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How to Know When You Should Quit the Practice of Law: Why So Many Lawyers Quit the Legal Profession

published July 04, 2018

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Summary: The difficulty of practicing law, such as the long hours and contentious personalities, is not for everyone. And if you quit, there’s little chance to get back into the profession. Choose quitting wisely.
How to Know When You Should Quit the Practice of Law: Why So Many Lawyers Quit the Legal Profession
  • Quitting law is no easy feat: You need to carefully consider what you are giving away when giving up law.
  • At the same time, you should figure out if your new endeavors will provide you the satisfaction that law did not.
You’ve spent over $100,000 and three years of your life getting a law degree. You’ve passed the bar. You work at a law firm and handle big cases. You drive the fancy car and have a nice apartment. And yet… you’re unhappy.
So now what?
For many, becoming a lawyer is a lifetime dream. That dream is either imposed upon them by themselves or their families or friends, but whoever wanted them to enter law has foreseen a future of prestige and high pay. While the law may provide that for most, it can still leave many feeling as if something is missing. That feeling of dissatisfaction in our jobs should not be ignored, but should we actually quit a position that has required so much of an investment in our money, energy, and time?
If you are at a spot where you are questioning quitting your job as an attorney, know that you are not alone. Studies have shown that at least 70% of all attorneys have questioned at one point whether or not the career was right for them. But while some stay and some go, the decision is entirely up to you. But before you make a choice on your career, let’s evaluate why you are unhappy and the possible solutions you can employ your initial spirit to practice law.
  1. Why do you hate practicing law?

No attorney, no matter how long they’ve been in practice, likes working 60+ hours a week or to deal with angry clients or ruthless colleagues. The negatives of the law firm world have been known for decades, but those who stay in the career navigate those waters and find a way to thrive in them. However, the people, the work, and the environment are not tolerated by everyone. If you feel down about being a lawyer, ask yourself the following questions:
  • What do you like about practicing law?
  • What do you dislike about practicing law?
  • If you could remove the elements that you dislike, would you still want to be a lawyer?
  • Describe your perfect day. What would you do?
  • Describe your perfect life. What do you want in it and why is it “perfect” to you?
After you answer the questions above, you can see if your feelings of unhappiness are short-term or something you can fix. For instance, if you dislike your job because you are working on a case and you hate your colleagues, this negative feeling may pass once the case is over and you can surround yourself with new people. Or you may feel unease that you are in a practice that isn’t bringing in a lot of business, and you fear for your job insecurity. That problem could be remedied if you take on cases in another practice. After probing your situation and determining whether or not tangible solutions exist, you may discover that working on certain issues will bring you job satisfaction more than completely quitting law.
14 Commons Reasons for Unhappiness at Work
  1. You are not liked by your boss.
  2. You don’t get along with your colleagues.
  3. The work conflicts with your values.
  4. You don’t have work-life balance.
  5. You feel incompetent.
  6. You don’t feel stable in your position.
  7. Your employer has broken promises to you.
  8. You’re bored.
  9. You think you should be promoted, paid more, given better assignments, etc.
  10. You’re not making enough money.
  11. You hate your boss.
  12. You wish you lived in another city, closer to your family or significant other.
  13. You think the grass will be greener in another field.
  14. You feel isolated and lonely.
If your realization is that you can fix your issues at work, talk to trusted friends or mentors to get career advice. They can most likely help you come up with an action plan to tackle your problems. When you evaluate what’s making you unhappy at work, you could also just be stressed from overwork or having a conflict with someone else. In this case, you may need to take a mini-vacation or some kind of break to give you relaxation and perspective.
However, you may also discover that there is nothing that can be done to make you love your profession. Maybe your perfect life involves you running a small business. Or maybe your perfect life involves you teaching students instead of arguing cases in court. Or maybe you want to switch into a creative field. If you have assessed your current situation and know that the only thing to do is give up law, and then you have to do it.
The cliché is true. Life’s too short. We spend the majority of our years on earth at work, so you may as well enjoy what you do.
  1. How to overcome the fear of quitting your job

