Probably every one of us has experienced a moment of weakness that consisted of being so entirely exhausted, overworked, and frustrated that we were just about ready to call it quits and leave the law.
After all, it’s hard to be a lawyer. The lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and there’s a reason why many law school grads don’t practice law forever. But how do you know when it’s really time to change careers?
The answer, of course, is personal and will be different for each person. But there are some things all of us should focus on as we weigh the decision of whether to stop practicing law and start fresh in a new career.
You’re Really, Truly Unhappy (and Your Job isn’t to Blame)
We all have bad days. We all screw up at work at some point along the way. And certainly, we have all had to work for partners who are simply impossible. But there’s a big difference between being temporarily overworked or frustrated and being perennially depressed and displeased with your career as a lawyer.
If you’ve taken the time to think about what’s at the root of your unhappiness, and you’re confident that it’s your job, it might be time to seriously consider whether leaving the law is right for you. Depression occurs at higher rates among lawyers than those in other careers, however, and sometimes it’s a matter of getting the appropriate treatment—not necessarily a sign that you need to change careers altogether. That said, ongoing unhappiness is a big red flag indicating something isn’t right and is not to be ignored.
You’ve Talked it Out with a Neutral Party
Confide in a trustworthy friend or two (or even a colleague, if you’re sure you can trust them) that you’re having doubts about whether you want to continue practicing law. Talking out your concerns, fears, and frustrations will help provide additional clarity into just why you’re feeling unhappy with your career and whether or not it’s temporary. If you’ve spoken to a few friends and family members, and they believe your feelings of discontentment aren’t fleeting, it’s definitely time to take your impulses seriously.
Talking to others will also help slowly get the word out that you’re looking for a new career (if your impulse to leave the law actually gets to that point). It can also help you find direction as you begin to consider what your next chapter will look like.
You’re Working on a Realistic Plan B
Speaking of your next chapter, if you’re seriously considering leaving the law, you’re going to want to spend time and effort planning for what comes next. Unless you’ve saved a boatload of money for this exact purpose, it can be hard to leave your job without something lined up. And of course, if you don’t want to be a lawyer, you have to figure out what else you’d like to be and how to go about transitioning your career.
If you’re stuck, ask your friends and family for their thoughts. What did they always envision you doing for a living? What are your strengths? When do they see you at your happiest? If you’re committed to figuring out a career that’s a better fit, that’s a big sign that you’re not destined to be in law for much longer.
Go Easy on Yourself
As you consider whether to take your impulse to leave your job seriously, remind yourself not to feel bad or guilty. There’s nothing wrong with realizing that practicing law isn’t for you, and you’re doing no one (including your clients) any favors by remaining in a job you dislike. The decision to change careers isn’t a failure.
While contemplating an exit strategy can be scary, you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it by directing anger or guilt at yourself. After all, there are a myriad of job opportunities outside of the law for those with J.D.s and experience as attorneys, and it’s never too late to forge a new path.