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The Complete Lawyer: ‘Leaving for new endeavors’

Dennis Coyne//December 21, 2017

The Complete Lawyer: ‘Leaving for new endeavors’

Dennis Coyne//December 21, 2017

Dennis Coyne
Dennis Coyne

At my law firm, the departure of each lawyer was mentioned in a firm-wide e-mail, announcing that he/she was leaving for “new endeavors.” As I saw these e-mails, I wondered where each of those attorneys was going. Was there actually a place, a “New Endeavors,” where these attorneys could be found, perhaps like Eden Prairie, New Hope, or Golden Valley?

One day, I was the subject of the leaving-for-new-endeavors memo. That day, I said my farewells and left the building. As I stood in front of the building, I chatted with some friends, waiting for the traffic light to change. When it did, I started to cross the street. When I got half way across the street, I simply vanished, or so it seemed. I imagined that the people I had left at the curb wondered aloud where I had gone. In leaving the law firm, I had lost my identity and simply disappeared.

A few weeks later, a friend asked me to volunteer at a fundraiser. It was a worthy cause and simply required that I serve dinner to some generous benefactors. I agreed to do so. That evening, I donned my apron and was assigned my three tables. As I served the first course, I recognized my law partner seated at one of the tables. He didn’t look up and see me until I served him the final course. Startled, he looked at me and blurted out: “Oh my God, is this what you are doing now?” I replied: “Yes, tonight I am a volunteer, waiting on tables. Otherwise, I am practicing law, coaching lawyers and consulting with law firms.” We exchanged pleasantries and went on our respective ways. I never saw him again.

What might be learned from these two vignettes?

Life is all about transitions

Transitions are part of life. From time to time, everyone leaves for a new endeavor, whether intentionally or not.

Some transitions are orderly and expected, for example, from grade school to middle school, to high school, college and (possibly) beyond. While such an educational path may be challenging, it is planned and pursued over time. There are countless other transitions that are willful and pursued over time, for example, finding a life partner, establishing a law practice, perhaps raising a family.

Other transitions are not planned, nor even welcomed. As a nation, we’ve suffered the shock of terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Individually, we’ve all experienced the death of a loved one, a life-altering accident or a sudden illness. Others of us have lost a job, a major client or a hotly contested matter.

Bidden or unbidden, transitions occur all the time. Life is anything but static.

Identity quakes often occur in transition

There is often a loss of identity in leaving the familiar and routine. Such an “identity quake” is common in the midst of a transition. Who are you when you are no longer doing what you’ve always done? The loss of status can be disorienting, even crippling. Some people feel as though they’ve disappeared, as I did momentarily when I left my law firm.

Having a narrative is important as a guide through transitions

First, the person in transition needs to understand the transition at hand, why it’s being made and how it’s important. Quite often, people contact me, sensing that it’s time to make a move but not fully understanding why they are about to initiate a change. In conversation, guided by curiosity and compassion, the reasons emerge. Oftentimes, they’ve outgrown their position and are no longer fulfilled in it. They want something more.

Second, it’s important to know what to say to others. An e-mail advisory of leaving “for new endeavors” may be appropriate to a firm-wide audience. Yet, something more needs to be said to people you know and value. A truthful narrative, grounded in the for-the-sake-of-what the transition is being made, allows others to understand and empathize. People can’t be helpful and support a transition they don’t understand. The instinct of many will be to be helpful, pleased to be able to provide a helping hand.

From where I stand, there is value in recognizing that transitions are a natural and inevitable part of life. Resisting transition and fighting to maintain the status quo is often a losing cause. Sometimes, it’s time to leave what is no longer satisfying. Timing is important. Very often, people lament that they waited too long to make their transition. And during the all-too-common identity quakes, take comfort in knowing that you and much around you remains unchanged. Be a student of your own experience. Much is known about transitions and you can access the wisdom of others. Finally, find a committed listener to be a deep resource and guide along the way.

The poet, John O’Donohue summed this all up in his poem, “New Beginnings”:

In out of the way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,

Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,

Noticing how you willed yourself on,

Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.


It watched you play with the seduction of safety

And the gray promises that sameness whispered,

Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,

Wondered would you always live like this.


Then the delight, when your courage kindled,

And out you stepped onto new ground,

Your eyes young again with energy and dream,

A path of plenitude opening before you.

May the words of the poet, informed by the experience of so many, kindle your courage to leave for the new endeavors that lie before you.

Dennis Coyne is a Master Certified Coach and retired lawyer. He coaches lawyers and consults with law firms to take effective action and to achieve their objectives. He can be reached at [email protected].

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