The Road Less Traveled: When You’re Forced Off Your Narrative Arc, and What To Do

In my day job as Associate Director of Talent at Bliss Lawyers, many of the attorneys that I speak with describe how an alt-path gives them the flexibility to optimize their lives. BigLaw hours no longer constrain them from nurturing a side hustle into profitability, pursuit of a sub-three hour marathon, writing and publishing that novel that's been swirling around in their heads, traveling abroad, or assuming a role as family caregiver.  

But many of the people I speak with - including myself - were forced off the traditional path. 

Like Westworld hosts, we come into this world with a narrative arc, except one that we've pre-programmed ourselves. 

Consciously or subconsciously, we believe that our narratives will follow certian patterns or obey certain laws of causality. For example, many of us grew up believing that if we worked hard and got good grades, we'd get the BigJob. And working hard and getting strong reviews would enable us to keep the BigJob, or transition to a new one.   

Narrative arcs are not without inciting incidents and plot twists - we may get laid off, for example - but through work ethic and strong performance we would claw our way out of the pit and back onto our cherished paths. Like a minor market correction, a temporary destabilizing event might have been uncomfortable in the moment, but does little to alter our overall trajectories, especially over time. 

Then, the Great Recession happened and everything changed. The world threw itself out of balance and our narrative arcs destabilized. In an earlier blog post, I discussed how 2009's disturbance in the force served as the inciting incident which got me out of BigLaw and onto an alternative legal career. Fortunately, I never wanted back into legal practice.

But, many people I speak with don't want an alt-path. They don't want to assume the risk of a Sheryl Sandberg-style jungle-gym scramble, and its inherent instabilities and uncertainties. They want a traditional professional narrative arc.

To paraphrase a poet far more talented than I, they didn't choose the alt life. The alt life chose them. 

So, what to do if you've been off-ramped, and want to get back on? 

  1. Investigate legal secondment firms. Many secondment firms offer attorneys the chance to work high-end temporary roles at Fortune 100 companies, financial institutions, and law firms. These positions are often not as competitive as direct-hire jobs, and offer an attorney the chance to develop an up-to-date skill set. They also may convert into permanent employment.
  2. Investigate corporate relaunch programs. Companies like Goldman Sachs offer corporate re-entry programs, and many AmLaw 200 law firms participate in on-ramp internships. 
  3. Keep Up With Legal Developments. Whether due to market forces or administration changes, the legal landscape when you left your traditional path may bear little resemblance to the status quo. 
  4. Keep Up With Technological Developments. When I left legal practice in 2008, I had a flip phone for personal use, a BlackBerry for professional use, saw the iPhone as a novelty and social media as a nuisance. Now, BigLaw partners (not to mention heads of state) have their own Twitter accounts. Office management software has changed as well. Someone well versed in Lotus Notes may need to familiarize themselves with PowerPoint. And e-discovery and other LawTech innovations have changed how many types of lawyers are utilized. 

If you have successfully on-ramped after being shuffled off-ramp, please share your stories in the comments below.


Alexis Lamb is a recovering lawyer who served time as a transactions associate in the New York office of O'Melveny & Myers and the Hong Kong office of Linklaters. She is currently Director of Talent at Bliss Lawyers.   

Her work has appeared in online and print publications including Inside, the NYSBA Corporate Counsel Section’s publication, andThought Catalog; and her fiction has appeared in Five2One Magazine: The Sideshow. 

Connect with Alexis at:

Visit The No-Pants Life, Alexis's blog on remote work and location-independent careers and lifestyle (not affiliated with Bliss Lawyers, just a personal passion project) here 

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