How some leave the law and others do not

 June 24, 2015

By  Casey Berman

A black and white logo for the abc 7 jla washington.

I was talking with an unhappy and dissatisfied attorney who so badly wants to leave the law but is having difficulty dealing with the pain and shame she regularly feels when she looks back on her time in law school and at the firm.

She feels it’s been a waste of time.

She feels it’s been a waste of money.

She can’t believe she put so much effort into something that she didn’t like and feels she still isn’t good at.

She beats herself up for putting security, stature, and social acceptance as priorities above pursuing what she is sincerely really good at and enjoys.

She feels awful thinking about what she has done to get into this position of a late 30’s, unhappy attorney with no idea of what to do next.

The empty feelings she gets from thinking about and reflecting on these missed opportunities and mistakes just hurt her too much.



So I told her … don’t. Don’t think about it. Don’t reflect on it. If thinking about something makes you feel awful, I told her, than don’t think about it.

Let’s not feel obligated to first talk about and work through where we have been before we can take steps to create where we are going.

Now, this is easy to say, and hard to do. I know. Our minds are beautiful things, but they also can fill us up with worry and anxiety and distraction and “shoulds”.

But worrying and beating ourselves up just doesn’t make us feel good. We may perversely derive some pleasure from it, because we get to complain and point fingers and experience self-pity.

And we may feel we need to look backward and re-tell our narrative and dwell on what we did wrong and beat ourselves up for the mistakes we made and go on about the potential we are losing in order to pay our dues or reconcile how we feel about leaving …

But all of this really doesn’t help us at all. It really doesn’t make us feel good. It just makes us feel bad.

And leaving the law is about beginning to more consistently feel good about ourselves.


Let’s think about liking ourselves

Now, I’m not saying we fool ourselves into denial. Where we have been helps form who we are … for the good and for the not so good. We cannot and we will not deny where we have been.

We just don’t have to dwell on it, that’s all.

Instead, I’m encouraging us to train ourselves, and train our mind, to think and feel good. Let’s think about how we can be self worthy. Let’s think about the potential we (still) have. Let’s think about doing things we like to do. Let’s think about the progress we’ve made so far. Let’s think about the courage we can muster up. Let’s think about aligning our skills and strengths with a new job. Let’s think about having time to pursue creative pursuits or healthy pursuits or family pursuits or to just do nothing on a Sunday. Let’s think about liking ourselves.

When we leave the law, we are embarking on a positive experience of growth, newness, and confidence. If our past experience can help us, let’s use it. If not, let’s not let it get in the way of our plan.

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  1. Been out for 3 years now. Quitting turned my life around and I’ve never been happier. Working as an engineer now.

    At first I told myself that I’d enjoy practicing more once I got some trial experience. Everything would get easier and I could enjoy it more. A few years later I had trial experience and it did get easier… but I still hated it. Attorneys who were 20-30 years ahead of me were miserable and not really doing that great financially. Lawyers lie to themselves and one another about how great it is to be practicing, but the truth is that they’re mostly just trapped in the field by shame/pride- they’ve wasted/invested years of their life going to law school and gaining experience and they can’t believe that a twenty year old with a year of programming experience makes better money and has more job security.

    Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had different clients or I was in a different practice area or the market for legal services wasn’t so awful… but that’s just wishful thinking. I think nearly every lawyer wishes that. Unfortunately I think it will be at least a few decades before the current glut evaporates.

  2. Hey, comments don’t appear anywhere on this site, even posts that have a ton of comments. I tested this in three browsers, with and without plugins. I think the part of your page that is supposed to build the comments list isn’t actually working- ie, it’s a server side issue. Just FYI.

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