Researching law practice trends, I’ve discovered great sources such as Above the Law, The Lawyerist, and The Likeable Lawyer. There’s also mindfulness evangelist Jeena Cho, and law futurist par excellence, Richard Susskind. And right in our own backyard there’s the IAALS (The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System). There are plenty more where those came from.

Knowing that all those sources are out there, doing such a great job at what they do, I’ve grown reluctant to use this blog to simply recycle their material. I recommend them to you if you want to beef up your list of sources with a finger on the pulse of the paradigm shift that’s happening in the legal world these days.

Beyond those law-specific sources, I read and research a lot about creativity and innovation, health and wellbeing, consciousness and personal growth. I’ve noticed that, in the realm of personal development, the genre lines have gotten blurry. Entrepreneurs talk about mindfulness, humanities profs cite quantum physics, and everybody talks about neuroscience, so that now we have all these hyphenated new disciplines: neuro-culture, neuro-anthropology, neuro-biology… I haven’t seen nuero-legal yet, but I’ll bet it’s coming.

The Information Age is serving up a rich cross-fertilization of multi-disciplinary ideas. Entrepreneurial innovation takes cues from artistic creation, business builds itself around social causes, and leadership thought leaders borrow the language of the archetypal inner hero’s journey.

While some groups around the world are darkening into fundamentalist rage, there’s a counter movement that’s waking up moment-by-moment into a bigger, bolder, brighter future that — guess what? — even has lawyers in it.

Imagine that.

No, I mean really. Use your imagination to get your heart and soul around a bigger, bolder, brighter future for lawyers and the law.

Feels pretty good.

That’s where we’re going this year — into that cross-disciplinary brightness. And along the way, because everybody likes a good story, I plan to tell more of them. Many will be my own, and why not? Classic literature has known forever that where we’re most personal we’re also most universal, and I’ve learned to trust that my stories have the same effect. I’ll be honest, I’ve been a reluctant learner on this point, but I think I’m getting it. So we’re going there, too.

That’s what’s up for the new year. But before we go entirely there, I’m going to take the next two weeks to put one final exclamation point on last year’s Future of Law and Culture of Law series, and invite your participation in The Moral of the Story one last time. That’s not entirely a digression, though, because if you accept that invitation, it will become the wildest ride of personal development you could (not) ever imagine.

‘Til then, thanks for reading, and see you next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for over 30 years. Drawing on insights gathered from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, and psychology, and also from his personal experiences as a practicing lawyer and a “life athlete,” he’s on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

The Future of Law (Part One): Beyond the Borg

rhodesWe finished last year talking about the law profession’s cultural ethos, and how new practice models and wellness initiatives are liberating lawyers from its harmful aspects (the Legal Borg). An earlier 2014 series also looked at alternative practice models. Another considered how the law’s cultural ethos can cause stress-induced cognitive impairment and how mindfulness practice can help.

These developments may have sneaked in unnoticed, but now they’ve become the elephant in the room, and it’s time to deal with them. They’re causing a seismic shift in the profession’s ethos, and a new ethos requires a new ethic: i.e., new standards for how to enter the profession and how to behave once you’re in it.

The ABA Journal published a piece on that very topic on New Year’s Day, entitled “Does The UK Know Something We Don’t About Alternative Business Structures?” The article begins as follows:

For two nations sharing a language and legal history, the contrast in the visions at play in the legal systems of the United States and United Kingdom is more than striking. It’s revolutionary.

The debates in the U.S. go on: Should ethics rules blocking nonlawyer ownership of law firms be lifted? Is the current definition of unlicensed law practice harming rather than protecting clients? What about the restrictions on multidisciplinary practices?

And those debates are by no means ending: Witness the newly created ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services. Though ABA President William C. Hubbard does not mention ethics rule changes in the commission’s primary task of identifying the most innovative practices being used in the U.S. to deliver legal services, some of those practices have been questioned as possible ethical breaches. Meanwhile, the rules and restrictions stay in place. The situation in the United Kingdom couldn’t be more different: Such restrictions have largely been lifted, and under the Legal Services Act the creation of new ways of providing legal services—including through alternative business structures—is more than simply permitted; it is actively encouraged.

Nonlawyer ownership of law firms, unlicensed practice, multidisciplinary practice… those are big issues. We’ll let the ABA tackle them. If you’ve been following these issues for awhile, you’ll remember the ABA did just that at their summer convention 17 years ago, and again the following year.

This blog won’t try to keep pace with the pros on that debate’s current version. We will, however, do some guessing of our own about how current trends in law practice and lawyer wellbeing might change not just lawyers and law practice, but our very stock and trade: the law itself. A new cultural ethos in the law will do precisely that. It is already. We’re going to talk about that, and speculate about what it might look like going forward.

According to Wikipedia, futurology is an “attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present.” We’re not going to be systematic here. Instead, we’ll engage in some moderately-well-informed-but-we-don’t-know-what-the-insiders-know curiosity.

Should be fun. So draw the shades and polish up your crystal ball (maybe you prefer this kind, or maybe that) and let’s take a look!

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on exiting the law practice appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His free ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures in leaving the law, and the lessons he learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here.

A collection of Kevin’s blog posts, Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, is now available as an ebook. Click the book title to sample and download it from the distributor’s webpage. It’s also available on from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Amazon, and Scribd. The collection includes Forewords from Debra Austin, author of the Killing Them Softly law journal article which has been featured here, and from Ron Sandgrund, author of The Colorado Lawyer article mentioned above.

You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Saving Ourselves From Ourselves (Part Two): The Borg Isn’t a Personal Problem

“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to serve us.
Resistance is futile.”

rhodesTo recap from last time:

Ethos is “the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community, as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.”

Like any institution, the law profession has its own ethos, manifested in expressed and unspoken beliefs and aspirations that guide our attitudes and behaviors.

What I’m calling the “Legal Borg” (c’mon, we gotta have a little fun every now and then!) is that portion of the law ethos that is responsible for the cognitive- and performance-impairing brain damage we learned about in the Killing Them Softly series, also for lawyers’ high rates of depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.

The Legal Borg is the part of our professional ethos that’s out to get us. It’s stealthy and insidious. It avoids detection not by hiding but by convincing us we’re not seeing what we’re seeing. Or that what we’re seeing isn’t worth the bother.

Take lawyer career dissatisfaction, for example: it’s been on the rise for decades; we know that personally and anecdotally, also from numerous bar association polls and university research studies. Same thing with lawyer psychological distress. The Borg’s response? To convince us — individually and collectively — that these things are a personal problem. Some people just can’t handle the stress. Too bad for them; the rest of us have work to do. If you need help, get it, it’s out there. In the meantime, we don’t like thinking or talking about it, so don’t ask, don’t tell.

