My final few weeks at the firm

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster over the last couple of months.  Since handing in my notice and accepting a place at Makers Academy I’ve been going round in circles in my head: rehashing the whys and wherefores of quitting my job to do something completely alien to my current career.  Am I nuts? I hope not!

Being all lawyer about it

Lawyers don’t make good decision makers.  They are paralysed by pessimism and overanalysis.

1. Pessimism: lawyers have a “pessimistic explanatory” style.  Causes of events are viewed as persistent, uncontrollable and pervasive.  In other words lawyers see the worst in everything.  Optimists on the other hand see those same troubles as local, temporary and changeable.  Pessimism makes for great lawyering: perceiving troubles as pervasive and permanent ingrains prudence.  It helps lawyers spot all the possible perils and pitfalls that may befall a client and therefore allow them to ensure their client is always protected in any given scenario, whether it’s buying a house or buying a FTSE100 company.  It doesn’t make you much fun to be around – ask my girlfriend!

2. Prudence: being pessimistic helps you be prudent.  Lawyers have to be UBER prudent every day.  We’re trained to look for anything and everything that could go wrong, to check and re-check everything a 1000 times and never to assume anything (because assume makes an Ass of You and Me!).  As you can imagine, this leads to massive overanalysis of EVERYTHING.

3. Perfectionism: flowing from the above is the lawyerly need to have everything “just so”.  Perfectionism is drilled into you from day one.  “About right” is totally unacceptable.  Everything has to be 110% correct or it’s thrown in the bin.  When you’re charged out to clients at US$400+ an hour and only mid twenties you can’t get away with “thereabouts”.

4. Low decision latitude: as a result of the above, law firms are insanely bureaucratic.  Everything has to be checked and re-checked by everyone up and down the line of command.  Often you are waiting around for someone to sign-off on your work and/or chasing someone else for sign-off and/or for someone to send you stuff to check.  That leaves very little of substance for you to decide independently.

Why are lawyers so unhappy?

This is a great article about why lawyers are unhappy, how they can be happier and the psychology behind many lawyer traits.  It’s an excellent read if you’re a lawyer who wants to understand why lawyering can make you so miserable.  It’s what I’ve loosely summarised in this post.

So yeah, all those traits make for good lawyering.  But apply them to making decisions in your own life and you never do anything or decide much of substance.  Everything is too likely to go so spectacularly wrong, so you end up doing nothing or doing something easy.

Sure enough, these traits were all firing off and I was already predicting doom and gloom for me along the lines of:

  1. Stupidity: this is stupid, I’m quitting one of the highest paid law firms to go unemployed for at least 6 months without a concrete job at the end of it (law, tech or otherwise).
  2. Joblessness: what if I never get a job? Will I end up broke, homeless and girlfriendless?
  3. Peer Pressure: What will my friends, colleagues and family think if I’m no longer this ostensibly “successful” City lawyer?
  4. Keeping up with the Lawdashians: what if I can’t keep up with my peers as they earn ever increasing sums of money and start buying flashy houses, cars and other nonsense?
  5. Guilt: I’d made my family proud getting a first class law degree and a job at one of the world’s most successful law firms – would they be disappointed in me turning my back on all that after all their support (financially and otherwise)?
  6. Throwing it all away: I worked super hard to get to where I did in the law considering, unlike 99% of my peers in the legal profession, I hadn’t gone to private school but had instead attended a state school that was grant maintained and on special measures due to failing school status when I joined.
  7. Had I done enough? had I thought through this in enough detail?  Would I find that I hated the course and regret the expense and quitting my job?

… I could go on and on.  No, really I could, and I did ad nauseam.  There was no end of worst case scenarios.  I honestly think if this all does go awry I should write plots for disaster movies – believe me, I could certainly imagine an infinite number of disasters.

Backing out of backing out

All that lawyer thinking…  I almost backed out a couple of times: I came very close to asking for my job back but I didn’t.  I stuck to my gym-honed arms (my guns) – sadly they’re undeserving of that title – by reminding myself of the big picture and the long-term benefits of taking the time out away from the law: perspective, objectivity and new skills.  Maybe even some new friends?