I speak with a lot of unhappy attorneys who want to leave the law.
Some are just in a momentary bad phase and are really meant to be lawyers.
Others are not so sure, and want to remain as lawyers for some time more, to test it out a bit.
And some are so unhappy they are dying to leave the practice of law behind right now.
In working with these groups, there are three surefire signs that you shouldn’t stick around any longer and you may want to consider leaving the law now.
1. You’re bored practicing the law.
Don’t get me wrong, in our fast paced world, where we have little time to think, being bored sometimes can actually be a good thing: it lets us ponder, reflect, take a breath.
But it’s not good to be consistently bored at our job that takes up one-third to one-half of our waking hours.
Being bored means you likely don’t care about the job. It means you find the job of an attorney to be dull, uninspiring, uninteresting, tedious or monotonous. This results from not being connected to the clients, not liking the work product, not feeling alignment with those you work with, not connecting with the overall mission of your firm or team.
If that’s not enough, another way to find out if you’re bored with your job as an attorney is to examine in which instances you do actually exhibit some passion or interest. If you show interest or passion only when you’re pushed by a deadline or feel your job may be in jeopardy, you’re likely otherwise bored with it.
If you’re bored with being lawyer, then you may want to consider leaving it.
2. You feel depressed or anxious about practicing law.
Depression is a serious illness across our world, and lawyers are no exception. In fact, Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers.
Depression means we have trouble feeling pleasure or enjoyments any longer. Our self esteem and sense of self worth lags, and we begin to feel self-loathing instead. We can feel tired and fatigue and loss of energy. Numb.
And to further compound the matter for us attorneys, we are not supposed to feel depressed or sad or down. We are lawyers, remember, and we are the adults in the room, we are the experts, we are the pillar of stability. We are professionals, we make money, we have stability.
A blog post from attorney Dan Lukasik’s fantastic resource, Lawyers with Depression, recalls an attorney opening up to his fellow partners about his depression, only to be met with complete lack of understanding:
Years ago, when I first told my three law partners that I was diagnosed with major depression and would need to take time off from work. They sat there stunned. After a moment of awkward silence, one partner said, “What in the world do you have to be depressed about? You’ve got a great job, wife, family and friends. Take a vacation!”
If only I jetted to Florida and sat under a palm counting my blessings, I would be depression-free … I had no right to be depressed … I was an upper-middle class professional, after all.
Depression, it has been said, is the inability to construct a future. If you feel you are depressed, and you’re a lawyer, you may want to consider taking at least some break from the practice of the law.
3. You feel like a fraud practicing the law.
We attorneys are perfectionists. We want to know (or try to know) everything, about the law, about the case, about emerging legal trends. We want to always get it (the argument, the grammar, the brief, the case) right.
But for us unhappy attorneys, there is one thing we likely won’t ever get right: this job as an attorney just won’t be a fit with us. The job description of a lawyer won’t align with our skills and strengths and enjoyments, what I call our Unique Genius.
We unhappy attorneys are in the law for the wrong reasons, and we’re deathly afraid and nervous and anxious that someone (a partner, a judge, opposing counsel) will find that out and tell everyone else. And expose us as a fraud. A fake. As someone who doesn’t belong.
If you’re feeling like a fraud, it’s okay. It’s not bad. It just means your work isn’t connecting with who you really are. It means your skills and strengths and enjoyments are locked up, are not being fully utilized. It means you’re not letting yourself be your true self.
A free bird, Maya Angelou writes, leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky …
… The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
If you’re looking to be free from practicing law, check out the Leave the Law Course.