Further, if we dare question whether we’re okay with that, the Borg isolates us, labels us aberrant. For example, work-life balance initiatives are all over the legal profession, in bar association initiatives such as this one through the CBA (also summarized in The Colorado Lawyer archives back in 2007 — I wonder whatever happened to it?) and in law firms such as this one (chosen at random — there were too many). Statistically, these initiatives have been largely populated by women, although that is changing. So what does the Borg do? It declares that this is primarily a “women’s issue,” or perhaps a “parents issue,” and creates “alternative” career paths for these outliers. “We’ll accommodate them, but we all know that’s not where the real action is.” So says the Borg.

As for law firms with wellness programs, that’s a California or Europe thing. Not in our house! Besides, you need to be careful with those programs — you can get in trouble if you get carried away.

And so it goes. That’s the Legal Borg working overtime to promote the perception that for everybody but an irrelevant, dissenting few, things in the profession are as they have always been, and we’re all better off that way.

It’s a strategy that’s worked for a long time, but there are signs everyday that that the Borg’s grip is weakening — enough to make you wonder if the tipping point may have already been reached. We looked at one of those signs — an ethical initiative in Ohio — last time. Consider also this description of another Ohio initiative (convened in Columbus the day after I was recently there — darn!): a confab sponsored by the Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism on “Preparing the Leaders of Tomorrow’s Changing Legal Profession.”

That title may be misleading. We may not be talking about “tomorrow” anymore. The future may already be here.

More on that coming up.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on exiting the law practice appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His free ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures in leaving the law, and the lessons he learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here.

A collection of Kevin’s blog posts, Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, is now available as an ebook. Click the book title to sample and download it from the distributor’s webpage. It’s also available on from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Amazon, and Scribd. The collection includes Forewords from Debra Austin, author of the Killing Them Softly law journal article which has been featured here, and from Ron Sandgrund, author of The Colorado Lawyer article mentioned above.

You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Saving Ourselves From Ourselves (Part One): We Are The Borg

“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to serve us.
Resistance is futile.”

rhodesThe Borg is a mass consciousness, an ethos. I Googled “ethos” and here’s what came on top:

Ethos: the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.

The law profession is a culture and community with its own ethos, manifested in both expressed and unspoken rules of belief and aspiration. From the moment we applied to law school, we’ve been giving our implied consent to being assimilated into this ethos. Little did we know it included its own version of the Borg: as we saw in the Killing Them Softly series, our assimilation can result in cognitive- and performance-impairing brain damage.

I spent last week witnessing the legal profession’s Borg Ethos in action as I conducted my “Beyond Burnout” CLE workshop in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. Some attendees found it within themselves to escape assimilation. As one said in his course evaluation, “Today I moved closer to taking the steps I need to take to rediscover the creativity, vigor, and passion which came so naturally before I learned to think like a lawyer.”

Like him, we can save ourselves… if we want to.

The workshops were prompted by a new Ohio CLE mandate for instruction in “mental health issues.” Ohio also requires instruction in not just the Rules of Professional Conduct but also the Ohio “Lawyer’s Creed” and “Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals.” Those requirements contain some fascinating anti-assimilation provisions.

Consider for example this excerpt from The Lawyer’s Creed:

To my colleagues in the practice of law, I offer concern for your reputation and well-being.

And this one from The Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals:

As to my colleagues in the practice of law, I shall aspire . . . to offer you assistance with your personal and professional needs.

Amazing. Ohio lawyers have an ethical duty to be concerned for the well-being of fellow lawyers, and to offer assistance with their personal needs — such as helping each other to not be assimilated by the legal profession’s Borg Ethos.

This goes way beyond Model Rule 8.3, the Colorado version of which says we must report something that “raises a substantial question as to [another] lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.” In my legal ethics class, we called this the “Rat-On Rule,” and we all knew we would never do that. That’s how the Borg Ethos works: it sucks us in, detaches our normal sensibilities — even the evolutionary survival parts of our brains that instinctively want to look out for the safety and well-being of the other members of our tribe. By contrast, Ohio has made this duty to care explicit.

Truly amazing. When we see a duty to care appearing in CLE ethics requirements, we know that the winds of change are truly blowing in our profession. We’re going to hoist our sail to them in this series. To prepare, we do well to follow the advice the shrunken head on the Knight Bus in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban:

“Fasten your safety belts, clench your buttocks! It’s going be a bumpy ride!”

Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. If you enjoy reading this blog and would like to contribute a blurb to Kevin’s upcoming collection of these posts, please email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

A collection of Kevin’s blog posts, Enlightenment, Apocalypse, and Other States of Mind, is now available as an ebook. Click the link to sample and download it from the distributor’s webpage. (Soon to be available on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Scribd.) Includes Forewords from Debra Austin, author of the Killing Them Softly law journal article, and from Ron Sandgrund, author of an article on lawyers exiting the law in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer, in which Kevin was interviewed.

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part II: The Interviews: Tony Turrini—Changing Course, Pursuing Fulfillment

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the fourth part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for Part 1, click here for Part 2, and click here for Part 3.

Sandgrund-TurriniBy Ronald M. Sandgrund, Esq., InQ.

InQ: How old were you when you first felt that practicing law was what you wanted do for a career?

Tony: I was 20 years old.

InQ: How old were you when you started practicing law full-time?

Tony: I started practicing law full-time at 24, and I practiced full-time for roughly seven years. I did legal work as part of my job for another twenty-five years.

InQ: When did you first start thinking about exiting the full-time practice of law?

Tony: I began having second thoughts about full-time private practice when I was 26 or 27. I really didn’t enjoy being a hired gun and felt like I was spending way too much time sitting behind a desk. I was in private practice for only a couple of years before I decided I’d rather go count elk or caribou in the woods.

InQ: Did you develop any sort of plan at that point—whether to count elk, caribou, or some other critters?

Tony: I realized that my law degree and undergraduate degree in English literature were not going to be particularly helpful if I wanted to pursue a new career in wildlife management. I decided to go back to the University of Colorado and get a master’s degree in biology. I thought I could get the degree in eighteen months. It ended up taking closer to two years.

InQ: Did any obstacles to your plan crop up?

Tony: My wife, who was working full-time, was pregnant with our first child. Money was a little tight and I took a couple of part-time clerking jobs. As a former practitioner, it was relatively easy to find part-time work. To stay within a two-year time frame, I earned a master’s of basic science, which was a less prestigious and less useful degree than a master’s in wildlife biology.

InQ: What strategies did you employ to manage these obstacles?

