Just like a scene from a movie about addiction, the first time I said out loud – “I’m not sure if I want to be a lawyer anymore”, it was as cathartic as it was scary.
I’m sure it is a thought that has run through almost every lawyer’s head at some point or another, more often than not at a silly hour in the morning when faced with another document to review or mark-up to prepare. But for me, this wasn’t just late-night frustration spilling over. It was the culmination of concerted introspection on my career journey and where I wanted to go next.
Fork in the road
A couple of choices were on the table.
Continue doing what I was doing (a UK GC role, sitting on the board within a company I knew, understood and liked), and explore bigger or better* legal roles within the company group in the future. Or step away from the law and take on a new role elsewhere within the business.
The role on offer was completely different: managing a team within our Go-to-Market function that focussed on pre-sales customer engagement and change management support in a highly competitive marketplace. You could write my experience and knowledge of Go-to-Market strategies on the back of a business card – and still have room for your email address.
Of course, nothing would have been wrong with the first option. This was perhaps the more traditional and well-trodden career path, building experience and expertise within a known niche.
But something about the latter appealed: perhaps the challenge of the unknown, the opportunity to find new skills or re-use old ones, or just the chance to scratch an itch.
Despite a happy and fulfilling career to this point, I have never seen myself as typical lawyer material – a comment supported by a previous boss on seeing one of my psych/personality assessments. She read it, shook her head and asked what on earth I was doing working in the law. The report (accurately) laid bare my dislike of being overloaded by facts, details and paperwork; my aversion to too many rules and procedures; my impatience with routine or repetition; my tendency towards being easily distracted; and my preference for gut-lead decision-making (I should note there were some positives in there too…).
All in all, neither of us knew what I should be doing instead, but it did not seem like the law and me were the most natural of bedfellows.
The decision to walk away, however, was not going to be an easy one – building a legal career takes a great deal of effort. It’s like a matchstick model you have patiently built for years; the thought of sticking a dirty great axe through it isn’t your first instinct. I was doubly hampered by the fact I’d wanted to be a lawyer since the age of 11. Failure to make it as either a rock star or a footballer meant that the dream job list had early on been cut down to one, so it was all guns blazing to not let all of my adolescent aspirations go up in smoke.
And yet, there was still that itch. What more is there?
Fundamentally, there was only one real choice. I needed to do something different, ideally on a temporary basis, and if for no other reason than to answer the question that would probably always niggle at the back of my mind if I did nothing: am I really meant to be a lawyer?
I was optimistic that changing roles would end in one of two ways – either on a road away from the law or returning to the law with a broader set of skills, giving me more options for the future. (Obviously, predicated on the naïve assumption that I didn’t stuff things up too much in the interim.)
First step on the journey
I will save you the details of the internal discussions, suffice to say it ended with me signing a secondment agreement, standing down from the Board, handing in my business cards, and trading my small office for an open plan hot-desk.
After almost 15 years as a practicing lawyer, I was out.
OK, not so much “out” as “on loan”, with a trail of breadcrumbs to follow if I needed to Hansel-and-Gretel my way back again. But still, this felt like a new beginning, as nerve-wracking as my first week as a trainee.
Over the course of a series of articles, I am going to write about my experiences in the big bad world of “other stuff”, the challenges I am facing (trust me, they are numerous!), and whether they will ultimately drive me away from the law or make me a better lawyer. Watch this space…