When Elena Deutsch was a young girl, her father would hold mock trials at the kitchen table.
A long-time criminal defense attorney in New York City, he gave her an early love of the legal world and the will to succeed.
And yet, she didn’t go on to law school.
Instead, Elena joined the non-profit sector and had a successful 11-year career in public health as the media spokesperson for the American Cancer Society working on tobacco control and smoking prevention in New York State.
In 2007, when her kids were little, she pivoted to a new field.
But not into law.
For seven years Elena and a business partner ran a leadership and coaching firm.
A number of her coaching clients were lawyers who would confide to her in hushed tones.
“When I’d ask them about their career goals, most of them would whisper to ask if they could be honest about how they were feeling about their chosen profession,” Elena recalls.
It turns out there was a common theme: big complaints about Big Law.
Statistics show the career choice is a challenging one, especially for women. Though she had never herself been a lawyer, Elena related to these clients, “hard-working, brilliant women who are suffering disproportionately.”
The desire to help them led to an “epiphany” the summer Elena turned 50.
She decided to create a more specific coaching niche.
“I felt like if I don’t go for this now, I’m not living my authentic dreams,” Elena recalls.
The death of her mother, a social worker, two years prior, had given her a sense of urgency to spend her time in new and meaningful ways.
Where there’s a will there’s a way…
And one night the name just came to her:
Women Interested in Leaving Law.
Elena launched her company, WILL (https://womeninterestedinleavinglaw.com) in January 0f 2018, coaching female lawyers to live their best lives, set appropriate boundaries and discover other opportunities in law or in entirely new careers.
Citing the challenges of still very male-dominated legal world, Elena reports her clients’ concerns include a lack of control over their time, “zero” scheduling predictability and work that is less interesting and less meaningful than they had hoped it would be. The money and prestige her clients anticipated doesn’t do enough to offset the impact on their lives.
“I don’t want to wait another day,” a client once said about her desire to leave.
“We’re steeped in a culture without boundaries,” Elena says, noting many of her clients have extreme “black and white” thinking.
“I’m either a prestigious lawyer or I’m a failure, that’s what they think.” (It’s kind of like thinking of yourself as a Straight A or a Total F, something I’ve written about before…)
Elena coaches her clients to discover their gifts and talents and what will “light them up.” Then, together, they work on the courage to go for it, using their skills and interests as the solid foundation for their exploration.
“My clients want work that’s more meaningful. They want to care about the work and feel they’re contributing,” says Elena. “We do the mindset work to get them to believe they can do it and take action.”
Together, they focus on career strategies, dealing with “inner critics and gremlins.”
While she works with clients on their own narrative, Elena believes there is room for change in the story law firms are selling.
“If given the narrative that if you can’t hack it, you can’t make it here, it becomes an unsatisfying fit.”
Since launching WILL in January of 2018, Elena has served more than two dozen women and has a growing clientele list. What she loves about her role is seeing women who previously had difficulty doing so begin to put themselves first.
“They do it in small ways,” Elena says. “Like going out for lunch and taking a walk around the block at 1:00 when they are hungry instead of at 4:30 when they are falling to pieces. Or they go on vacation and don’t take their laptop. They discover when they start to say no that the world doesn’t fall apart. They learn they have more power than they think.”
Elena says the benefits are seen in the small moments.
“They’re happier in the morning with their kids. They’re more optimistic. They are being transformed by it.”
Many of her clients are starting their own next chapters. Elena cites attorneys who left big law to go to startups or are now thriving in-house. Some became policy directors. One is renting out an airstream trailer and has a vision to open a business bringing the camping experience to novices.
“Most maintain their bar status and keep their licenses,” she says. “They can negotiate and review contracts. Their skills are still useful in a number of roles.”
Elena is expanding the business, planning self-care retreats for women lawyers, growing the reach and impact of WILL.
It clear that where there’s WILL, there’s a way.
PROFILE: Elena Deutsch, Founder and CEO of WILL – Women Interested in Leaving Law
TITLE OF YOUR CURRENT CHAPTER: Starting a biz at 50! And loving it.
MOTTO TO LIVE BY: I choose to take 100% responsibility for my life. Zero excuses.
DAILY RITUAL: Morning yoga, meditation (Calm app) and affirmations.
HOW DO YOU GET UNSTUCK: Go for a walk in the park or put on Pharell William’s Happy and dance like no one is watching!
WHAT’S NEXT?: Hosting a Self-care for women lawyers retreat at Kripalu in the Berkshires May 21-24, 2019.
If you’re interested in taking your skills beyond big law, Elena can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Elena on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/elena-deutsch
Valerie Gordon, founder of career and communication strategy firm Commander-in-She, writes about inspiring Next Chapter stories and women Taking Command of their careers on the Commander-in-She blog. If you know of a woman with a great career journey, email email@example.com for story consideration!