Tony: I was very, very nice to my wife.

InQ: Always a good strategy. At any point did you think about reversing course?

Tony: I didn’t have any second thoughts about returning to school. I thoroughly enjoyed the course work and appreciated the learning experience in a way I hadn’t in law school or as an undergraduate. Although I didn’t reverse course, I did alter it. When I graduated with the MBS, I found that while I was qualified for entry-level positions in wildlife management, many potential employers were interested in me primarily because I was a lawyer with a science degree. I also realized, belatedly, that law school and private practice had ruined me as a scientist. I wasn’t going to be satisfied simply collecting data; I wanted to apply the information in some way. Apparently, once an advocate, always an advocate. Eventually, I accepted a position as legal counsel for National Wildlife Federation’s Prairie Wetlands Resource Center in Bismarck, North Dakota. This was the beginning of a wonderful twenty-six years in the nonprofit world.

So, I didn’t reverse course, but I did make a few course corrections. After transferring to National Wildlife Federation’s Alaska office, I became the regional director in 1997. After eleven years with the organization, I was ready for a change, and the director position involved different responsibilities. Seven years later, I arranged to swap jobs with one of our staff attorneys. As senior attorney, I was able to work on specific projects and reduce my hours.

InQ: Did you eventually leave the practice of law completely?

Tony: I went part-time in 2013 and retired earlier this year.

InQ: Some say that the biggest hurdles to changing one’s career path are a lack of imagination, fear, and finances—what do you think?

Tony: I’ve never had any problem filling my time or imagining life without a full-time job. After working most of my career at a nonprofit, I also know that there are many good organizations looking for volunteers. Money was a factor in the timing of my retirement. I waited until I thought my wife and I could maintain our current lifestyle and tried not to let “what ifs” affect my judgment too much.

InQ: How much did finances affect your decision to retire?

Tony: I wouldn’t have considered retirement before paying for my children’s college education. It’s probably a little too soon to tell if our financial analysis was correct—we haven’t run out of money yet!

InQ: How did your significant other react when you were exploring options other than the full-time practice of law? Did any tensions arise within your family?

Tony: My wife was very supportive—except when I suggested I could get a really good job if I went back to school for a doctorate! Ultimately, my wife had veto authority over many of the more significant career choices I made, but fortunately she never exercised it. I didn’t really experience any tensions, and I was fortunate in being able to phase out of full-time active practice. It was really a pretty easy transition.

InQ: You are only 56. How are you filling your new-found time?

Tony: I have a lot of interests that are now limited only by the threat of repetitive stress injuries. So far, I haven’t felt the need to find new hobbies to fill the time. At some point, I plan on doing something more productive, but right now I’m just relaxing and enjoying life.

InQ: What does your wife think of you playing all the time while she is still working? Has your share of the domestic chores increased?

Tony: She thinks I’m working from home. Just kidding. My wife retires in November. In the meantime, I’m doing most of the household chores and trying not to look like I’m enjoying myself too much.

InQ:

Tony: I wouldn’t do anything differently.

InQ: How happy were you when practicing law full-time and how happy are you now?

Tony: For most of my career, I was very happy. The last few years, I was ready for something new. I’m very happy now. Change is good.

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part II: The Interviews: Walter Kingsbery—Stepping Back From Full-Time to Pursue Other Passions

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the third part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2.

Sandgrund-KingsberyBy Ronald M. Sandgrund, Esq., InQ.

InQ: Walter, how old were you when you first felt that practicing law was what you wanted do as a career? How old were you when you first had serious thoughts about exiting the full-time practice of law? What prompted this change in your thinking?

Walter: When I went to law school I was unsure what I would do with my law degree. After law school I worked as a lawyer, but not until I turned 30 and moved to Boulder to practice with my brother did I first began to feel that practicing law was what I would do as a career. I worked full-time for twenty-four years; then part time, about three days per week, for eleven years; and since January 2014, I have been “of counsel” with no set office hours.

I’ve thought about the ability to exit full-time work (whether the practice of law or any other job) since I was in high school. My father impressed on me the benefit of putting oneself in an economic position such that you could work because you wanted to, not because you had to, so that has always been at least in the back of my mind. Also, I have always had many interests other than the practice of law, and I have sought to balance time spent working with time spent on other activities throughout my career.

I have always had the desire to work less than full-time, and I have maintained a modest lifestyle and saved money to allow me to do so. I started making concrete plans to exit the practice of law when I was 44, when I took a year off from my practice. At the time, I thought that it was unlikely that I would return to the full-time practice of law. After my year off, however, my thought process changed and I began focusing on creating a firm structure that would let me continue to practice law—which I realized I enjoyed—but not have to do so full-time. I wanted to have time to pursue my other interests so that the practice of law would be less stressful and more fulfilling.

InQ: What do you think were the key aspects of your developing a plan to accomplish these goals?

Walter: A key part of my planning was simply having an awareness that my economic and lifestyle choices affected how much I had to work, and that if I wanted to work less than full-time, I needed to make choices that would allow me to afford to do so. Beyond that, I’m not sure that I so much as had a plan as that I recognized the choices that were presented to me that would mean less time practicing law versus more time practicing law. So, the process was more recognizing the direction I wanted to take my law practice and making choices that took me in that direction when the opportunity arose, as opposed to actively seeking choices to implement a specific plan. I was fortunate that things fell into place!

InQ: How long did you expect your plan would take to implement?

Walter: If I remember correctly (which I probably don’t), I started to talk about retiring by age 40. My plan changed over time. As I mentioned, I took a year off at age 44, thinking that it might lead to retiring from the practice of law. But I learned that I liked much of what I did as a lawyer, and changed my objectives to focus on structuring a practice where I did more of what I liked to do and less of what I did not, and on balancing work and non-work time. I felt like I largely achieved those objectives six years later, when I reduced my work time commitment to three days a week. About ten years later, I decided that I needed more time to pursue non-work activities, and began my current “of counsel” position. I did not leave the practice of law completely because I still enjoy the work and had the opportunity to continue to practice in a very flexible environment.

InQ: What sort of obstacles cropped up, if any, impeding the plan’s implementation?

Walter: There is always pressure to work more, either because that is what you are supposed to do, or because of uncertainty about whether you need the income from working. In fact, getting to a financial position where you don’t need the income from working is a significant obstacle for most of us. Otherwise, I would say the impediments were more lack of opportunities than obstacles. I was fortunate to be in the type of practice (estate planning) and with the type of firm and partners that allowed me to be more flexible in structuring my work environment. Many attorneys don’t have that opportunity. At no time did I think about reversing course, but as I have noted, my course was altered by things I learned about myself.