If you have determined that you no longer want to be a lawyer, you may be feeling anxiety or questioning whether or not you should just stick with it. After all, experts state that if you leave the law firm world for unsanctioned reasons then you are not going to be welcomed back. Lawyers value commitment, and they do not look kindly upon anyone who displays characteristics that steer in the other direction. Thus, if you decide to leave, know that the decision is most likely permanent.
Quitting law is scary because switching to an alternative field can mean starting at the bottom. It can also mean taking time before you figure out what it is you truly want to do next. While it is not easy to just give up something that has taken tremendous effort to achieve, it is also freeing to let go of something that brings you nothing but pain. That freedom alone is worth any of the hardship you may face.
Fear is normal when one goes through a drastic change. To manage those negative feelings, set small, realistic goals for yourself. Don’t expect a great change right away, and you may not even quit your law firm job right away either. Once you know you want to stop being a lawyer, you can create a process of transition. This can take a few months or even a year. You may also transition out by working part-time or taking a contract or in-house position.
If fear cripples you from making a leap, don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Make a list of the pros and cons of changing your job. Re-examine your previous list of what you like and what you dislike about being a lawyer and what makes you happy. Sometimes seeing the words on paper can assure you that you’re doing the right thing.
Common Fears That Stop People From Making Change
  1. Fear of loss of income
  2. Fear of loss of lifestyle
  3. Fear of judgment from family or friends
  4. Fear of losing one’s former self
  5. Fear of achieving happiness
Because commitment is such an important value to law firms, you must be discrete about how you are going to leave. That means keep this newfound epiphany to yourself and go about your day-to-day in a normal manner as you make moves to transition out. Even if you never want to be a lawyer again, exit your job on good terms. You never know when that connection could benefit you in the future in some other capacity.
  1. What is life like after law?

Once you have committed to ending your legal career, you may be wondering, “What is life like after law?” People who have gone through it say that they have no regrets, and their previous experience has helped them succeed in their new ventures. After all, being a lawyer means constantly writing, reading, and communicating with others; and law permeates in every industry—from the arts to technology.
Some of the most common fields that former lawyers tend to move into include politics, journalism, or business. Ask almost any politician, and they have a legal education. Their experience practicing allows them to understand and write policy, and some notable current lawyers-turned-politicians include President Barack Obama, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, and President Bill Clinton. Former attorneys like Megyn Kelly and Geraldo Rivera deliver the news and rake in millions of dollars a year, and others with J.D.s, such as Judge Judy and Jerry Springer, have also found success with media. In business, lawyers who choose to not go in-house excel as entrepreneurs or in other functions in big organizations.
If you are unsure of what your next step is, don’t fret. Harrison Barnes, the CEO of BCG Attorney Search, has met numerous people who have transitioned into other jobs, and he has listed sixty popular law replacements.
“In my career spanning more than two decades as an attorney and legal recruiter, I have met an astonishing number of people who have chosen nontraditional legal careers. With very, very few exceptions, most of these people are far happier than they ever were practicing law. A good number of these people who left the legal practice also make more money in their new professions,” Barnes said.
Alternative Careers for Lawyers:
  • Politician
  • Lobbyist
  • Entrepreneur
  • Law School Counselor
  • Management Consultant
  • Arbitrator
  • Law Professor
  • FBI Agent
  • Journalist
  • Legal Recruiter
  • Salesperson
  • Agent
  • Policy Analyst
  • HR Director
  • Banker
  • News Commentator
  • Author
  • Artist
  • Actor
  • Musician
  • Screenwriter
  • TV Writer
  • Community Organizer
  • Chief Operating Officer
If you are unsure of which career path to take next, reach out to friends and let them know your interests. Talk to as many people about their jobs and get to know what they do. From those interviews, you’ll learn more about what you like and don’t like, and you’ll also get a feel on how to break into that industry.
These informational interviews may even inspire you work in a non-lawyer position that is still law-related. For instance, lawyers can use their experience to become law professors, consultants, arbitrators, legal authors, legal journalists or more. John Grisham, for instance, used his attorney experience to write numerous best-sellers focusing on lawyer protagonists who battle complex cases. David E. Kelly created the TV Shows Ally McBeal and The Practice using his legal education and years working at a Boston law firm.
If you know that being a lawyer is not for you, remember that your experience and skills will be valuable in your next career. Don’t stay at a job that you hate. We all make compromises in our lives, but one of our most valuable possessions is our time and it’s not worth spending a good portion of your life doing something you despise.
No one is forcing you to be a lawyer. If you don’t want to be there, leave. Don’t think about how much law school cost or how many years you sunk into your career. Instead, view your time spent as something that taught you skills and showed you who you are as a person. It is scary to change, in general, but that brief feeling of fear will subside and in its place will be a more rewarding career and a happier you.
And remember, having a law degree is beneficial in non-legal jobs as well. Employers want smart, capable people who can handle pressure; and anyone who has finished a legal education and worked in law have proven those qualities and then some.
“In my experience, people with law degrees often do extremely well in finding alternative legal (or non-legal) careers that do not require actually practicing law. People generally become attorneys because they are motivated, intelligent and have great work ethics. When you get out into the world (outside of law), you will soon discover that many people do not share your same commitment, aptitude and abilities. This is one reason that attorneys tend to perform so well in careers outside of the law,” Barnes said.
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