November 12, 2018

Turning Your Hobby into Your Job B

By Cheryl Rich Heisler

“Do what you love, and the money will follow” is more than just an old adage and the title of a self-help career book from the 1980s.

There’s something liberating about the concept, especially when considering your options after winding down your legal career. As retirement age creeps up, many lawyers aren’t ready to give up a daily routine, a steady income, and the opportunity to stay mentally active.

If continuing to practice law on some reduced-time or reduced-stress basis isn’t a good option, how do you begin to figure out your next move? Start with some self-reflection.

Walk Down Memory Lane

As a career consultant to lawyers in transition for almost 30 years, I’m convinced that your best step forward is actually a look back. What have you enjoyed most about your years in the law? Which cases or deals have meant the most to you? Which industries most piqued your interest? Which clients have you most identified with—or maybe even envied a little—for the work they did?

If your sense of satisfaction came more from outside your law practice, that still speaks volumes. What are your favorite pastimes? What do you choose to read? Where do you like to travel? What non-profit or civic causes do you support with your time, your money, or both?

To be clear, answers to these questions will likely provide you with a jumping-off point rather than an instant “aha!” There’s a process to follow with career changing; self-assessments are just the beginning, followed up by market assessments, information gathering, networking, resume rewriting and, of course, savvy remarketing of the “new and improved” you.

But if you’re looking to find a next career, one you can really embrace, it’s critical to have a platform from which to begin your search.

What Moves You?

I know many attorneys who’ve followed their hearts into careers that move them, including:

  • Funny lawyers who’ve left the law for the stage as stand-up comedians
  • Handy lawyers who’ve traded flipping pages for flipping houses
  • A horse-loving lawyer who’s now riding high as a grant writer for equine preservation groups
  • A literature and film-loving lawyer who’s a popular movie and book group facilitator
  • Sports fan lawyers who ump little league games and coach high school teams
  • Foodie lawyers who’ve bitten into the food and spirits industries
  • Suffering lawyers who’ve poured their energy into fights against the same diseases that took their loved ones

The common thread among all these examples is that each lawyer chased down opportunities in personally meaningful areas or industries. Some are making less money than they made when they were practicing; a few even make more. But they all share the priceless experience of doing work that matters to them.

A 2015 study published in the Harvard Health blog cited retirement as number 10 on the list of the top 43 most stressful life events. While reminding readers that everyone handles retirement differently, the article encouraged everyone at that point in their lives to forge new social networks, be creative, and continue learning. Moving careers is one way to gain all three experiences.

So whether you’ve loved your life as a lawyer or whether the practice never fully engaged you, consider following your heart toward your next act.

By Cheryl Rich Heisler

CHERYL RICH HEISLER is the president and founder of the Chicago-based Lawternatives, a career consultancy helping lawyers transition into careers inside, outside, and around the law. She has worked in industries ranging from BigLaw to brand management for a Fortune 100 company to hosting a radio feature on career issues to outplacement consulting. She’s also a board member for the ABA Career Center.