InQ: Some say that the biggest obstacle to distancing oneself from the full-time practice of the law is the inability to imagine what life would be like not practicing law full-time. Others say it is a fear of not being able to fill up the time. Still others say it is a fear of not having enough money later in life? How did these factors affect your thinking?

Walter: The first two did not affect my thinking at all. For those who do worry about those things, maybe working part-time should be their objective if they still enjoy legal practice. The third factor—financial considerations—is something I had to get comfortable with before I reduced my income. I have some financial background and low expenses, so I felt competent to determine how much money I needed to save to retire. Others might need the assistance of a financial advisor to make this determination.

InQ: How did your significant other react while you were exploring options other than the full-time practice of law?

Walter: She rolled her eyes and told me I should get on with it. She made it clear that I should do what I wanted. And, she did not try to exercise any sort of veto power over my choices that I was realistically considering.

InQ: Did any tensions arise between you and others, including co-workers, as a result of you retreating from the full-time practice of law? How did you manage them?

Walter: I would not call them tensions, but there was definitely a need to negotiate with my law partners regarding the appropriate structure of and compensation for my part-time practice. It was very important to me that my partners felt that my deal was fair to them and to the firm.

InQ: What sort of activities have you embraced to fill the time you formerly devoted to the full-time practice of law? How satisfying have those activities been and have you run into any unexpected issues arising from engaging in them?

Walter: I’m still in transition from my three-day-a-week schedule to my “show up when I want/need to” schedule. So far, I have been spending my new-found time on outdoor activities, reading, managing some family investments, movies, socializing, and relaxing. So far, everything’s good.

InQ: During your decision-making and decision-implementing process, what mistakes, if any, do you feel you made?

Walter: My mistakes were more a lack of self-awareness that caused me to pursue the wrong objectives. It took me a while—and taking a year off from practicing law—to realize that I enjoyed and got a lot of satisfaction from my practice, and that it would be very difficult to duplicate that through some other activity. At about the same time, I realized that I did not want to get a job doing what I like to do for fun, but instead wanted my job to provide the freedom to do fun things. My goal became structuring my law practice so I could spend less time on work I did not find satisfying, which in turn allowed me to spend more time doing the non-work things I enjoyed. Looking back, I can’t think of anything I would do differently. I’ve enjoyed the evolution of my career, and the process of figuring out what I want to be doing and how to get to the position so I can do it. And that process will just continue from here.

InQ: What assumptions did you make that turned out to be mostly or wholly incorrect?

Walter: The assumption that I wanted to retire completely from the practice of law.

InQ: How happy were you when practicing law full-time? How happy are you now?

Walter: When I was practicing law full-time, I was happy, but recognized that my life was not as well balanced as I would like it to be. I was very happy to begin working three days a week, and I am very happy now.

InQ: How much did financial considerations influence your decision to retreat from the full-time practice of law?

Walter: I needed to be comfortable with my financial position before I retreated from the full-time practice of law, and financial security allowed me to retreat from the full-time practice, but it was not the reason I retreated.

InQ: In retrospect, did you give financial considerations too much, too little, or just the right amount of weight?

Walter: I gave financial considerations a lot of weight in my decision-making process, and I think that was about the right amount. If I was not able to support myself, I would not have given up the income from the full-time practice of law. So, it was a necessary condition for me to be able to execute my exit strategy. However, I continue to practice law even though I no longer need the income from doing so. Basically, financial security lets you make choices based on what you want to do, not based on what people will pay you to do. I think maintaining a debt-free standard of living that you can easily support gives you tremendous flexibility in structuring a satisfying work environment. To me, being able to work because you want to, and not because you have to, is a great position to be in.

InQ: How, if at all, did having children affect your decision-making process?

Walter: Not having children was part of my decision-making process. I don’t think any of us can have it all.

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part II

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the first part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. 

SandgrundBy Ronald M. Sandgrund, Esq., InQ.

Introduction to Part II of the Dialogue

This two-part article discusses an issue nearly all lawyers must confront during their careers: developing and deploying an exit strategy. This can mean exiting one area of practice for another; transitioning from the law to a different endeavor; accommodating the demands of raising a family; and slowing down or retiring near the end of one’s career. The article explores the issue through the eyes of two groups of lawyers: the first group transitioned from the day-to-day practice of law to a different job; the second group sought to reduce their hours on the road to retirement. The story of every lawyer I spoke to is different, but the moral of those stories is the same: there are better exit strategies than death.

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part II

As the Eagles sing in “Already Gone”: “So often in time it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key,”[1] and in “Lyin’ Eyes,” that “[e]very form of refuge has its price.”[2] Even so, they implore in “Desperado” that while “[i]t may be raining . . . there’s a rainbow above you.”[3] In sum, there is a key to that door marked “Exit,” and behind that door may be something quite fabulous.

None of the lawyers I interviewed found a foolproof recipe for exiting the full-time practice of law. For each, it was dynamic process, learning as they went along. It seems that the keys to their succeeding were: (1) recognizing that a change was necessary to stay or become content; (2) visualizing their world after they had made such a change; (3) creating and implementing a plan to effect this change; and (4) communicating clearly to those around them their desire for change.

[1] From “Already Gone,” by the Eagles, words by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund (1974). Having grown up in the 1970s and 1980s, I am most familiar with the Eagles’ lyrics, but every generation’s music seems to repeat their themes.

[2] From “Lyin’ Eyes,” by the Eagles, words by Don Henley and Glenn Frey (1975).

[3] From “Desperado,” by the Eagles, words by Don Henley and Glenn Frey (1973).

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part I: The Interviews: Jaimee Reed—Getting Out, Starting Over

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the final part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for the introduction, click here for an interview with Kyle Velte, click here for an interview with Roxanne Jensen, and click here for an interview with Kevin Rhodes.

Sandgrund-ReedBy Ronald M. Sandgrund, Esq., InQ.

InQ.: Jaimee, how old were you when you first felt that practicing law was what you wanted do as a career? How old were you when you first had serious thoughts about exiting the full-time practice of law? What prompted this change in your thinking?

Jaimee: I was a 22-year-old college junior when I started thinking about a legal career, and I was 27 when I started thinking of leaving full-time practice. I first had serious thoughts about exiting full-time when I was 33. I had a baby that year and my perspective changed, so I started thinking about different ways to use my law degree.

InQ.: Did you eventually leave the practice of law completely?

Jaimee: Yes, and it was a smooth transition. My clients were very supportive, as were my co-workers. It was a positive experience all around. I stayed at home for a couple of years before I decided to pursue a career as an insurance broker, which required passing a licensing exam. My husband had been in the insurance industry for many years, so I was already familiar with and interested in the field, and it was a natural transition for me.

