Amy Impellizzeri (a lawyer-turned-novelist) and Liz Brown (a Harvard-grad-turned-law-partner-turned-undergrad-professor) feel strongly about the need for lawyers and law students to innovate and pivot. How to Leave the Law (Amazon), their co-authored follow-up to their respective books, Lawyer Interrupted (Amazon, Bookshop) and Life After Law (Amazon, Bookshop), just hit shelves.
As a lawyer-turned-writer myself, I couldn’t wait to talk to Amy and Liz about happiness, habits, and career changes.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
AI: My morning ride! I’m an unapologetic Peloton addict – converted largely by fellow reformed litigator, Robin Arzon and company. But my (almost) daily ride is so much more than an act of physical exercise. A group of college friends (shout out to my Peloton Kappas!) and I text each other every night to suggest rides and then again in the morning to cheer each other on. The text thread has become our way of staying connected across the miles and a venue for placing our daily challenges and successes, and is, in many ways, much more important than the ride itself.
LB: I pay a lot of attention to my morning coffee: buying good beans, using mugs I bought at craft fairs, making flavored syrups, etc. This week’s flavor is a spiced tahini simple syrup. I fit in at least some movement every day, and getting out of the house even if just to walk my little dog. Following visual artists and museums, and nobody else, on Instagram – the flow of creative images inspires me even when I don’t draw myself.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
AI: Part of me wishes I could go back and tell 18-year-old me that happiness is not a mirror image. That it has nothing to do with what you’re reflecting out into the world, and everything to do with that part of yourself you’re reluctant to show the world. But the other part of me is grateful it took me 50 long years to learn it. Maybe I won’t be so quick to forget it now!
LB: It becomes both easier and harder to be happy when you get older. For me, happiness has become a quieter thing than it was when I was 18. I find it more in everyday things, especially in the consistency of things like old friendships. and less so in Big Adventures.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?
LB: To me, what’s intriguing is the extent to which many lawyers prioritize being successful, according to other people’s definitions of success, over being happy. We put so much effort into reaching certain goals that our profession lays out for us as targets – whether it is winning a motion for our clients or earning partnership for ourselves – that there is often no room for reflection about what all of these goals mean to us personally. That makes it hard for a lot of lawyers to carve out the space to ask whether they are genuinely happy or to value happiness in the first place.
AI: My biggest surprise over the years of interviewing transitioning attorneys is that the one – and only one – demographic that expresses any regret about transitioning – is the group of lawyers that leave the law to become full-time caregivers. It’s this group of lawyers – largely women – that I believe are pushed out of the practice of law prematurely. HOW TO LEAVE THE LAW is as much for this group as the other lawyers clamoring to leave an unsatisfying lifestyle. It’s my hope that some people will be inspired to make changes from within the walls of the broken law firm culture, while the rest of us continue to help make changes from the outside.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
LB: I now have the habit of doing Peloton workouts regularly. To be honest, the Peloton app’s tracking function compels me to keep up with that. I don’t want to break my streak of consecutive workouts, even though nobody else is watching (at least, I hope nobody else is watching).
AI: Ha! I already confessed my Peloton addiction, but the other biggest lifestyle change I’ve made in the last few years is to go gluten-free (ish) by choice. I went cold turkey at first and now, the way I continue the habit is by noticing how good I feel without gluten in my diet PLUS allowing myself “special occasion” gluten. A New York City bagel or a plate of homemade Pasta Bolognese or a slice of pizza now and then qualifies, but the longer I stay gluten-free (ish), the less I’m tempted even by these treats!
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
LB: The quiz says I am an Upholder, but I question those results, so I am going with being a Questioner.
AI: According to the test, I’m an Obliger, and I confess … that’s probably right. I will set myself on fire to keep my inner circle warm. I’m working on that, frankly, but unlike gluten, I’m not likely to give it up cold turkey any time soon!
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
LB: Mothering a young teen challenges my ability to stay balanced. It makes me both wildly happy and deeply frustrated, often on the same day, which makes it even more important for me to maintain my habits as best I can. I really wish it were parties, though.
AI: Oh, why can’t it be parties?! Yep, kids for me too. I’ve got three teens pulling me in different directions on any given day and while I work hard to keep balance, I’m perfectly imperfect on all my best days. It’s imperative to me, however, that they see me constantly working, constantly getting back up, and constantly moving forward. So in that sense, while they are my greatest challenges, they are also my greatest inspirations!
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
AI: Well, oddly enough, it took me almost a decade to respond to my own lightning bolt. I survived a residential plane crash on my New York City corner in 2001, which really made me want to reclaim my life and my voice, but I couldn’t find my way out of the law until I took a sabbatical in 2009. When I finally wrote a (fictional) story of survivor guilt and rebirth in the form of my sophomore novel, Secrets of Worry Dolls (Amazon, Bookshop), I realized that was the book I actually left the law in order to write.
LB: Yes! I decided to leave my law partnership when I saw my newborn daughter. That was my lightning bolt moment. As it turned out, 2008 was not the greatest year to give up a lucrative job, but it was an important turning point and led to a much more satisfying second career.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?
AI: “Be the Buffalo.” I learned recently that in storm conditions, cows try to outrun the rain, while buffalo, turn into the storm and run right through. That’s the kind of badass attitude I’d like to harness on my darkest days.
LB: For me, it is “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” When I feel like complaining about something, that saying reminds me to take some action myself instead of expecting the change to come from other people. It has led me to take on leadership roles and challenges at work that I would otherwise have shied away from. It also led me to write my first book, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have, because I wanted there to be a better self-help book for lawyers who were struggling with their career transitions like I had been. I still complain a lot, however.