I Hate Being a Lawyer. What Now?
What happens when your career isn't what you wanted?
You spent three years in law school, suffered through the bar exam, secured a job as a lawyer…only to find that you’re miserable and hate being a lawyer. What now? Given the level of law school debt, it’s unlikely that most unhappy attorneys can simply walk away with nothing else lined up. But there are steps you can take, starting today, to put yourself on a path to greater career satisfaction.
Remember the time before you went to law school.
Law school, and working as a lawyer, are so all-consuming that it’s easy to forget that you also used to be an accomplished, competent person with marketable skills.
For whatever reason, unhappy lawyers tend to be convinced they’ve got nothing to offer outside of the legal profession. But someone would have hired you to do something before you ever went to law school! Think back to the things you were rewarded for before law school. It’s likely one of these skills or traits will be part of your post-law career path.
Get serious about your finances.
Lawyers also tend to catastrophize and fear they’ll end up living under a bridge if they quit their current job. While it’s important to be realistic about your finances, it’s also important not to be overly dramatic about the amount of money you truly need in order to live comfortably. If you’re a highly-paid attorney working in a large law firm, it’s likely that you’ve adopted habits that aren’t actually contributing to your overall happiness (because you’re on the ever-present “hedonic treadmill” where having more expensive things doesn’t lead to happiness).
Although it seems like you’d be far less happy in a smaller house or with a less expensive car, studies suggest this isn’t actually true. And, notably, the most satisfied lawyers tend to be the ones who make the least money!
Give yourself permission to explore your options.
It can be tough to admit to yourself and others that law isn’t the right profession for you.
But you don’t have to make that statement right away (and it might not be true anyway). Rather than taking drastic action, just give yourself permission to look around and explore some options. What would it be like to work as a different type of attorney? Why not set up some informational interviews and find out? What would it be like to be a writer? Why not start a blog and find out? Let your curiosity guide you, and see where it leads. Nothing says you have to quit your law job right now to be a clown (although this guy did!).
Considering getting support.
There are lots of ex-lawyers in the world, and there are lots of lawyers who shifted direction in their careers. Many of these people would probably be happy to talk with you about your career and would be a great sounding board for new ideas (and potentially new connections). There are several excellent “leaving the law” blogs you can check out. For example, Leave Law Behind and Leaving the Law. Just knowing others have struggled with these same issues and emerged on the other side can help!
The good news is that your legal training prepared you in many ways for this new challenge. For example, you know how to do research, you know how to work hard, and you know how to make an argument.
Sure, your legal training taught you to make legal arguments, but you can use those skills on your own behalf, too, and make the case why you’re the perfect candidate for your next dream job!