InQ.: At any point in the process of implementing your plan, did you think about reversing course?

Jaimee: No. I enjoyed my new career and I liked the quality of life. For me, leaving the practice of law was about quality of life and being able to spend a lot of time with my family.

InQ.: Some say that the biggest obstacle to retreating from the full-time practice of the law is the inability to imagine what life would be like not practicing law full-time. Others say it is a fear of not being able to fill the time. Others say it is a fear of not having enough money later in life. What do you think of each of these suggested impediments and how, if at all, did they affect your thinking?

Jaimee: I did wonder whether I would miss the practice of law because, for many years, that’s what I did and that’s who I was—it defined me. But, after I stopped practicing, staying at home with my child really changed my perspective on life and what really matters—being engaged with and raising my kids was very important to me. I now have time for my family, networking events (which I love!), helping in my community, and volunteering, all while still working. I think some people who have known me a long time were shocked because I was a natural “lawyer”—even as a child. I promised them I would keep my license active in case they needed any free legal advice!

InQ.: How did your significant other react during the course of your exploring options other than the full-time practice of law?

Jaimee: He was extremely supportive and wanted me to find something I truly enjoyed. His only advice was to find something I would enjoy doing day in and day out. Period.

InQ.: How happy were you when practicing law full-time? How happy are you now?

Jaimee: Before I had children, I wasn’t unhappy practicing law. When I was practicing criminal law, I had a great time. All of us then were young and childless. When I transitioned to the civil side and started a family, things changed. I wouldn’t say I was unhappy necessarily, but I wasn’t fulfilled. I am very happy now.

InQ.: How much did financial considerations influence your decision to retreat from the full-time practice of law?

Jaimee: It was a concern, but it came down to the fact that I had to make a decision and prioritize my life. In making my decision, I think I gave financial considerations just the right amount of weight.

InQ.: Do you ever feel you wasted time and money on a law school education?

Jaimee: Not really—law school and my experience practicing law gave me valuable skills—such as negotiating and reasoning—that were helpful, as well as “people skills.” Also, my knowledge as a former litigator that other insurance brokers do not have helps me navigate the field. I value the education I received and the transferable skills I’ve honed over the years.

InQ.: If you knew back in college what you know now about yourself and the practice of law, would you still have gone to law school?

Jaimee: Well, I met my husband while in law school, so I would definitely do it all over again!

Conclusion

Even though each of these dialogues and those appearing in Part II are merely vignettes among the many stories lawyers have to tell about exploring exit strategies in their own lives, some commonalities emerge. First, to paraphrase something former CBA President Mark Fogg said, “Marry well,” which I think is simply a shorthand way of saying, if you have a significant other in your life, he or she needs to share your life’s vision and support your efforts to achieve fulfillment. Second, “Don’t live large,” meaning moderate your accumulation of material things and unnecessary debt, so that you have greater freedom to change your trajectory, reprioritize your life, and find greater happiness.

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part I: The Interviews: Kevin Rhodes—Exit Strategies Galore

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the fourth part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for the introduction,click here for an interview with Kyle Velte, click here for an interview with Roxanne Jensen, and stay tuned for more interviews.

Sandgrund-RhodesBy Ronald M. Sandgrund, Esq., InQ.

InQ.: Kevin, how old were you when you first felt that practicing law was what you wanted do as a career?

Kevin: When I was 31, I entered my final year of a JD/MBA program. I had this idea I wouldn’t practice law, but that I would use the joint degree in business. However, the market for newly minted MBAs had dried up, while the market for new lawyer hires was robust, so I took the path of least resistance and joined a law firm. I was about 32 when I first felt that practicing law was the career for me. I practiced law full-time for twenty-two years, and I had a hand in it for another six years after that—once a lawyer always a lawyer.

InQ.: How old were you when you first gave serious thought to how to exit the full-time practice of law?

Kevin: I’ve made three exits from the practice.

InQ.: Three! Many people don’t have the time or energy for even one. Tell me more.

Kevin: The first was a little over a year after I started, at age 33. The work was new and intellectually stimulating, but the realities of law firm life were a shock. At the time, I also felt tugged-at by a religious renewal experience. All this was personally disorienting. I needed space, so I quit. During the following year, I drifted for a few months, and then took a job as a road warrior management consultant with a Big 4 accounting firm. I was hired to work in corporate finance, but that market vanished with the crash of 1987, and I was shifted to accounting projects I knew nothing about and had no interest in. At the end of the year, I really couldn’t think of what else to do, so I hung out my shingle.

The second exit was eight years later, at age 40. I’d spent the years since my initial exit first as a solo, then with a large firm, and then back as a solo. This time, I left to respond to what I considered to be a call into the ministry. I transferred the practice to another lawyer. A year-and-a-half later, it was obvious ministry wasn’t where I belonged. I had been working part-time for a large firm. They took on a giant family business succession case and needed to staff up, so they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I went back to full-time. The first month back I billed 250 hours.

The third exit was fourteen years later at age 54. I’d gotten my religious zealot days out of my system, and I’d made peace with the practice, first in a large firm and then founding a small boutique estate planning and business succession firm of my own. I’d just finished my best year ever in terms of both money and satisfying work. I’d brought in a partner who was handling the regular caseload, and I was working on larger, more complex cases, often co-counseling with lawyers from large firms. I also was putting three kids through college. On the surface, life was good.

But something was rotten in Denmark. Despite external success, on the inside I was becoming increasingly angry and cynical. I was alarmed at my state of mind. My wife and I talked about it, and I vowed to stop being such a pain. Then, two days later, I was in the hospital after a nasty ski accident that laid me up for a couple months. About the time I was rehabbed, I had a “creative visitation” one afternoon, and was suddenly and unexpectedly inspired to produce an all-original multimedia stage spectacle.

InQ.: Did they check you for a head injury while you were in the hospital?

Kevin: (smiling) As a matter of fact they did! Apparently not enough! I realize all this sounds crazy, and in fact maybe it was. Suddenly getting inspired to do a show is maybe no big deal if you’re in showbiz, but I wasn’t. I was a lawyer. I had no background in theater. The whole thing was nuts, and I went nuts over it.

InQ.: So, when did you first make concrete plans to finally and truly exit the practice of law?

Kevin: Well, first I spent a couple months developing the show and trying to find someone to produce it, but when no one would, I decided to do it myself. Soon, I was working full-time on it. It was not fair to let my law partner carry the whole practice load, so I proposed to her that she buy me out, and she agreed. I believe our total time framework for the transition and buyout was maybe three years. I was 54 and I decided, finally, to stop being a lawyer.

