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Most lawyers are lawyers first and business owners second. We’re in it because it’s who we are. It’s what we do; we’re here because we belong here.
Sometimes I wonder if we’re like caged animals who fail to notice that the cage door has been left open.
Do we really remember that we can change our circumstances?
This life is something you created, so you also possess the power to change it. It’s all up to you. We rarely take the time to realize we’re free to choose. We’ve lived in this cage for a long time. Even when the door gets left open, it’s hard to think about leaving. We’re supposed to stay inside, right?
Sometimes it’s better to move on, find something new to do with your time, and let the old life go.
There are many reasons to make a change. Do any of these reasons apply to you?
Is it time to sell?
1. Something else has your attention
You find yourself waking up thinking about the new idea every morning. You can’t stop reading about it, talking about it, thinking about it.
You’re either suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder or you’ve found your passion.
We’re wrapped up in our identities as lawyers. But it’s pointless to stick with the thing you’ve been doing when your energy is driving toward a different thing.
Careers used to last a lifetime. Not anymore. Even lawyers switch careers now.
Some lawyers try to do both things–the law practice and the new idea–at the same time. That’s fine when you’re experimenting and gearing up. But at some point you’ve got to make the leap–that’s the only way to give the new idea the attention it deserves.
Passion, energy, excitement, and a sense of purpose won’t necessarily make an idea work, but they’re certainly powerful in their impact. You deserve a life you’re excited to get back to each morning.
2. You don’t have the skills
Some law firms boom. They’re the right idea, at the right time, in the right market. But these booming law firms can be a mess if clients line up with money in hand and the law firm is incapable of delivering on their promises.
You might not be the right leader for the law firm once the boom hits. You might be great at $1 million. You might be pretty good at $3 million. At those levels it’s all about sales.
But what happens when the law firm hits $5 million in annual revenues? At that level, your leadership needs to be much improved or things will turn into a mess.
That’s when the game changes, and it’s suddenly about management, technology, vision, and a steady hand. Your vision ran out at $3 million, though. Now you can’t get and keep the “A” players. You’re struggling with the technology, and then the growth levels off. Steady hand? Not so much.
Sure, bring in professional management. Let them handle it. Great idea, except you’re still there causing trouble. It’s not as easy as it seems.
Can you train yourself? Maybe, but it’ll require the same level of commitment it took to get through law school. Are you up for that while still working at the office?
Or you could sell it. You built it into a valuable asset. Is now the time to take your money and go play? Oh, and as a bonus, selling out at a high point is the best time to garner a high price. Good for you.
3. Personal/health issues
Health and personal issues are unpredictable–we’re human. No matter how hard we try, sometimes things happen.
We get sick, or a close family member gets sick. Illness can be debilitating, it can last for years, and it causes fallout in many aspects of our lives.
We’ve got a few hundred premium members inside Rosen Institute. It never occurred to me that we’d be dealing with devastating health issues and death on a regular basis. But it’s inevitable with this many members. It’s sad, it’s tough, but it’s happening with regularity.
Realistically, our law practices become our lowest priority when we’re seriously ill or nursing a family member. We’re forced to put the business on the back burner and deal with the immediate issues presented by the crisis.
Sometimes selling the business is the best thing for the team, the clients, and you.
4. You’re not growing or you’ve run out of vision
You had a master plan when you started. You achieved it. You’re there. Life is good.
You’ve got this nagging feeling that it’s time for more, but you’ve got no idea how to level up. One idea, of course, is to join Rosen Institute. We’re here to help. But sometimes, enough is enough.
You rack your brain, but you have no more big ideas to motivate you and get your juices flowing.
Sure, you can hang around and enjoy the fruits of your labor, but the lack of challenge turns some otherwise happy lawyers into unhappy lawyers pretty quickly. It was fun when the business was growing. But now the market has leveled off, the practice area isn’t booming, and you’re not bringing your A-game anymore.
Why not declare victory, sell the successful business, and spend your days hunting for what’s interesting to you? Locking yourself inside a law firm shell makes it hard to see all the other possibilities available to us in the world.
Freeing yourself from the world of lawyering opens up lots of other possibilities. You’re good at creating a vision, turning it into a plan, and executing on the agenda. Why not disentangle yourself, shed the limitations, and start searching for a vision in the larger world?
5. You’re tired
I talk to lawyers all the time who plan to work forever. “I’ll never retire, I’ll just scale back and pick and choose my cases” they say. But burnout, overwhelm, and exhaustion are real, and our perspectives change.
Practicing law is burdensome. It’s exhausting. It’s a huge responsibility. The burden doesn’t scale up and down based on the number of open files in your office. You carry the burden 24/7, and you can only put it down when you have zero clients.
Real retirement is different than scaling back. It’s freedom from the worry. It’s disconnection from the deadlines. It’s an end to the potential for the unexpected upset.
If you find yourself dreaming of travel, downtime, and freedom from the burden, then it may be time to package it up, sell it off, and let someone else enjoy the pressure.
Getting out doesn’t mean you can’t come back. Give yourself the rest you need to feel rejuvenated, and then look at your options with a fresh perspective.
6. You’re unhappy
Do you sometimes find yourself toiling away doing what you do because it’s what you’ve got to do and not because it’s what you want to do?
Do you feel a heaviness hanging over you when you’re headed to work? Is there a lingering feeling of having to do something you don’t want to do? Are you noticing, now that you’re thinking about it, that you’ve felt this way for a very long time?
Is it even worse that what I’ve described? Are you so down about it, forcing yourself to do what’s required, that you’re filled with dread? Do you have so much else consuming your attention that it’s a struggle to show up and put on your lawyer-face and do what’s required to keep your clients satisfied?
Things happen, priorities change, life is more than work. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to keep doing what we’re doing. That’s true even when it feels as if we have to keep doing it in order to stay above water financially. We might actually be better off, financially as well as emotionally, if we shifted gears, made a change, and found ourselves on a different path.
The cause of your unhappiness might be something other than the work, of course. You might suffer from depression, anxiety, or other health issues. Get yourself examined by a professional before making big changes.
But–and this is pretty reasonable in my opinion–you may just find the practice of law to be devoid of joy, fun, excitement, thrill, or satisfaction. That’s a pretty normal reaction to work that is all about fixing the messes and mistakes of others. This work only suits a certain type of person.
You are not required to be a lawyer forever. You can change your circumstances. Maybe it’s time to let it go?
Get out or get a fresh start
Are you seeing yourself in any of the examples above?
It’s fairly common for us to ride it up, ride it down, and keep hanging on forever. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can hop off the train when it stops somewhere nice. You can end this particular journey in a good spot, take a break, and then hop on the next train headed for somewhere that captures your attention.
It’s scary to make a change, but change is the only way to move on to something better.
Lots of us keep doing what we’re doing just because it’s what we do. We’re locked into a decision we made way back, and it hasn’t occurred to us to reconsider, reevaluate, and decide whether the old decision applies to the current circumstances.
Many of us desperately make small adjustments–we form a new partnership, add a new practice area, or try a different approach to running the business. But most of us aren’t open to the larger possibility that it’s time for a major change of direction.
We come up with lots of rationalizations for sticking around, even when we know it’s best to move on. We’re good at rationalizations–that’s our thing. Are your rationalizations good for you?
Your cage door is open. Are you going to leave?