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The Right and Wrong Reasons To Quit Practicing Law

published April 15, 2022

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As a legal recruiter and a former lawyer, I come into contact with a lot of attorneys on a daily basis. What I have noticed is that too many attorneys quit practicing law and choose alternative careers for all the wrong reasons.
 

The important thing every attorney needs to realize about the legal profession before they quit is that once you leave the legal industry it is extremely difficult to get back in if you realize you have made a mistake. That is why quitting your legal career is a decision you should really think through and make sure that you are quitting law for valid reasons.


In this article, I will uncover when quitting the practice of law is the right choice and also when to rethink the decision to quit.
 

Reasons To Quit the Legal Profession

Quit Practicing Law When You Do Not Like the Job

 


This may sound obvious but if you do not like the core of the work you do, you should not do it. This does not include not liking your superiors, peers, or the law firm but the work itself. If someone does not like arguing, they should probably not be in litigation. If they do not enjoy making real estate deals, they should probably not be in real estate law. There is the option to change practice areas.

Regardless of the practice area, the work of most lawyers includes a lot of reading, writing, researching laws, understanding complex issues, drawing conclusions, and reporting everything back in an understandable manner to the client. If you hate doing anything from these things, practicing law is not for you, and if you are a lawyer, you are probably not happy in your position.

I have seen so many attorneys change career paths to a lower-paying profession and became so happy and successful just because it is something they enjoy. Liking what you do is essential for wanting to do it every day. Even a high salary or wonderful colleagues will not make you enjoy a job if you hate all of your daily tasks.

However, do not quit for something that can be easily changed. You cannot change the core of the work you are doing, but there are still a lot of things you can change. If you do not like working for someone else or with other people, you can open up your own practice and work on your own or start working as a contract lawyer. You can always change your practice area or practice setting and in some law firms and companies, you can even start working part-time or remotely if you need more flexibility. There are more options than traditional practice, so if you like doing the job and helping people but the conditions of your current legal job do not suit you, you do not need to quit the practice of law altogether.
 

If You Are Bad at Being a Lawyer, It Is a Good Reason To Quit

 


Some people have the natural talent for being a lawyer while others do not. If you know you belong to those who are not great at being an attorney and you do not see that any improvement will happen even if you tried, it is probably best if you choose a different career path. For your sake and for the sake of your law firm and clients.

When you are in a profession that does not fit you and your skills, you usually get frustrated because you are not able to achieve what you want despite trying hard. The clients you represent and the law firm you work for are probably also not happy if you are losing their cases and not doing the greatest work for them.

There is nothing wrong with not having the skills or aptitude to be a lawyer. Not everyone is talented enough to be in professional sports or can successfully run their own business. And that is okay. The key is to figure out what we are good at and what is not our strong suit and then figure out our career based on that. Because there is no need to punish ourselves by trying to do something we are not capable of doing and are not happy while doing.

Attorneys need to be very detail-oriented to be able to notice small mistakes and keep up with deadlines and updates. They also need to be very intelligent and able to grasp complex issues quickly to be able to come to conclusions from them. They also have to want to help other people and solve their issues for them. If you are not skilled in these things and believe you cannot get better, it is one of the valid reasons to quit practicing law.
 

If You Are Not Interested in Helping Other People, the Practice of Law Is Probably Not for You

 


Being a lawyer is first and foremost about helping other people with their problems. You have to want to help others to be a lawyer and to be a good lawyer. It is completely okay not to have it in you to be excited about helping people. But the greatest lawyers always get thrilled when they get the opportunity to find out about someone's problem and think of all the solutions for it.

However, sometimes it is not about you not having in it you to want to help people. You may only be in a setting where the nature of the work or the people you work with do not involve directly working with the client you want to help. You may need to be more involved with the people whose problems you are solving to be thrilled about helping them.

Working in large law firms or being in some transactional law often does not get attorneys into situations where they can feel like they are getting the hands-on opportunity to help good people. When that is the issue, it is not a good reason to quit the practice of law. Changing this environment to a legal placement in which an attorney can get direct contact with people they are helping is a better way to solve it. Attorneys usually go into public defense or public service for underprivileged people, government, family law, do a lot of pro bono work, or other areas where they can directly help people who need it.
 

If You Know Law Practice Is Not Your Future, It Is Okay to Leave Law

 


Some attorneys just know that working in a law firm is not something they want to do long-term. They might have gone to law school because it is a family tradition even though they never wanted it and are now one of those unhappy attorneys thinking of all the other career choices they could have made. Maybe they have gotten their law degree because they thought being a lawyer is what they wanted to be but found out later it is not their calling. If that is your case, it is one of the legitimate reasons to quit.