InQ.: Did you develop any sort of plan as far as how to accomplish this goal?

Kevin: I had a substantial business succession law practice. I had done that kind of work for scores of clients, I had written about it, and I given talks and seminars for clients and other professionals. I knew exactly what to do, and my law partner and I put our deal in writing. It was all very congenial, efficient, professional, and thorough, and the plan went together in short order. Little did I know, though, that I was about to get a whole new education in business succession planning: there are so many non-rational, non-legal issues involved—emotions, sense of identity, motivations, etcetera. I believed I was better than most at addressing these “soft” issues, but my personal experience was headed for territory with which I was unfamiliar and that I hadn’t personally experienced before—a whole new psychological realm. I never really appreciated ahead of time the enormity of the task.

InQ.: Hmm, so was Abraham Lincoln right—”He who represents himself has a fool for a client”?

Kevin: (smiling) Guilty as charged.

InQ.: How long did it actually take you to implement your exit strategy?

Kevin: After I took my last partner draw (more than normal, as a sort of down payment), there wasn’t much left to do. My partner was in charge, and I was already mostly disengaged from the practice. We agreed I would be available as needed, which turned out to be not very much. This all happened within the space of maybe a few months.

InQ.: At any point in the process of implementing your plan, did you think about reversing course?

Kevin: It was only a matter of months before my former partner was struggling to make the payments on the buyout note. She approached me and said, “It’s just not working and I can’t sleep at night.” It was clear to me that our plan had fallen victim to a set of false assumptions. We talked and strategized, had a lot of heart-to-heart conversations. One of my proposed solutions would have negated my exit and her buyout, and brought me back into the practice. After a few more months, we reversed the course of our deal, but not my exit from the practice. We agreed that the large draw I’d taken plus the amounts she’d paid on the promissory note were enough. We revised our buyout contract to lower the price and renegotiated the note so the purchase price was paid in full. That cleaned up the buyout, but left me without an income when I was already hemorrhaging cash developing the show. There were of course lots of other ways we could have handled it, but frankly, I didn’t care enough to reach for them. By the time this was happening, we had completed a successful sneak preview event of the show, and I was pushing toward a premier later that year. My ties to the law practice were a distraction, so I cut them.

InQ.: And then?

Kevin: As it turned out, a few months after we renegotiated our deal, the show crashed and burned, and took most of my life’s savings with it. I grieved over the show’s demise for a month or so, and then began working on starting up a new solo practice from scratch. I wanted to honor the exit I’d made, and didn’t want to compete with my former practice, which had stabilized and returned to profitability. I talked to my former partner about my plans, and it was clear I wasn’t needed or wanted back.

InQ.: And then?

Kevin: A month later, that effort was cut short by a second accident, with injuries much worse than the first. I would be laid up for several more months. It was the perfect storm—personally, professionally, financially—you name it.

InQ.: Holy mackerel! It sounds like a visit to purgatory.

Kevin: That was five-and-a-half years ago. Since then, I periodically tested the waters regarding a return to the practice. In the meantime, my new life outside law kept morphing, and I kept following it, to see where it might lead.

InQ.: A lack of imagination, worries about what one will do, and financial concerns appear to be thebiggest obstacles to escaping the full-time practice of the law. What do you think?

Kevin: Not being able to imagine what life would be like not practicing law full-time was never a factor: after my first two exits, I thought I was a lifer, and I hadn’t considered getting out again until the moment the show seized me so completely that I just had to do it. I never had time to imagine life after law; I just dove into it. As far as being afraid not to fill the time, again, this was never a factor. Once I started the show, it was all-consuming, and I figured I’d be in showbiz the rest of my life. And, as far as being afraid of not having enough money later in life, this also was never a factor, although in hindsight it’s easy to say it should have been! But, at the time, I really never considered it.

InQ.: How did your significant other react during your odyssey?

Kevin: My wife watched me act like a man possessed those first two or three months as I was moving into show production, and then she sat me down one day and said, “I don’t really understand what’s come over you, but I like the new person you’ve become. You’re so much happier! This is obviously going to be one amazing adventure, and I don’t want to be left out of it. So, I’m all the way in with you.” Amazing, isn’t it, to think of her saying that? Since then, we’ve traveled every inch of this long, strange trip together. She’s had immeasurable influence on my plans. There’s just too much here to tell!

InQ.: Did any tensions arise between you and others, including your children, co-workers, and significant other, as a result of retreating from the full-time practice of law? How did you manage them?

Kevin: There were several tensions of this nature, but I didn’t “manage” any of them. I did my best; sometimes it was good enough, sometimes it wasn’t. I had the best intentions, but you can’t do what I did and not leave some people behind. There was hurt, for me and others. I definitely stressed my law partner and my long-time administrative assistant by disengaging from the practice and then getting out the way I did. I did lose some friendships with clients who had become friends and with some fellow professionals. My path was at first a curiosity, and even a cause of envy, but after a while I became irrelevant. They moved on, and so did I. My wife was also stressed at first, but then she jumped in with both feet. My kids, on the other hand, loved what I was doing. It was exciting to have a dad who was bucking the system and going for it in a big way, and they were proud of me. As for my extended family, frankly we didn’t tell them much—not out of deception, but self-preservation. They came to know in time. They’ve never understood things the way we’ve seen them. Not really.

InQ.: What sort of activities have you embraced to fill the time you formerly devoted to the full-time practice of law, and how satisfying have those activities been?

Kevin: Even though the show bombed, I wanted to go deeper into expressing its life-affirming message. I tried doing this via screenwriting for a couple of years, but finally decided that maybe I’m not the creative genius I’d like to be. Mostly, I’ve invested a lot of self-examination, research, reading, conversations, and other investigations into trying to understand what happened to me during my exit from the practice, and what that means not just for me but also for all those lawyers out there for whom the practice of law has become an empty, unhappy, or even toxic place. Maybe they’d like to enhance their law careers, or maybe they’d like to get out. I wanted to know if what I’ve learned might help them.

InQ.: What did you do to turn those thoughts into action?

Kevin: I started keeping a journal, which eventually became a book (Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, just released, and available on Amazon) about my misadventures and lessons learned regarding the dynamics of change, creativity, personal transformation, following our dreams, etcetera. I write a blog on those topics for the CBA, and have also designed and conducted several workshops on those topics for lawyer, law student, and non-lawyer audiences.

InQ.: Anything else?

Kevin: Besides the workshops and blogging, I’m now a mentor through the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP initiative, have done some career and law practice coaching, and have conducted workshops for the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group and at Denver Law. This was one of the reasons I re-hung my shingle last year. I thought that, by returning to “insider” status, I might have a more credible voice in the profession. All of those activities have been highly satisfying.

