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Quitting on Practicing Law

published December 24, 2021

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Most law students start their law school experience full of hope and enthusiasm for the legal profession. They know that being a lawyer comes with a specific value in the eyes of others and consider it a tremendous and vital career path in which they can help other people and earn good money at the same time. Some of them, however, lose this enthusiasm very early on. They graduate as attorneys ready to quit before even starting their careers in large law firms.
 

Law school is stressful and demanding; there is no going around that. So, it probably is not a surprise that fresh graduates and first-year associates, tired after years of pressure, look for ways to avoid the stress and anxiety of working in a major American law office. Some of them might be thinking of positions as in-house counsel, a career in government, or they might be looking at alternative employment, which means quitting law altogether before they even really started.


They are not thinking that practicing law does not have to mean working in a large law firm. Most attorneys who practice actively do not work for these big firms. There are countless smaller, less stressful environments where you can practice and help people without having to bill 3000 hours a year and sacrifice all other aspects of your life to keep your job and salary. Quitting entirely in the legal industry just because you have found out that the large law firm is not for you makes sense if you want to become a lawyer to help people.

Of course, some people are not cut out to practice law. If you are unfit for the legal profession, there is no reason to stay there, and it is an excellent reason to quit practicing law. However, as a legal recruiter, I have seen too many fit attorneys leave practicing law just because they were in the wrong environment. In this article, I will reveal how you can figure out if you are qualified for practicing law, and if you are, what you can do to find the right environment for your skills.
 

Are You Fit for the Legal Profession?


Being fit for practicing law does not equate to being suitable for working in a large law firm. That means that even if you worked in a large law firm and hated the experience, not all is lost in your legal career. If you doubt your skills and your fit for being a lawyer, here are some key questions to ask yourself before making the final decision to quit:
 
  • Are you excited to solve your clients' problems?
  • Do you think about solutions to clients' issues in your time off?
  • Do you get into "flow" and lose track of time when solving clients' problems?
  • Does practicing law seem like the right thing you should do even if your compensation would be lower?
  • Do you wish that the day would have more hours for you to dig deep and do better work?
  • Are you invested in the problems you solve?
  • Do you care about the world of law enough that you spend your free time learning more about it and disseminating it to others (i.e., writing articles, giving talks)?

All of these questions concern your inner commitment to the law, your clients, and the quality of your work. If you are not fit for practicing law, you probably do not care about any of this. Attorneys not suited for practicing law are generally in it only for the money or themselves and have to pretend that they care about their clients or their problems when dealing with them.

If this is you, you can quit practicing law; it is not for you. It would not matter if you worked in a large law firm, smaller law firm, or had your law practice; if you do not care about your clients and their problems, you would not be happy and prosperous in the legal industry.
 

How Being "Fit for Practicing Law" Looks in Practice


All of these questions relate to your commitment to the law, your clients, and the quality of your work. They do everything in their power to help the clients, and if that means staying in the office until midnight for weeks to win a case or sacrificing a few weekends before an important deadline, they are happy to do it. Doing a good job and helping their clients is the most important thing for them and doing it is just natural for them. They would feel bad not doing it that way.

Like doctors have to care whether their patients survive to be good doctors, reasonable attorneys must watch whether their clients have a proper legal process and win. The best attorneys never stop thinking about the cases they are working on until they wrap everything up. They think about the solution when they are having breakfast, after leaving the office, and even right before they fall asleep. Even if they lose the case, they do not stop thinking about it if they feel some loose ends exist.

Clients can sense this type of drive and commitment and will always choose attorneys who will do everything to win the case, not those who have a big name behind them and know how to dress to look like an attorney. Clients want attorneys who are passionate about working on their cases and are 100% committed to law practice with high quality.

These attorneys could not imagine doing anything else in their lives, and they are not the people who look forward to their retirement and not doing anything. Helping people and finding solutions for their problems is the one driving and motivating force in their lives. For them, not practicing law is something like not being able to breathe.

This drive, commitment, and "spirit" are natural to people who are cut out for the profession as a lawyer and cannot be measured by tests or academic results that law schools and law offices usually consider. It cannot be taught, yet it is one of the most critical factors that create a great attorney. That is why many of the highly successful attorneys I know did not go to the best law school or start in the most prominent law firm. They are just highly motivated by being able to help other people.

This inner drive is a requirement for all attorneys, even those with the best law school, best grades, or best law firm on their record. At BCG Attorney Search, we usually do not work with attorneys that lack this drive to help their clients. They are not motivated enough and sooner or later will want to leave. That is just not the risk we want to take, and clients should not want to either.
 

Deciding When To Quit in Your Law Firm


If you find out that you might not fit the law profession, it is best to quit as soon as possible. Caring about your own free time and time spent with family is essential, and no one should feel bad about having this as their priority. Imagine if you desperately need this time to handle a client's case at the end of the month, or if you can't have dinner with clients once or twice a year to strengthen your relationship and gain new ones. In that case, a law firm is not for you.

Quitting as soon as possible after realizing this is just good for your good. Not being fit for being a lawyer is one of a few valid reasons for leaving the practice of law and gives you the time and opportunity to find the new career path that suits you, your skills, and where you will be driven enough to live and breath your profession.

However, if you determine that helping other people and solving their problems is something you love doing, you should not even think about quitting. Being excited about this means that you are cut out for being a lawyer, which is extraordinary. Unfortunately, many outstanding attorneys leave after getting their law degree because they believe that not being cut out for large law offices means not being cut out for practicing law. But that is not true. If you are passionate about helping your clients, you would be doing everyone a disservice by quitting.
 

