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Thinking about Leaving the legal profession… Now What?

It would be an understatement to say that a career in law is a difficult one. The hours are long, pressure is high, and the work is not always what one expects. The life of a typical lawyer in a big law firm is exhausting and honestly, sometimes boring.

Along the years, many lawyers realize that this is not the work they wanted or hoped for when they set their path towards the legal field, but it can be daunting to admit and decide to get out of it.

With that said, people are constantly leaving the profession and it is entirely possible step. The question now becomes – how.

Most lawyers have a pretty consistent personality type. They tend to be extremely hard working, determined and organized people. Many have the following life plan figured out pretty early on: university, law school, “make it” at a top law firm. With this determination to be successful, lawyers will often forget to stop and think about what this success means. They want to ignore the fact that hard work does not stop with one’s education, it only grows.  The long hours spent studying the law are converted into long hours spent practicing it. The fact of the matter is, it never gets easier. And guess what? It won’t be easy to change careers either, but that’s okay. You have faced difficulties before and can do this!

Before completely writing off your law career, you should consider the following steps.

  • Decide whether it is law that is making you unhappy or specific things about where you are.
  • If there are aspects of work that you can change that will make you happier, try to change them.
  • Fix your environment to the best of your abilities.
  • If you realize that just changing little things at work is not going to do it for you, consider changing firms. Maybe you need to move from a large, stressful firm to a smaller one.

You can decide to make a small career change but just changing what it is you do but staying in a field related to law. In the end, if you decide that law is not working for you at all, it might be time to leave the profession all the time.

So, you’ve decided you’re done with the life of a lawyer, what next?

The first question on many peoples’ minds is what to do about money. Education is not cheap, and many people come into their law careers with debt and loans that need to be paid off. It is more than likely that whatever you will do instead of law may not pay as well as your law firm did.

Be realistic. Your career change might mean cancelling your wine-of-the-month subscription, giving up on retail therapy, or even moving into a smaller apartment across town. The financial strain of leaving the legal profession will vary for everyone, but it is important to be aware of the fact that things will change, and it is your responsibility to be prepared. Plan out your finances for the next couple of years so that you feel a little bit better as you begin this journey.

The next question is what comes next?

You don’t want to be a lawyer, but what do you want to be? Think back to before you decided to be a lawyer. What else were you interested in? Why you decided to be a lawyer? Consider the personality traits that made people say to you, you should go to law school. Everyone brings something to the table that would make them a good lawyer or just a good employee. What are your skills?

There are dozens of alternative careers for lawyers. Many choose to go into the start-up world, using their organizational and detail-oriented skills to make it on their own. Start-ups are a popular career path in general today, but lawyers make especially good candidates for starting their own businesses. Others may consider journalism, public relations, social media, marketing, consulting, management, politics and government, and academia. In short, lawyers can do virtually anything after deciding to leave their law firms.

People may think that to leave the legal world they must be extremely passionate about whatever it is they are beginning. That doesn’t have to be true either. Don’t wait around for a passion to fall into your lap to give you an excuse to leave a desk job you hate. Focus on what you’re good at and go from there. And if you don’t like that either, you’ll know exactly what it takes to start over.

Your law degree may not be perfectly applicable to whatever new career you choose, but that does not make it altogether useless. It’s important to leverage your law degree when looking for new jobs. Sell that aspect of yourself, whether or not you are trying to find work in the legal profession. Having a law degree already gives potential bosses a better understanding of the type of person and employee you are.

Leaving law is not easy. There are going to be many difficulties and setbacks. Just the fear of being viewed differently can take a toll on people choosing to leave the law profession. You may not know exactly what your life post-law will look like, but you should know what you hope to get out of it.

Talk to others that have done the same thing. The Internet is a great resource, use it. People have blogged profusely about their own personal processes of leaving law. In addition, companies exist solely for the purpose of helping you go through this process. So go for it, change it up and see what comes next.

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