InQ.: You re-hung your shingle? Going for the record for exit strategies are we? Tell me, during your previous three exits, what mistakes, if any do you feel you made?

Kevin: I’ve reached the point in my life where I don’t think of things as mistakes. It’s always tempting to look backward with regret, and calling things “mistakes” fuels that temptation, so I try to avoid it. On the other hand, I will say that if acting unreasonably is a mistake, then I made countless mistakes in how I went about leaving the practice. And, if having blind spots is also a mistake, then I’ve made even more. As for acting unreasonably, I’ll admit that making a sudden jump from a successful long-term law practice into the unknown waters of showbiz was unreasonable, by any measure. It wasn’t a reasonable thing to do when I did it, and it’s still not reasonable in the bright light of hindsight. The list of my lack of qualifications was so long, it wasn’t even embarrassing—it was just insane.

InQ.: What, if anything, would you do differently?

Kevin: It’s tempting to say, “Well, I wouldn’t ruin my career by doing something so crazy.” or “I would have gotten coaching help.” or “I should have seen a shrink.” But really, the truth is, I can’t say what I would do differently. So, you go forward, because to look backward is just more crazy-making. As a friend of mine says, “The trouble with blind spots is you can’t see them.”

InQ.: What assumptions did you make that turned out to be mostly or wholly incorrect?

Kevin: For one thing, I assumed the practice would go humming along as robustly after I left as it had while I was still fully engaged in it. As a result, I totally underestimated how my absence would affect cash flow. Without me present, there just wasn’t as much work generated. At its height in the late ’90s, the firm had been bigger, but by the time I left, it was a two-lawyer operation.

InQ.: How happy were you when practicing law full-time? How happy are you now?

Kevin: After all this, one thing that’s changed for me is that I have a different perspective on the topic of happiness than I ever did before. For the first decade or so of my law career, my attitude was often something like, “The practice of law is making me unhappy,” or “I am unhappy practicing law.”

InQ.: And now?

Kevin: Now, I think, “I was an unhappy person for much of the time I was practicing law.” I think you can see the difference. The former put the problem outside me; the latter sees the problem looking back at me from the mirror. Then, in the second and into the third decades of my law career, it was easy for me to look at the external trappings of my practice success and think they equated with happiness; that is, this outlook locates happiness in external circumstances. It says, “Gee, that guy is successful. He must be happy.” The fallacy is obvious when you say it that bluntly, but that was another of my blind spots. Now, simply put, I’ve come to believe that happiness is mostly an inside job; you don’t get it by reference to externals, but by finding it within.

InQ.: In retrospect, did you give financial considerations too much, too little, or just the right amount of weight?

Kevin: I think it would be fair to say that, measured on the scale of reasonable behavior, as I’ve described previously, I blew the financial issues royally. Measured on the scale of things like inspiration and personal awakening and awareness, you get a whole different read on it. My exit from the law—

InQ.: Exits?

Kevin: —exits from the law, ended up costing me everything except my family and closest friends. What did I get in return? Well, for starters, I felt I got my soul back, plus a whole new understanding and outlook on life, plus new relationships with my family and old friends, and a whole bunch of new friends to boot. And like I said, that’s just for starters.

InQ.: How, if at all, did having children affect your decision-making process?

Kevin: Not at all.

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part I: The Interviews: Roxanne Jensen—Balancing Work and Family While Staying Engaged and Challenged

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the third part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for the introduction, click here for an interview with Kyle Velte, and stay tuned for more interviews.

Sandgrund-JensenBy Ronald M. Sandgrund, Esq., InQ.

InQ.: Roxanne, how old were you when you first felt that practicing law was what you wanted do as a career? How old were you when you first had serious thoughts about exiting the full-time practice of law? What prompted this change in your thinking?

Roxanne: I first thought I wanted to practice law when I was 22, and I started practicing full-time at 25. I continued to practice full-time until I was 38, when I had my first child. At 42, I had my third child and recognized that my firm’s international law practice was changing, becoming highly specialized, and that significant travel was required to put the right person in the right place at the right time for the clients. I thought I would try to find a way to regulate my work schedule more significantly, perhaps by teaming with lawyers who could handle a more significant travel load.

InQ.: So, what happened?

Roxanne: At some point, after having three kids, I simply realized that for our family, I needed to be more present. Although every family is different, my kids needed me to commit to a career path that would require less travel. My law practice at Morrison & Foerster absolutely and justifiably required significant travel responsibilities. My initial plan was to do contract work for lawyers until the kids were a bit older. I was able to start doing contract work pretty much right away, mostly for my former law partners.

InQ.: How did that go?

Roxanne: The plan worked, but I wasn’t satisfied without having more entrepreneurial, creative input into my work. So, I started looking around for a more committing framework, with less travel obligations—something more focused and sustained than project work, with long-term goals, and seeing matters or ideas through to completion. Contract work often doesn’t fill that need. Meanwhile, I missed practice in Big Law terribly—and I still miss it. The quality of practice and the caliber of my colleagues were unmatched. I’ll never find more fulfillment in a job than I did at Morrison & Foerster, including my several years as its Denver managing partner. I thought many times about re-engaging in the practice, but I knew the travel obligations would overwhelm me and my family.

InQ.: It seems that you gave some thought to reversing course; did you do so?

Roxanne: No, I didn’t, but I changed course again to find something more committing. In 2007, I left the practice of law and joined a national legal recruiting firm, to start their division for Lateral Partners and Firm Mergers. I grew that division very profitably. However, over time, I recognized that adding owners to law firms was not a staffing issue, but a strategic one. I exited the recruiting world to join the consulting world in 2011. I currently own EvolveLaw, a strategic consulting LLC, helping law firms set and execute growth strategies (including mergers and acquisitions) and refine their business models in a changing and challenging legal services marketplace. I also am a managing director with Catapult Growth Partners, a professional services consulting group that provides strategic planning, business development, and executive recruiting services.

InQ.: Some obstacles that lawyers face when retreating from full-time practice include not being able to imagine life not practicing law full-time, fearing not being able to fill the time, and dreading not having enough money. What do you think of each of these suggested impediments?

Roxanne: For me, there are always creative professional possibilities; I’ve never felt limited to practicing law, or concerned about how to fill my time. Being valued financially and professionally is important, so of course I have felt some need to use my gifts and experience well to serve and be compensated appropriately.

InQ.: How did your significant other react during the course of you exploring options other than the full-time practice of law?

Roxanne: Despite being by nature somewhat less entrepreneurial than I, my spouse has been fabulously supportive while I’ve remade myself professionally.