However, the key here is to know whether this conviction that the practice of law is not for you really comes from within you or it is a result of other mostly environmental factors. These are factors such as your superiors and their approach, other attorneys you are working with, the type of work you are doing, or the setting you are doing it in. When these factors are the main issue for you but you enjoy helping people and law in general, you should definitely not leave law. Just change your environment to one that fits you better.

One of the environments in which this happens a lot is those of competitive large law firms in big markets like New York. An attorney in a large law firm often gets overworked quite early in their career and then decides to quit practicing law completely instead of choosing to switch to a small firm because they have been taught that the only way to find success as a lawyer is to work in a top law firm. That is, of course, not true, and it is a shame that so many lawyers from the best law schools choose to leave instead of trying to find an environment that fits their personalities and lives better.
 

If Being a Lawyer Puts Your Mental or Physical Health in Danger, You Should Quit

 


You have probably heard some of the stories about top lawyers working themselves to death. Some get extremely stressed about work and are at risk of having a nervous breakdown or even consider committing suicide. Others deal with their stress by abusing substances, like alcohol or drugs, which can quickly get out of control and drive anyone's life to rock bottom. Many lawyers develop health and mental health problems from stress, such as heart disease or cancer, and are at risk of getting hospitalized or even dying.

Another part of attorneys' lives that gets seriously disrupted by them working a lot that affects health is the relationship with family and friends. Constant work and stressful life can drive them away which will then make anyone unhappy.

If this is your case, the best thing you can do for yourself is to stop practicing, at least for some time. It is not worth it to drive yourself to death with work. Even if your work is the thing you care about the most in your life, you cannot do it properly when you are not in your best shape physically and mentally. You can provide the best service to your clients only when you yourself are healthy. Otherwise, you are putting yourself, your clients, and your firm at risk.
 

Being an Attorney Just for the Money Is a Valid Reason To Quit

 


Money is necessary in this world and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be paid for your hard work. However, if you are practicing law just for the money and do not enjoy doing it, it is not enough.

Unfortunately, too many attorneys keep practicing just because of the money. There are many easier professions in which they can earn more money. Being an attorney is really not a job you can do long-term if you are just in it for the money. You have to want to help your clients, care for their problems, and enjoy finding solutions for them.

Attorneys who enjoy what they are doing are usually also those more successful (and thus get more money). Clients will always choose the attorney that seems excited about their job instead of someone who acts bothered that they even have to work on something. Law firms also notice who is excited about their assignments and do not care for the long hours versus someone who cannot wait to get home after work and spends their days suffering behind a desk.

You should always do what excites you and what you like. It is absolutely okay if it is not law. There are countless other career paths you can choose. However, changing your practice area or setting might also be enough to get you excited about your job. Not every lawyer fits into a big firm. Some thrive as in-house counsel, others are happy in government positions. There are so many different jobs in and outside the practice of law, so why stay somewhere just for the money?
 

Constantly Distracted and Lazy Lawyers Can Quit

 


You can only help clients if you are motivated and attentive. Lazy attorneys who cannot focus will do more harm to their firm and clients than help them. Everybody can have a period of being unmotivated; however, if you are lazy and unmotivated for a long period of time and do not think it will change, it is a legitimate reason to quit.
 

If You Are Easily Influenced and Want to Please Everyone, Quitting Is Probably the Best for You

 


Being a lawyer, especially in large competitive firms, requires the person to have certain personality traits to survive. Being a people-pleaser is not one of them.

To be able to be a good advocate for clients and the law firm, attorneys have to be able to stand up for their clients without regard for the opposing side. That is not possible when they are trying to please everyone around them. Sometimes, attorneys are not able to choose their clients but still have to be able to get behind them and protect their interests.

When you become an attorney, the last thing you should be concerned about is yourself and what others think about you. Everything revolves around clients and their needs, so you cannot be afraid to be viewed negatively by others in order to fulfill your job. You have to be able to fall asleep every night without worrying even when you just ruined the opposing counsel. If you are too sensitive and care too much about what others think of you, you will probably never be a good lawyer and you will also not be feeling your best being a lawyer. If this is your case, it is okay to quit.
 