Fit for Being a Lawyer, But Not Fit for Large Law Firms. What Now?


As I mentioned initially, large firms are not the only place you can practice the legal profession. Most attorneys do not work in these firms.
 

The Perfect Law Firm Opportunity


When I was still a law student, I had the best opportunity to work as an attorney I would ever have. Through my girlfriend's family at the time, I got an interview in a small law firm operating from a small town. I had a few meetings with the attorneys there, and I experienced something I would never see in any law firm again. My interviews ended around 5:30 PM and could not go on any longer because, by that time, every single attorney left to go home after work. One of the attorneys I talked with left even an hour and a half sooner to train his daughter and her teammates in soccer. Another attorney I interviewed with was telling about the beautiful vacation he had in the past two weeks in some tropical country.

All attorneys there drove luxury cars, probably lived in big houses, kept a large office full of antiques, paid golf club memberships, and appeared to be doing well financially. However, there had always been a 9-5 approach to hiring attorneys at the firm. The firm had a few critical and significant clients, such as the local hospital and bigger businesses around the town. That meant a steady flow of work without having to chase any other company.

The firm was not concerned about growing bigger; they were not hiring new associates. That also meant that they kept the costs of having offices and paying salaries relatively low and steady. The attorneys working there had been in the firm for decades, and it was working out for them.

It was a fantastic opportunity for me, one I would never get again, but as a hungry law student, it was just too far from what I imagined working in a law firm meant. After knowing what I know now, I know that it is a blessing to have a stable, well-paying job, you do not have to risk your health for a paycheck, you have time for your family, and you can also help people and do what you love. But at that time in my life, I thought working in a small firm like that was beneath me. I wanted to work under a big name in a big legal market and spend my days practicing law.

Of course, I later found out that an environment like that was not for me. My life would probably be very different if I had taken the job in that small law firm. Maybe I would still be an attorney. But it led me to find what I think is my true calling - legal recruiting - and start BCG Attorney Search. However, many attorneys who turn down similar perfect job opportunities are destined to remain attorneys. They are just passing on a fantastic chance for a successful life without realizing it.
 

Why Attorneys Reject Perfect Job Offers


I am not alone in getting the perfect job offer and not taking the chance. Many attorneys seeking our help received offers from smaller law offices, government agencies, corporations, or other places in need of legal assistance who have the money and ability to offer them fulfilling work. Still, they rejected them right away or after getting an offer from a firm with greater recognition. And I understand them as I did the same thing.

We are all taught that the more important and more prestigious means better. But that is not the case. Of course, they can usually offer a bigger salary, but it comes at a price. Your job is much less stable than if you have a job in a smaller firm in a smaller market. If you do not have enough business on your own in large firms by year six or seven, you will probably be asked to find a job somewhere else.

You can also generally forget about any personal touch (if you do not have a mentor). Attorneys are looked at as a workforce who should work 18 hours a day on all the assigned tasks without considering their value to the client, not as individuals who care about what they do.

Still, many attorneys who conclude that this environment is not for them instead quit practicing law altogether rather than switching to a small firm or a small market. They feel like they are stepping down too much, and it will not look nice in the eyes of others. That can later return to bite them, as it is challenging, if not impossible, to return to the world of law offices once you leave.

I have heard the stories many times. An attorney can start in a small firm or a sizeable big-name firm in some big city. The smaller firm pays, but the living expenses are also much lower. The team is much smaller, friendly, and the job is very stable, well-established with a few loyal clients, and precisely in the dream practice area of the attorney.

On the other hand, the more prominent firm can offer a higher salary (sometimes even twice as much money as a small firm). Still, the living expenses in the big city are also very high, so a good chunk of that money goes directly into rent and similar things. The attorney has to work crazy hours in a practice area that is not their "dream job," but under the big name.

Many attorneys choose the latter option because the big name and salary are too hard to pass on. However, working thousands of hours every year in a fast-paced and demanding environment in an area that is not even what you wanted to do is exhausting and will eventually wear anyone out. After a few years, they are so burned out that they quit practicing law entirely for a while. When they want to return after taking a break, they find out that it is not that easy and generally never get to the level they were at before quitting.
 

Is Quitting the Right Choice?


When asked whether to leave or start in a small firm, many attorneys leave because they feel that working in a small firm will make them look bad. While a few individuals might think this way, with my years of experience, I have found out that this is not true for most people in the legal profession. So many attorneys support and even make this career decision. The stressful environment of large firms is just not for everyone, and it is always better to legal practice in a less stressful setting than quitting if you know that helping your clients is what you want to do.

The career advice I want you to take out of this article is a perfect working environment for everyone. Some attorneys thrive in a large firm, but many attorneys are just exhausted and unhappy there. If you tried it out and did not like the stress, the people, the firm culture, or anything else, it does not have to mean that you are not a good lawyer. It might just mean that you need to try out a different environment with people you will fit in.
 

Conclusions


Most attorneys believe that becoming a successful lawyer means getting into the top law school, getting excellent grades, finishing at the top of the class, and getting into the most prestigious law firm in New York or California. For some, it is true, although they should not forget that getting into that firm is not the end. It is only the start; the hard work starts afterward with being a lawyer and advancing in the firm. However, it is not like that for everyone. Many great attorneys have a gratifying career in less stressful and less demanding environments.

Not living up to someone else's idea of success does not mean that you are unsuccessful or not cut out for the industry. If you find out that you are in a setting that does not fit you, do not quit unless you are sure you are not cut out for being a lawyer. Switch practice areas, switch firms or markets and find out how best to use your law degree. You have come this far. It would be sad to become one of the many lawyers who quit the practice of law for the wrong reasons.

See also:
 

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