"What's keeping you stuck?"
That's the question career counselors, executive coaches, psychotherapists and, yeah, significant others are likely forcing unemployed attorneys to explore. The outcome is supposed to be a willingness to embark on career change. The jobs they lost could be gone forever.
As everyone knows and few can deny any longer, the legal profession is going through 1) brutal downsizing, which isn't over yet, as a result of a deep downturn and 2) and longer-term systemic changes, especially in how it uses manpower. Probably there will be reduced need for associates or unseasoned legal talent.
The prevailing ideology, it seems, in the "change" industry - that is the businesses and social services focused on helping people through transitions - is to get unstuck. Do that and the rest will fall into place. The problem with that assumption is, as Anneli Rufus points out in her 2008 book "Stuck," that all it really does is open us to a difficult process. On page 280, Rufus notes, "Coming unstuck always has its downsides." Among them for attorneys forced into involuntary career changes are:
- Probable loss of status and high income. Few go from being a second-year associate in BigLaw to the Chief Compliance Officer at Aetna.
- Mourning. Grieving is a painful state and that seems a must-do when waking up and finding it all gone, at least for a while.
- Humiliating trial and error that can erode confidence. The change industry experts say, "Try new things." Rarely do a lot of them work out. The attorney in transition to something else can enter a period of self-doubt.
- Worrying constantly about money. Until landing in a new port income will be uncertain.
For all these reasons, there is every sane reason for attorneys needing to get unstuck to stay stuck. In addition, there is the routine wiring issue. As Rufus also notes, "Human beings do not change readily." I never suffered emotionally when I was stuck as I did during the two years I became unstuck. Probably that's why I put it off for four years. Attorneys have every right to also drag their feet and hang out in illusion.