I re-entered the practice of law after an extended “sabbatical” in public education. I left the legal world 15 years ago and taught high school for 12 years. I started practicing again two years ago. In June 2015, I re-opened my firm. Once in a while, because of technology, I feel as if I’ve traveled through time, doing the same task in an advanced way. Sometimes I feel as if I’m in Back to the Future, or Sleeper, depending on your age, and/or frame of reference. If you’re considering a there-and-back-again approach to a career in law, I’d like to share with you some ideas and pointers that I picked up along the way. I hope some of these suggestions will help fellow attorneys make a decision on re-entering the legal career after an extended absence, whether planned or a matter of circumstance.
Do It Your Way
Design the legal career of your dreams. Create a career that will leave time for you, your family and your friends. A healthy work/life balance is, after all, central to the pursuit of happiness. Whether it’s a full-time or part-time position, at a firm or a try at going solo, envision your ideal practice and determine a path that will help you get there. Practice law in a way that’s best for you. Do the type of law you enjoy for the clients that you enjoy working for. Keep in mind that since you’ve done this before, you have more wisdom and experience to make it happen.
Chart a Path
Before you begin, decide where you want to go. Chart a path and write down your plans. Change often causes stress; having a plan will reduce it. Set goals and expectations and take positive steps to achieve them. Enlist the support of family and friends, and keep a positive attitude. Don’t listen to doubters. Be nimble and willing to accept setbacks. As John Steinbeck would say, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
The Final Countdown
If you can manage it, keep your day job. At some point, you’ll have to leave, but only do so when you’re ready. You’ll know when it’s time to depart, when you have no regrets about doing so. In the meantime, create a financial plan in anticipation for a temporary drop in income. If you’re income is going to increase, ask yourself why haven’t you left already. If you need motivation for getting up and going to work, listen to “The Final Countdown” by the 80s Swedish hair-band Europe. For extra motivation, watch the YouTube video.
Take What You’ve Learned with You
The skills you’ve attained in your non-legal career will enhance your legal one. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing, your talents and experience will help you. In a sense, it’s a matter of retooling and refining what you already know. Fear not: Your experiences, knowledge and skills will be applicable to your resurrected legal career.
Get Your Legal Chops Back
You’ll need to get your legal skills and knowledge up to speed. One of my chief worries when I returned to the practice of law was that I had forgotten everything from my former legal life; I soon found that my fears were unfounded. I recommend signing up for a CLE pass through the CBA. With a yearly subscription, you will be able to download every CLE course that is offered through the bar association. This subscription is a tremendous help in many ways. You will learn about the current trends in the law and what the current best practices are. It will allow you to fulfill your CLE requirements in a short amount of time. Most importantly, it will give you the knowledge and resources needed to confidently and competently represent your clients. Think smart: Before your subscription expires, remember to download all the CLE courses you may think you need. You will still have access to them after your subscription expires. The CLE pass helped me overcome my biggest psychological hurdle.
Grow Your Network
Expand the breadth and reach of your network. Become a member of your local bar association and become actively involved in it. Up your game on social media and improve your “look” on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Join meet-ups and other professional networking groups. Reconnect with past clients and attorneys that you formally worked with, and consider volunteering to meet new people. As with everything else, make a plan, be selective in your efforts and be in it for the long haul.
Technology Has Made Things Easier
Depending on how long it’s been since you last practiced, the changes in technology will vary considerably. The wonderful thing is that it’s much easier and more convenient than it used to be. Today, papers are filed with the courts without having to go to the courthouse. Truly amazing! There is no longer a need to drive to the courthouse, find parking, go through the metal detectors, walk into the clerk’s office and have the clerk stamp your papers. Filings are handled today through an e-filing system. Likewise, you don’t have to go to a physical library to do research. Online software and platforms allow you to carry your law library on your phone. No more schlepping case books around the library to make copies … now you just hit “print.” These are just two examples of the countless ways in which technology has made things easier. If you knew how to do it the old way, before Wi-Fi, you’ll find the new way to be much easier.
Going back to the legal profession after an extended absence isn’t an easy choice for anyone. If you’re considering a re-entry, know that your legal knowledge is still there and that the skills you’ve brought with you are transferable. You’ll need to get current on the law and plan ahead. Lastly, being older and wiser can be more of a help than a hindrance. I wish you the best of luck in your transition! D
Paul Miller is a sole practitioner whose firm specializes in estate planning, nonprofits and small business law. In his spare time, he enjoys skateboarding, snowboarding, playing golf and working with young people. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.