So lately I’ve been thinking how it’s probably not helpful that I’m always like BEING A LAWYER IS THE BEST THING EVAR! Because I get that not everyone feels that way and in encouraging folks to enter this field I don’t want to make ppl feel like there’s something wrong with them if they don’t enjoy practicing. Yes, it’s totally normal to actually not enjoy being a lawyer.
I mean maybe that’s not a huge surprise when you look at the data that shows how badly our profession suffers from depression and addiction but only pointing to that can feel extreme. There can be moments in your career where you are dissatisfied, when you question your current path, and when you straight up do not like what you’re doing. Does that mean becoming a lawyer was a mistake? No! It just means you’re in a part of life where it’s time to re-assess and figure out next steps so that you do feel fulfilled and that may mean changing the type of lawyering you’re doing.
First, though, it’s important to figure out what factors are contributing to your dissatisfaction:
One. Is the firm? Be honest with yourself and determine whether it is your firm’s culture/expectations that is causing your unhappiness. And I use firm generally, this applies to nonprofits/govt as well. Do you think you’d enjoy what you’re doing in another space? Have policies or office requirements dampened your approach to practicing? Do you just straight up not like your coworkers?! All of that is valid and can have serious impact on your career and its progression. If you are miserable because of your firm, it is fair to start looking at other options. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the comfort of familiarity that we don’t consider other options (even when it’s really time to go).
Two. Is it the practice area? Maybe it’s not the firm, the firm is great! But you realize you don’t want to spend the rest of your career in this practice area. Maybe litigation isn’t as exciting as you’d thought it would be or working on divorces is too emotionally exhausting, those realizations are all valid and all ok. It is ok to change focus! Yes, you’ve spent time cultivating skills in a specific area of law but guess what? A lawyer is a lawyer is a lawyer. Your skills are transferable and you can try something else. Yes, it may mean you have to hustle to find a lateral option or volunteer somewhere to gain experience in something else, but that type of change is necessary if it allows you to do work you find more fulfilling.
Three. Is it lawyering? Maybe you’re a few years in and realize you really don’t enjoy practicing. I can see why—cases can move slow when they’re not moving at an ultra-fast pace; clients can be rude as hell; opposing counsel even worse; you spend most of your time working, and just feel like this isn’t right anymore. That is ok. Remember what I just said? A lawyer is a lawyer is a lawyer. Your degree and legal experience are an asset to any job because now you’re an analytical thinker in a way most are not; you are skilled in strategy building; in research and writing; in time management; in responding to adversarial settings; I could go on and on. You can decide to teach, you can find a non-legal job, you can be an asset to a business as a consultant or even GC; you can go into policy…you get the picture.
And here I’ll throw in a little testimonial, I left direct practice after nine years. I didn’t stop enjoying my work, but in order to experience real career growth, I needed to leave. I found an opportunity in policy, but in government, so I do things beyond policy work. And yes, I would be lying if I didn’t have thoughts now and then when I’m doing something bizarre (like prepping a horse to ride in on a press conference ?) “I went to law school for this?” But those moments are fleeting and more often than not, I am SO appreciative that I am a lawyer because it is those skills that have allowed me to excel in this role.
There is no shame in deciding you need to move on to the next step and that the next step doesn’t look at all like your current situation. Because no matter what you go on to do—you will always have your title and the skills and talent that come with it. If you’re in the midst of a change (or considering it) remind yourself that you will be an asset in any role you take on so you may as well find one that brings you satisfaction.