On March 16th my favorite program, The Good Wife, ran an episode addressing how Alicia Florrick opted back in to the practice of law. Whether you are a man or a woman, opting back in has its own set of obstacles. Alicia’s character in this episode provided great information for the rezoomer. I decided to boil the 60-minute program down to 3 ‘Opting Back In’ takeaways for my readers. The possibility of sex in law school, its lasting attraction and the kismet of meeting again in an elevator are left out of my suggestions; I hope you don’t mind. They make for good TV, however, in the real rezooming world the following 3 suggestions ring the truest. These practical tips will help everyone who is choosing (or being forced) to opt back in to the law make their journey smoother.
Recognize that you are going to feel every one of those years away from the law. Embrace it and move on; do not feel entitled.
According to Alicia as you reenter the legal world you should recognize you are in catch up mode. What you did before in the law, or not, means very little now. Yet, if you have had a significant break from the law, as Alicia and I did, it may be relevant to how you will practice law now. I know when I rezoomed my practice in 2008, I thought I was the same person who had left the law 13 years earlier. Boy was I ever wrong! Recognize and embrace your new person and passion.
Alicia pointed out that it may be a blessing to be a woman when opting back in. Most people don’t ask why you opted out. It is tacitly understood, children. They will also tacitly decide why you are opting back in, divorce, death or job loss. For men it is a bit stickier. Where have you been and why did you leave the practice of law? Decide the authentic answer you will consistently use, anything else will come back to haunt you.
Connect with the attorneys you were friends with during school or when you practiced. They will remember how smart you are and know your value. Connect with current colleagues you have worked alongside in your absence.
The second piece of great advice Alicia Florrick and I give is to reconnect with people you had meaningful relationships with in the law. In Alicia’s case it was running into Will Gardner, an old law school buddy, as she was riding in an elevator. When the job she thought she had didn’t materialize she called Will and asked for help. At this point, of course, Hollywood takes over and the sex, lies and videotape appear. In the real world past connections should be approached for advice and counsel, not harassed for a position. You will get more information by listening to what they have to say than talking about yourself.
Stigmas are difficult to overcome, especially when re-entering the law. This is why reconnecting is so important. Even if you haven’t seen a friend from law school for years, reach out to them. Facebook and LinkedIn make this easier and more socially acceptable than ever before. You should also reach out to the parents of those kids who are/were in your child’s class or played on the same team. They may not be able to offer you a job but they know your name and by virtue of this authentic conversation you can expanded your networking field.
Do not submarine your chances by bringing up what you don’t know and what you haven’t experienced.
Finally, keep your mouth closed. If, like Alicia, all that comes out is why you are not up to speed to work in today’s legal world, be quiet, smile and nod. Don’t spend time highlighting your faults; focus on the new experiences you will bring to the firm organization from outside the law which will provide strength to your new position. Take the tip Will Gardner gave Alicia Florrick, “Don’t try and talk me out of hiring you!”
Opting back in is not easy. It was disappointing toward the end of The Good Wife program when both Alicia and Cary said they wouldn’t hire ‘an Alicia’ now if she came to their firm looking for a job. A sad commentary by people who saw first hand the benefit of taking a chance on a rezooming attorney. I went back into the practice of law with training wheels. I completed the New Directions program at Pace University Law School for re-entering lawyers. It was the safest way I knew to jumpstart the rezooming of my legal career while creating a current network of colleagues. I learned at New Directions the same sage advice Cary Agos gave Alicia while she was writing her ABA Keynote speech about how and why she opted back in. Cary, her new law firm partner, former colleague and nemesis told her to tell the audience her story. “They want to hear your story with all the warts and pimples.”
This continues to be good advice for all of us opting back in. Look at what you did in the law before you left, what you’ve done since, and have people appreciate what you now bring to the table. It may cause a firm to take a second look at you because of your recent experience, not in spite of it.
This Good Wife’s story line had so many important kernels of truth about opting back in; I hope you’ve stayed with me as I outlined the three main opt back in pointers. Alicia connected with someone she knew from law school who was willing to give her a chance and go to bat for her. This friend did not allow her to talk him out of hiring her, even though she tried very hard to sabotage his offer. Then she worked very hard once the opportunity materialized, and so will you.
Now get out there and Opt Back In.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.