Work + Growth

To Break or Not to Break

  • In recent years, the legal industry has become more open to lawyers taking sabbaticals
  • To make the most of your break, plan ahead to fill up your days with activities that help you grow
  • Prepare for your job search by strategizing how to combat assumptions and showcase the benefits of your time off

With a legal career feeling like a grind sometimes, at some point you may be tempted to take a break longer than a weekend or week-long vacation, but carefully weigh what you want and what you need to find the right way to handle it.

Ah, law. With your unendingly long days and required billable hours (for most of us)—not to mention the stress and competition of the legal industry in general—is it any wonder you’re dreaming of a decent break where you can totally shut off your work brain? Especially when vacations don’t often feel like vacations, an extended breather can be not only something you want, but something you need. However, there are challenges, so be aware of the following points to get both want you want and what you need to give you the best chance to decompress and then find your next role.

What’s the issue?

Previously, any lawyer brave enough to take a break of more than 3 months in between jobs found that their much-needed vacation was an insurmountable obstacle in their search for a new job. Potential employers often viewed resume gaps as resume blemishes, casting doubt on the applicant’s stability, relevancy, and commitment to the job.

What are the solutions?

In recent years, lawyers—and those hiring them— are increasingly aware of the lawyer’s mental health challenges. After all, it’s not for nothing that law is one of the few (or only) jobs with a whole industry devoted to helping practitioners quit. For larger firms, finding ways to help their employees stay sane and satisfied is the next step in the culture shift that’s been broadening the narrow constraints of the law field. If you play your cards right, you can present your six-month (or longer) break as a responsible step towards staying—or even becoming—a better, more stable lawyer.

How can you make the most of your break?

Of course, not all breaks are created equal—neither for you nor your potential employers. To ensure your break doesn’t go to waste, you’ll need to structure your vacation to provide real benefits and show well in your next interview.

It’s all too easy to let your break disintegrate into an HBO binge on the couch. While that’s not a bad way to spend a weekend, too much time in your pajamas will undermine the mental benefits of a break and be a bit difficult to explain to potential employers. Start your break with a plan of action: interests you’d like to explore, people you want to reconnect with, and–most importantly–a scheduled date to restart your job search or re-entrance into the field.

Plan Ahead

  • Spend time decompressing.Before anything else, give yourself a few weeks to unplug. It’s easy for the high-achieving lawyer to transfer that overworking motivation elsewhere, but you don’t want to burn out on pottery classes just yet. Try to relax, reflect, and maybe catch up on some sleep.
  • Reflect.You’re free from one firm and haven’t yet chosen another, so now’s the best time to start seriously thinking about your law experience.
You might have been frustrated in your previous job, but consider: Are you unhappy in law, or just with that one tyrannical partner? Do you find law a little boring in general, or is it time to focus on a specialty you enjoy more?
  • Keep your hand in. Combat the worst assumptions about sabbaticals by showing your interviewers that you’ve been keeping your skills sharp. Taking on some pro bono work, relevant volunteer work, or even contract jobs are all great talking points for your next job,and can also give you some new experience (or even a little cash).

Make a Strong Re-Entry

Once you’ve taken your break, you will most likely find that the job market seems more hostile than it did fresh out of law school. That’s okay, though, because you bring a lot more to the table than you did way back then. Just make sure to let your interviewers know, and give off a polished, focused impression.

  • Be prepared to explain your break, but avoid supporting their assumptions. If you’ve filled your days up wisely, this shouldn’t be too hard. Avoid discussing how your previous firm ran you ragged (that’s what they assumed, anyway). Focus instead on the positive side — what you wanted to accomplish, achieve, or experience during your break.
  • Show your skills, and how that break made them better. Feel free to discuss how your sabbatical actually contributed to your law career. Maybe pro bono work showed you an unfamiliar aspect of the legal process, or your time following a passion gave you new insight or a new skill set. Or maybe you’re just a darn good lawyer, and you’re ready to show them why, sabbatical notwithstanding.
  • Play up your expertise, any way you can. You only have one chance at a first impression, so do everything you can to make sure your resume, network, and interviewing skills are top notch. If you’d like, hire a recruiter, resume writer, or interview coach to make sure that first foot in the door is your very best.