InQ.: Did any tensions arise between you and others, including your children, co-workers, and significant other, as a result of you withdrawing from the full-time practice of law?

Roxanne: No.

InQ.: Looking back, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Roxanne: I would think more entrepreneurially and creatively right away, instead of “ramping down” my practice by doing contract work.

InQ.: What assumptions did you make that turned out to be mostly or wholly incorrect?

Roxanne: I assumed my highest and best use would be in legal practice, when my training and gifts were in fact suited for a broad range of possibilities.

InQ.: How happy were you when practicing law full-time versus how happy are you now?

Roxanne: I loved the practice of law; but I’m also very happy now, using my many years of practice and management and my strategic thinking skills to help firms position well in the market.

InQ.: How much did financial considerations influence your decision to retreat from the full-time practice of law?

Roxanne: Not at all.

6 Ways To Overcome Fear of Failure

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the ALPS 411 blog on August 11, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

SusanCartierLiebelBy Susan Cartier Liebel

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone ~ Neale Donald Walsh

We’ve all been there. We are so morbidly afraid to fail. So afraid, in fact, we find ourselves paralyzed and simply can’t take the next step forward. Not one. And when it comes to starting a solo practice or taking on a legal matter one grade level above our expertise or leaving the Big Law job you hate, you name it, it can cripple us and severely limit our futures.

This fear is quite possibly the single strongest force holding people down far below their professional and personal potential. In a crazy world full of uncertainty, a roller coaster economy, the myriad of unexpected disasters that could happen to anyone at any time, isn’t it easy to see why most people will take the safest route possible, the tried and true?

But this is where the joke is on us: playing it safe has risk as well. If you never give yourself permission to fail, your success in life will have clear self-imposed limits. Most people grossly underestimate their recuperative powers if they don’t succeed. This underestimation leads them to pass on valuable opportunities that come knocking. And we’ve all read with awe and longing the stories of those who failed often, failed big and then rose to the top with incredible success. It’s part of our business folklore!

If you are reading this, chances are you want to open a solo practice. Here are a few strategies that can help you put risk and reward of opening up your own business in perspective. It may even help you to challenge the fears which have been holding you back from taking the plunge.

1. Missed opportunities don’t happen without a cost – Without taking risk, you can’t take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. While a steady paycheck may sound appealing, a pink slip can hit you upside the head without warning, too. But, even in with this possibility, your life can still be pleasing and predictable, quiet and reasonably fulfilling. However, the odds of you creating something original are very low and most likely you will not leave any lasting mark on the world. (And that’s not to say that’s a bad thing.) But the reality is today’s careers are dynamic, not static and you may not have the luxury of a pleasing and predictable life. Career planning is less about planning and more about being continuously alert to opportunities that present themselves to you spontaneously. You need to be able to respond. Therefore, the ideal career is one where there is a wide range of opportunities (some more risky, some less) that together form a relatively safe career choice with a high upside for growth. Taking some of these high risk opportunities is essential because at the end of the day, they offer the greatest upside for reward.

2. Banish Ignorance – What we don’t know is the source of most fear. Eliminate the paralyzing power of fear by learning and understanding what you are up against. Research and be aware of all the possible outcomes (both the good and the bad) so you can get both a macro and micro picture of the benefits of success and the risks of failure. This analysis will help you see beyond the fear and help you make a more reasoned and dispassionate decision. Learn what it really means to run your own business as a lawyer. Talk to lawyers who are doing it; talk to lawyers who have done it and now are doing something else. Educate yourself. It is the most powerful antidote to fear.

3. And if you fail? – Know how long it will take you to recover if you fail. Odds are it will be less time than you think and not as financially disruptive as you fear. Is the fear of a few potentially difficult months so strong it can keep you in a mediocre or miserable situation indefinitely?

4. Understand the benefits of failure – While I say there is no such thing as failure if you try (only not trying is failure) others believe you can fail and should fail and should fail often. So if you are in this category know that every failure is an experiment and an opportunity to grow. Sometimes, even if the failure impacts you financially, oftentimes the knowledge you accumulate from the experience can be worth the financial downside. It can even position you for the next opportunity which will help you not only recoup the losses but take you further in your life than you would have gone otherwise. In the corporate world, it is well known that managers prefer to hire someone who tried to start a company and failed than someone who has always been strictly corporate. It is true in the legal world, too. Many who have gone solo have been offered jobs because they showed initiative, took risks, showed they could wear multiple hats and hustle. That the solo practice wasn’t a raging success didn’t matter to the hiring lawyer. The initiative, chutzpah and self-taught education the lawyer received is what mattered.

5. Have a Plan BContingency plans (or a safety net) are yet another way to minimize risk. If Plan A doesn’t work out you always have Plan B. Sometimes just knowing there is a Plan B makes it easier to move forward with Plan A. I find, depending upon the situation, having contingency plans allows me to take more risks and take them with greater confidence simply because I know it’s not ‘do or die.’

6. Start Moving – Sometimes the best way to climb the mountain is not to look at the mountain peak but down at your feet and put one foot in front of the other. As soon as you take the first step you begin to gain experience and education. We’ve all been there. Everything is or seems hardest the first time we do it quite simply because we’ve never done it before. So, you just put one foot in front of the other, build up momentum and rhythm and as you get closer to your goal, the fear of not succeeding seems less overwhelming.

How have you addressed your fears?

Susan Cartier Liebel is the Founder & CEO of Solo Practice University® (solopracticeuniversity.com), the only educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students designed for those who want to create and grow their solo or small firm practices.

A coach/consultant for solos and small firms, an attorney who started her own practice right out of law school, a Member of the Suffolk School of Law – Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation advisory board charged with guiding the Institute’s future, an Entrepreneur Advisor for Law Without Walls, an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law for eight years teaching law students how to open their own legal practices right out of law school, a columnist for LawyersUSA Weekly, the Connecticut Law Tribune, The Complete Lawyer, and Law.com, she has contributed to numerous online publications such as Forbes.com, legal publications and books on this topic as well as the issues facing women in the workforce. She speaks frequently to law schools and professional organizations around the country on issues facing solos, offering both practical knowledge and inspiration. She can be contacted at: susan@solopracticeuniversity.com.

CLE is hosting Hanging Your Shingle this weekend. If you are ready to overcome your fears and hang your shingle, this program is for you. Order the homestudy below.

CLE Program: Hanging Your Shingle

This CLE presentation will take place on August 14  through 16, 2014. Click here to order the CD homestudy – click here to order the Video OnDemand homestudy – click here to order the MP3 Audio Download homestudy. You can also order by phone at (303) 860-0608.