When You Should Not Quit Practicing Law


We as people are always searching for ways to fit in and groups that have similar values and viewpoints as we have. People who are leaning to the liberal side would probably not pick up The Wall Street Journal to read as it has generally a republican tone. At the same time, those leaning on the republican side would probably not choose to read The New York Times as it mostly publishes liberal views.

Just like we are surrounding ourselves with media and friends who have the same life view in our personal lives, we are looking for the same thing in our professions. While many lawyers might not realize this, feeling unhappy in their work is much more often connected to how they fit into the environment and not the nature of the work itself.
 

Every Law Firm and Legal Setting Is Different

 


There are so many different environments that vary not only from practice setting to practice setting but also from law firm to law firm. Most attorneys who quit law completely did not have to do so. They were in the wrong environment, not the wrong profession.

While I was still in law school, I found a summer job at the Justice Department in Washington, DC. I have found out that it is a difficult place to get a full-time position and most of the people working there came from the top law schools in our country. However, even though everyone there got their law degree from a prestigious law school, it was a dreadful environment full of bored attorneys.

Most of the attorneys I worked with spent their days working in silence, eating in silence, always looking tired and uninspired. They went home by the time the clock showed 5 PM and left all of their work in the office. It was tiring just looking at these unhappy attorneys.

On the other hand, whenever I saw groups of law firm attorneys talk about their work, they had smiles on their faces and looked very excited about what they were doing. They obviously loved their job and the practice of law and were talking about it at all hours of the day. I knew immediately that the environment in the Justice Department was not for me. I was unhappy even during those few months I worked there over the summer. I wanted to be as happy and as excited about my job as the attorneys from major law firms I used to see.

There are so many reasons why someone might be unhappy in the environment they are working in that have nothing to do with the work. Apart from the political leaning of most of the people inside the firm, aspects such as the company culture, partners' approach to assigning work, the law firm's location, the amount of responsibility, control, contact with clients an attorney gets, or just other associates in the firm are important for whether an attorney is happy or not in their daily job.
 

Every Attorney's Success = Working in a Large Law Firm?

 


Finding the right group of people and the right company is essential for achieving happiness and success in any profession and it is not easy to do. Most attorneys have not yet found their group and unfortunately believe that it is because the practice of law is not for them. However, that is not true most of the time.

As a legal recruiter with over two decades of experience, I have met and worked with many attorneys who were unhappy with their current job and were looking to change jobs or wanted to quit practicing law completely. Many of these lawyers have worked in the most prestigious law firms in major legal markets and were either fired for some reason or wanted to leave on their own because they were unhappy there. Unfortunately, too many of them want to quit after one negative experience in a big law firm, even though they are talented in practicing law. They think too much about how they would look in front of their peers if they switched to a smaller firm or chose a different legal job. Too many big law firm attorneys believe that the only way to be successful in the legal industry is to be in a major firm in a big market.

Whenever I meet a talented lawyer thinking about quitting like this, I try to help them find an environment that will fit them better. It is a shame when the legal world loses a talented attorney, so I try to do what I can to help them find happiness in a profession they have studied for and have skills in. For some, it is working as in-house counsel in a big company, for others switching to a smaller law firm in a smaller market. Some lawyers are happy once they start working in government or in the public interest.

Once an attorney finds the right environment for them, success usually quickly follows. It is much easier to succeed at a job you love and are excited about than in a placement where you cannot wait to get home the minute your work hours end. Many of my clients who were once on the brink of quitting are now among the top attorneys in their expertise or made partners in great law firms.
 

Conclusions


I am sure that not a lot of law students spend hours a day studying thinking that they will want to quit practicing law after just a few years as an associate in a law firm. Still, many of them do once they start their careers and become unhappy attorneys. It is a shame as I believe that most of them quit for all the wrong reasons.

There are many right and valid reasons for quitting. A job should never put your health at risk or drive you away from all your loved ones. You should also not stay in a job where you hate all of your tasks and would hate them even if you changed your environment or in a job you know you do not want to be in long-term. If you are bad at your job, do not have the skills, and believe that even after training and trying to get better, you will stay bad at it, it is not worth it to stay and suffer.

Unfortunately, most attorneys who quit do not do so for these reasons. Too often they are only in the wrong setting or environment but choose to leave law instead of trying to find a legal job that fits their personality and life better.

Once you have become a lawyer, you have already put so much work and effort into the profession that it would be sad to quit for the wrong reason. If you are thinking about quitting, try to think first about whether it is not just the environment that needs to change, and not the whole profession. The law industry and clients cannot afford to lose more talented attorneys.

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