June 27, 2019

Surviving a Personal Apocalypse — Part 2: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named

rhodesArch-villain Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter stories is so unspeakably evil that just saying his name can bring his wrath upon yourself. Better be safe and refer to him as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” And keep your voice down, would you?

We have a Lord Voldemort of our own in the legal world: a possibility so scary that most lawyers won’t say it to themselves, let alone anyone else. What is it? It’s the idea that our next career move might be out of the law entirely.

We usually limit our options for curing the law career blues: first is to find a new job in a different practice area or environment; second is to use our legal training for something other than practicing law. There’s plenty of help for either option, from headhunters and career coaches to books about what else you can do with your law degree.

Anything else is a voyage into uncharted seas, out where there be dragons. It’s madness, a straight shot to Doom’s doorway, a personal apocalypse waiting to happen. We have WAY too much invested the law, or at least in our legal training – financially, socially, intellectually, emotionally – to risk it. And guides are hard to find. (Although not impossible: consider people like ex-lawyers Tama Kieves and Jonathan Fields.).

Sure, John Grisham, Scott Turow, and Dean Koontz all parlayed their lawyering days into mega-bestsellers, but really, how much room at the top is there? For the rest of us, to admit the possibility of getting out is to betray the profession and risk bringing its wrath upon ourselves. Lawyers just don’t talk about getting out; it’s an unwritten ethics rule.

Consider, for example, the torrent of angry backlash when Justice Sotomayor told Oprah that “Any lawyer who is unhappy should go back to square one and start again”. (Much of the outrage derived from the crippling effect of law school loans – a sentiment that would meet with sympathy here in Colorado, where the 2013 Lawyer Satisfaction and Salary Survey revealed that 39% of respondents said law school debt has a significant effect (32%) or controls (7%) their career choices.)

Calling our personal He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by its real name is not for the faint-hearted, but it might be for you. And if it is, the good news is that the stages of personal apocalypse are predicable. They’ve been studied and articulated. They can be taught and learned. There is a path to the Other Side of Over, no matter how Over comes upon us.

Plus, stifling our passions and dreams and visions isn’t such a hot idea either. In my experience, people who might want out of the law already suspect it, but are well-practiced at holding their tongues and hearts in check. Doing that will hurt us in the long run, and might even hasten our own personal apocalypses. More on that another time.

So go ahead, say it out loud if you dare. Harry Potter did it, and remember: in the end, Voldemort lost.

To be continued.

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