One Foot on the Brake

My dad always told me that “you move forward with one foot on the brake and one on the gas.”  I’ve been wanting to make a change from the practice of law for a long, long…long time.  But never fully committed to “leaving” the law, and instead bounced around from attorney job to attorney job trying to find one that, well, wasn’t an attorney job.

I stumbled upon Leave Law Behind, a blog for attorneys like me, who really wanted to put their skills to a different use but couldn’t seem to take the foot off the break long enough to make change happen.  Fueled by the realization that I wasn’t alone, I did apply to several non-attorney jobs.  But in every interview I was asked (in a very accusatory tone), “why don’t you want to be an attorney?” And so I kept retreating back to the feeling like there was something wrong with me for not wanting to only be an attorney.

Eventually, I came back to Leave Law Behind and the advice to, at the very least, figure out what my unique genius is.  As Casey, the blog’s author, describes it, “Your Unique Genius is made up of those skills and strengths that come so naturally to you, so effortlessly to you, that you don’t even think of them as a skill.”  Casey sets up three questions that help reveal unique genius, or as I call it, dharma…

1. What are you already doing (or would you do) for free to help people?
Teach!  I love teaching, being able to watch people grow, learn, have that “aha!” moment.  I would teach just about anything that I qualify to teach, but if I had my druthers, my preference would be to teach writing skills.  And writing, that’s another thing I would do for free – research and write about issues I’m passionate about, like issues facing incarcerated persons and criminal sentencing issues.  Travel – I would travel to teach or write or research.  If I could do that for free, I would hope on a plane now to pretty much anywhere I wouldn’t get shot at and assist with whatever my nerdy little self could do.

2. For what type of advice do people come to you? I thought the answers to this one would be the same as question 1, but they were actually quite different.  People come to me for organization.  At least once each year, my sister and I FaceTime so I can help her clear out and organize her closet.  I’ve helped other friends do spring cleaning and follow-up organization, so many times I can’t even count.  Even in my last job, my boss would come to me any time our team needed strategic planning or organizational system creation.  People also come to me for career development.  I’ve been asked for help with everything ranging from college admissions essays to job search strategies to cover letters and resumes to interview preparations.  I do that for free, so maybe it should have been in question 1, but I really look at career development as a sub-set of teaching.  I use the same method – listen and then ask questions so the student comes to the answer on their own.

3. What do people compliment you on? To be honest, I didn’t answer this question.  I honestly don’t pay enough attention to compliments to know the answer to this, so I left it blank.

About a week or so after putting my answers down on paper, I received an email from JP’s dad.  He had a friend in KC looking for a litigation paralegal and would I be interested in a non-attorney job.  Um, non-attorney job?  Heck yeah I’d be interested!  During the interview, the firm’s managing partner asked me if I would mind doing some research and writing for them, along with some organization.  Research?  Writing?  Organization?  Hadn’t I just seen these skills recently?  Oh yeah, they were my answers to my unique genius questions.  Sweet!

I took my foot off of the brake, accepted the paralegal position and gave notice that I would be resigning from my previous attorney job.  Today is my first day as a paralegal.  THE paralegal for a two attorney civil litigation firm just outside of Kansas City.  I am nervous about being in a civil firm after spending so many years in criminal law, but I’m also pretty excited to finally be writing again.  OK, so this job isn’t the “perfect” job.  It doesn’t embrace my entire unique genius and it’s not the job I would necessarily move to Kansas City to take.  But it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s finally moving forward.


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