Why Do So Many Lawyers Leave the Profession?

Why do lawyers leave the profession?

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For non-lawyers, it’s crazy to think about how many lawyers leave the profession every year. You suffered through (and paid for) three years of law school, passed the bar exam, and now you’re walking away from life as a lawyer?!? But most lawyers have probably considered leaving, even if they ultimately decided to stay. So, what’s going on? Why do lawyers leave the profession? There are many reasons, but here are some popular ones.

The Hours

Let’s face it, lawyers work a lot. Whether it’s demanding clients, hard deadline in court, pushy partners in a law firm, or just a commitment to the work, a law job is rarely a 9-5 endeavor. After years of missed dinner dates and canceled vacations, the hourly toll of being a lawyer can start to add up, to the point where no amount of money is worth it. At that point, people tend to quit in search of a better work/life balance.

The Pressure

Along with the long hours, you’ve got the constant pressure of trying to prevail in an inherently adversarial system. Add to that the fact that lawyers are often dealing with very serious, real-life problems (involving emotional and important aspects of peoples’ lives, such as family, money, freedom and so on) and you’ve got a recipe for stress and pressure. Over time, without appropriate coping mechanisms, this pressure can become unbearable, leading lawyers to leave the profession.

The Constant Arguing

Some pressure is inevitable in the law, but much of it is created by the constant arguing that goes on (especially between litigators). Beyond the inherent arguing over precedent and facts in court, there’s the daily grind of arguing over when to schedule depositions, or how many document requests each side is going to be allowed to make.

Some people love this sort of thing, but many don’t. If you’re not in the “I love to argue!” camp, the weight of ongoing arguments can rapidly become too much.

The Lack of Control

Even worse that the long hours, in many cases, is the lack of control over your work and your schedule as an attorney. (Having control is one of the key predictors of job happiness as a white-collar worker.) When you’re subject to the whims of the court, or of the partners or other senior lawyers you work for, the lack of control can become highly frustrating. This is why many lawyers leave (or opt out of firms and other large organizations to open their own solo practices).

Boredom With the Work

Let’s face it, much modern legal work is pretty boring. If you went to law school with visions of giving frequently, compelling opening and closing arguments in court and executing surgical cross-examinations on a regular basis, the reality of modern law practice might come as a harsh surprise. Very few cases end up in a trial, and many so-called “litigators” have never actually tried a case. Most work takes place in writing, and much of your time will be spent alone in an office, thinking and doing research. (Or, even worse, suffering through tedious document review assignments.) The law itself, in theory, is pretty fascinating.

But the day-to-day work can be a grind. (This is why the people who loved law school are often the first to exit the profession.)

If you’re not sure law’s for you, don’t despair! It might be possible to find a better fit within the law, or – worst case – you can join the legions of other disaffected attorneys who left for greener job pastures elsewhere. At least you’ll be in good company!

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