The 5 main reasons why lawyers leave the law to join a startup

 December 22, 2014

By  Casey Berman

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Quitting your job as a lawyer is hard. No one should ever tell you otherwise.

As an associate at a law firm, you have a  stable career and an almost bullet proof trajectory to making six figures each year. Despite the freak-outs you may have about whether or not this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, the money is good enough for you to live comfortably and pay off your student loans.

Being a lawyer is justifiable. Being a lawyer is rational.

So why would anyone want to leave the law for a startup?

Those of us that leave the law to join a startup have an intense desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to innovative, push the edge, hate following precedent, and we function extremely well in chaotic environments.

Here are 5 reasons why lawyers leave the law to join a startup

1) Your passion lies outside the law

You can always tell what someone is really passionate about by what they do during their spare time. Even in law school, I read startup books, attended startup conferences and was burning the midnight oil by building pitch decks for companies I wanted to start one day.

Dont think that I am mandating that your job should define you. It doesn’t have to. However, you should enjoy going into work and taking on that day’s challenge. You should also find your work meaningful and purposeful in some capacity.

2) You have come to the realization that the generous salary provided to you just isn’t enough to keep you at the firm

A lot of lawyers tell me that they are miserable as a lawyer and that they aspire to found their own companies one day. Those people will never leave, yet they will continue to talk about leaving. The people that leave are those that realize that all the money in the world couldn’t satiate them enough to continue to sit at their desks, blacklining documents into the darkness of the night.

3) You are willing to take a pay cut

If you aren’t willing to give up the six figure salary, then you can’t transition to a startup. Startups pay less and any sort of ego that you have developed will only serve as a disservice to you. You have to be prepared to work your way from the ground up and prove each and every day that you are a valuable member of the team, whether you are a co-founder or VP of business development or otherwise. I know everyone has bills to pay and loans to repay which led to the infamous term, “golden handcuffs.†Save everything you make as a lawyer and don’t get caught up in the spending habits of friends. It is all too easy to spend your money on the luxuries in life when you feel like you are making a large sum of money. The worst is that sometimes spending the money also makes you feel better after a long and tiring day at the office. My advice is to conserve your money while you are an attorney so that you can get out when you feel that it is the right time for you. While startups will not match what you make at a large law firm, if you join a later stage startup, you should be able to make enough to cover your expenses and still pay off some of your loan, the caveat being that you live and spend frugally. Switching to a startup is a lifestyle change in all ways, so be prepared to give up the Tahari suits and Prada bags for flannel shirts and torn jeans. If you are planning on starting your own company, try raising money from family and friends or angel investors. At least this will allow you to pay yourself something while you build your dream company.

4) You are more of a dreamer than any of your colleagues

Startup founders and employees are usually visionaries. They are optimistic to such an intense degree, that some may even call them crazy. Who would think to start a company in which people would hop into strangers’ cars? Who would think that anyone would ever let strangers stay in their homes? You have to think big, think into the future and see things that most people could never imagine. If you are foolish to believe in an uncertain future, you belong at a startup.

5) You find your job to be incredibly inefficient

Most startups are all about streamlining processes and finding more efficient ways to do things, usually through the use of technology. If you are resistant to change or find old habits and precedent define your every action, you will never survive at a startup. Those lawyers that become so incredibly frustrated with the inefficiencies and bottle necks at the law firm are the ones that will succeed at a startup.

At the end the day, work makes up such a large portion of your life it is important to find something that challenges you and that leaves you feeling some level of fulfillment  If you haven’t found that yet, search for it. You will be wildly surprised how much your life will change for the better when you work on something that you love.

Eva Hibnick is the co-founder and Chief of Growth at One400,  a law innovation agency focusing on helping law firms build products, create inbound marketing channels and acquire clients. She was previously the Marketing Manager at General Assembly and before entering the startup world, she was an attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and licensed to practice in New York.

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  1. I would agree that the startup environment certainly has all the risks and concerns highlighted above (and more!).

    An alternative angle, I have been actively searching for an existing operating business to purchase from a retiring owner. You can find any and every industry, shape, size… The advantages are you can use that “untouchable” retiring account to help fund the purchase, and assuming that you pay a fair price (value is everything!) you are essentially buying yourself a meaningful paycheck.

    Casey, perhaps if I find the right fit I could do a guest post of my own experience! 😉

  2. I was a banker for 13 year and decided to focus full time on my online endeavors. After two year and replicating my banking income through my online income, I decided to try consulting at a startup. It’s been one year now, and I have to say it i practically impossible to make it really rich if you don’t join at Series A or earlier.



  3. “As an associate at a law firm, you have a stable career and an almost bullet proof trajectory to making six figures each year. Despite the freak-outs you may have about whether or not this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, the money is good enough for you to live comfortably and pay off your student loans.”

    Um, no.

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