How to break that vicious cycle of anxiety we lawyers suffer from

It seems that there is always something to worry or be anxious about for us lawyers. We worry about whether we’re on track with our billables. We worry about making a mistake and being exposed for malpractice. We worry that we really don’t know that much and we’ll be revealed as the fraud that we think we are. We’re anxious about that letter we just received from the State Bar. We’re anxious when they have the regular partner meetings. We’re anxious about how a client feels about us.

As attorneys we often have feelings of stress and nerves and apprehension flowing through our mind and bodies. We bring it home to our spouses and we complain to our friends and it lingers during our vacations and we think about it a lot.

Now, we can’t blame the practice of law in general for every not-so-good emotion and thought we have, but it is safe to say that many of us lawyers who yearn to leave law behind suffer from a great deal of anxiety that is directly caused by our jobs. For many of us lawyers, our default position is to be stressed.

And we become so used to this stress that we can actually feel stressed and worried when we’re for a moment not stressed and worried. When we’re reasonably at peace … well, then, something must be wrong or will go wrong soon. And the vicious cycle continues.

That can change. When you properly leave law behind, when you do the work to explore what you are good at, when you take the time to think of jobs and opportunities that align with these skills and strengths, and when you build the courage to pound the pavement and get out there to research alternatives and find the right like-minded people and land or create that new opportunity at which you can really excel, your default emotional position will change. You will find out, as strange as this may sound, that for most of your time in this new life phase you actually begin to feel confident. And satisfied. And curious. And at peace. And with free time. And while no existence is free of stress, you will now possess the greater self-assuredness to manage and deal with that worry and anxiety whenever it does rear its head.

Leaving the law behind is more than finding out what you are good at. It’s more than finding that great job.

It’s about finding a different set of thoughts and feelings to regularly flow through you.

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16 thoughts on “How to break that vicious cycle of anxiety we lawyers suffer from

  1. HI, Casey. I just discovered this blog so I have yet to totally explore all of your posts. I’m interested in leaving the law but have no idea what I could do that would pay just as much as I make now. I have family obligations and I’m risk averse. I’m too risk averse to even stay in the profession by starting a solo practice. I like the security of knowing how much I will earn each month.

    I wouldn’t say I hate my job overall, though there is one aspect of it I hate. And I just don’t find law interesting anymore. I would like to be doing something simpler that I would enjoy. If I didn’t go to college I’d probably be an auto mechanic.

    I see other young professionals in different fields who don’t have to worry whether they filed something timely according to the statute, or have to worry about making sure they subpoena all their witnesses and other things I think about while at home and off-of-work. I also envy how state borders mean nothing to people in most other careers who can easily move around to jobs in other states. Lawyers can only practice in one state unless they take burdensome measures to waive into other jurisdictions or to take the bar exam again.

    1. Thank you so much for the comment. Your experience is exactly why leaving the law, while so rewarding, can take so much time. We are risk averse, need to pay the bills, don’t really know “what’s out there” as alternatives, etc. There is no road map.

      But there are babysteps. I wouldn’t worry now to try and find a job that is not in the law, and pays as much. Take a small step and just find a hobby, outlet (blog about car maintenance for liberal arts majors and lawyers maybe!?) or side gig (consulting?) that aligns with your skills, your strengths, what you enjoy and what comes naturally to you (your Unique Genius). When you do something you love and are good at (you like cars?), you’ll enjoy it and excel. Keep your day job, explore other alternatives (really, really explore them) and then let the money follow. It takes a LONG time, no magic pill here, but it does work.

      Hope that helps. Email me at casey@leavelawbehind.com if you’d like to iterate further.

  2. I just found your blog and would have loved to have this support several years ago when I was struggling with my transition. While my exit from my law career was more dramatic, I lost my job in the recession, it was the push I needed to make the positive change to a new career.

    I now work as a human resource manager and do a lot of legal work for my company as well. I feel that I use all of my legal and analytical skills while being much more satisfied personally and professionally. It was not easy to find a company that appreciated my legal background–there was a great deal of bias from hiring managers about why I would want to leave the law. There is a perception that being a lawyer is such a great job and you make tons of money–why would you want to do anything else?

    My family has been super in supporting me. My extended family have finally accepted the fact that I chose a “lesser career” because they know how happy I am now. I quit worrying about what other people would think of my choice of career–it wasn’t easy, but I maintained a strong support group of family and friends. I still get the snide comments from people about how I couldn’t make it in law, but I know they have no idea what they are talking about. I don’t feel bad about not wanting to be in an anxiety and stress filled career. It’s not that I couldn’t handle it or that I wasn’t strong enough, it just wasn’t what I wanted for myself or my family. No job is worth your health or your sanity!

    I am happy to see you supporting us, thank you Casey!

    1. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. The past few weeks have just been extremely busy for me.

      Thank you so much for the comment, I really appreciate it. It’s very insightful. I am working on article about the top 5 – 15 jobs that (truly) are good fits for lawyers. Sure, you can be a park ranger or a biologist, but I want to focus in this article on those jobs that (i) would align with one’s Unique Genius and (ii) optimize the skills we’ve learned as lawyers (issue spotting, client management, writing well, etc.).

      I’m very curious: How have you been able to fit into being an HR Manager? What “legal skills” do you use often? How does it fit well with the archetypal lawyer personality? How does it not fit?

      Maybe an interview down the road :)?!

      All the best.
      Casey

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  6. I was scheduled to fly out of town to take a deposition today, which always makes me very anxious (not the flying part) so I’m glad I found this post! (The depo was ultimately canceled as so often happens.) I also found myself in strong agreement with many of the other comments about longing for the time when we had simpler jobs that didn’t occupy so much of our minds.

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