A few years ago I told a friend and colleague that one day I would post this Monty Python reference on my social media accounts and that’s how they’d know I’d stepped away from the legal profession: “And now, for something completely different.” I didn’t know at the time when I would be posting this, but I knew the day would come around given the harried pace at which I’d been going.
Maybe you’ve seen this popular TED talk called “The Value of Taking a Year Off?” That’s what I’m up to right now.
I’ve been suspiciously quiet over the past several months. I stopped posting on social media as much as I used to and am no longer providing talks to legal organizations. Speaking at the ABA Techshow in the spring after the release of the second edition of my Virtual Law Practice book was my last speaking gig for awhile. (Bowing out to a standing-room only talk is not a bad way to go.) I completed my one year fellowship at Stanford Law in June and produced a couple of research papers related to the use of gamification in law. Unfortunately, Biglaw is not ready for this yet and legal services organizations lack the funding to support it. I am finishing up a final semester teaching online classes in social media and law practice management and tech for law students and the occasional auditing lawyer.
I have written, researched, co-founded, created, evangelized, volunteered, taught, and counseled lawyers and others in the legal profession in various forms and mostly for free or petty amounts for the past ten years.
So what’s the deal now? Why stop?
I was originally motivated in my work by the idea that I could make an impact on the legal profession, educate lawyers to use technology to improve the delivery of legal services, and that I could help increase access to justice. At the core, I wanted to help people who couldn’t afford a traditional lawyer to get the help they needed. After fighting up-hill battles, winning a small handful of victories, and still seeing the pace of adoption and attitude change go at a snail’s pace, I’ve decided to stop trying, at least for awhile. I’m not helpful to anyone (lawyers or the people in our country who deserve legal assistance) when I’m in a state of cynicism and burnout.
What am I doing right now? I’m engaging in several interests focused on getting back to my core passions and attempting to cultivate new creativity in my life. (Of course, this is all on the side of being a mother to my two wonderfully active children and fiance to Ron Dolin, who is happily continuing his work on quality metrics for the legal profession with his project at Harvard Law.)
In the spring, I took the well-respected Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course created by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I’m currently taking an eight-week course called Compassion Cultivation Training at the Stanford University Center for Altruism and Compassion. This Center boasts the largest donation the Dalai Lama has ever given to an institution outside of a Tibetan cause and is taught from a secular and scientific standpoint. Yes, there is solid science and research behind meditation and compassion. (While the practice itself is experiential, if you know me at all, you know I am also reading all of the research I can get my hands on, most of which takes me into the fields of neuroscience and psychology.) I am meditating daily and learning to control the flexibility of my mind. No easy feat, but the rewards are already showing. I am on the look-out for a good week-long silent retreat in the near future.
I’m also back to my bookbinding habits. I am a bibliophile and used to work on book repair and restoration. I have not been able to do this work since my children were born, around 9 years ago. That’s a long time to miss something. I am returning to bookbinding and taking courses at the San Francisco Center for the Book, the only center of its kind on the west coast. Before going to law school, I apprenticed in the basement of the Cincinnati Museum Center and learned the art of paper and book preservation there. I miss working with my hands and holding a tangible object at the end of the process. Ebooks just don’t smell or feel the same as a real book. Book bindings are a form of creative expression and it gives me peace.
I’m also going to try writing again, but fiction this time. I’m going to do NaNoWriMo next month. I have downloaded Scrivener and am already in planning mode for November. It will be a fun process to write for myself and to not have to worry about ethics committees or skeptical lawyers scrutinizing my work. My imagination will have full reign.
I go hiking in the hills of Los Altos, meditate, and then let my mind run free. Trying to narrow in on a single idea or project right now would be detrimental to the process that I’m going through. Cultivating compassion is opening my heart up to the idea of common humanity and my place in that. Sometimes it’s a challenge to feel like I’m falling without any solid plans for what I will do next. But that’s part of this process too. Check out the TED talk on taking a year off. There is something to this.
I am not sure when, how, or even if I will come back to the legal profession. Thanks to those of you who have worked with me over the past ten years and supported the endeavors to increase access to justice with technology, unbundling, and forms of virtual law practice.
And now for something completely different….
You have no idea how this speaks to me at this moment in time.
Godspeed, and I hope to follow in your shoes soon.
I’ve read a number of your tweets and some information that you’ve published which I think has helped a lot of people in the legal profession. However, it sounds like your doing the right thing for you at this point in your life. It sounds like the type of year that professors take off called a sabbatical at Harvard and other schools. I’m sure you’ll find it a meaningful year in your life as you look back in the future. I hope you enjoy year and look forward to hearing your thoughts about the legal profession when you return sometime in the future.
Just to let you know how inspiring your work within the access to legal & justice field has been to me and to the people around me. In the event that you don’t return to the legal domain (which, I should say, would be a dissapointment, indeed), you can feel relieve that at least you have left behind you an invaluable body of work that a lot of people, including myself, look to for inspiration, guidence and passion. Your presence in the legal innnovation and tech domain will be missed. My best wishes on your upcoming endevors. Regards,
Office of Court Administration of Puerto Rico
I hope you find what you are looking for. Some people never find it. You must find what is the most important.
For what it’s worth, my two cents: I’m inspired to show people what’s possible in law – be that through law practice, evangelizing technology, or exploring beyond the bounds of the “traditionally” legal. While I sometimes think about ultimately “leaving legal” my background and experience in law will always inform what I do. Some part of me will always see myself as a lawyer no matter what I’m doing or where I end up.
Similarly, regardless of whether you see yourself “in” or “out” of law I will continue to see you as a true trailblazer, and if you’ll permit me, an inspiration.
Thanks for ten years of showing us all what’s possible.
Here’s to ten (or, let’s be honest, MANY) more.
Hey, Steph, pretty sure your influence has been greater than you know. Welcome back any time. We’ll be here, moving at that snail’s pace, but moving forward nevertheless.
Thank you. It’s good to know I have a kindred sole. You’ve artfully and succinctly described a state of mind and a deep desire for exploration that rings true for me. I’ve also had a good 10 year run fighting the good fight. Over the last year I’ve tried to do both – continue beating the drum for tech in legal while exploring and restoring. Perhaps it’s time for me to watch the TEDtalk.
I joked about the situation in legal while speaking on a Women in Tech panel hosted at LinkedIn. Lawyers are the opposite of early adopters. Early adopters are like puppies – wave new technology in front of them and they come running. Late adopters are like mature cats – they would ever do anything as undignified as running toward new technogy and expect you to approach them on their terms.
I really do hope things change, but for my own well being it may be that I have to change course too.
So that is why I cannot find you!
Interestingly, your post is just what I needed to read today. Like Andrew commented above, “this speaks to me”. There is something aside from the legal field that has been in the back of my mind. It’s time to put a name to it and move forward.
And even more interesting, you are the second person that I read about in a week that has a passion for book binding repair and restoration. I just read an article by Nicholas Wyman on LinkedIn entitled “Thinking Outside the Cubicle, How to Nab Your Dream Job at Any Age”. There is a gentleman who is taking classes on book repair and restoration. What an amazing plan and such a gratifying livelihood.
Good things are about to happen!
Thank you again for always being such an amazing inspiration. I wish you all the “good things” that life has to offer and I hope you keep in touch.
I knew that something completely different was up, when I didn’t see your name in the TechShow Faculty. You will be missed by many, but you are on an enriching path.
I wish you the best in whatever direction life takes you,
Thank you for all of your contributions,