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The hidden reason why lawyers don’t want to be lawyers

 March 19, 2020

By  Casey Berman

[This article was originally published on Above the Law]

There is a very good chance that as you’re reading this right now, you’re an unhappy lawyer.

You may absolutely hate practicing the law. Or, to tone it down a bit, your day-to-day work may be “meh” or “just okay” or “fine”.

But it’s likely safe to say that working as an attorney is certainly not “fantastic!” or “to die for!” or “hell yeah!” for you. 

And you’re not alone. Studies show that 56% of lawyers are frustrated with their careers. 

And I hear that day in and day out from the 3,000+ members of the Leave Law Behind community – how either miserable or bored or frustrated they are practicing law. One reader wrote me last week: “I don’t like the unpredictable hours and the fact that lawyers have the management skills of toddlers.”

You know that you’re unhappy as an attorney. But I’m here to tell you that you likely don’t know or realize the root cause of why you’re so unhappy. Once you do, it can actually serve as the driver for you to leave the law for a career change you find stimulating, meaningful and lucrative. Here are some things to consider.

The conventional wisdom

There is the traditional thinking, what I call the “usual suspects,” about lawyer career dissatisfaction.

  • Some of these reasons are inherent to the work itself: You work very long, unpredictable hours, dealing with difficult situations, parsing through detailed issues or litigating adversarial minefields that can make your brain hurt and takes a toll on your health.
  • Some involve the people you work with or for: The tone deaf partners you don’t trust and are afraid of. The overly ambitious fellow associates you compete with. The clients you don’t care much about. The so-hard-to-deal-with opposing counsel. 
  • Some are the stressful responsibilities: The fiduciary duties. The deadlines. The threat of malpractice. The anxiety that results out of this.
  • And some are financial: The crushing law school debt. The salaries that still don’t provide you with the lifestyle you had hoped for. The rising cost of living. 

These are all clear, valid reasons to point to as the cause of your unhappiness. But focusing on them can only make you more miserable.

Rather, let’s unpack the even deeper, more fundamental reason why you want to leave the law.

It’s not you, it’s me

This reason is that the job description of being an attorney does not align with your skills and strengths. 

To say it another way, what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at, aren’t really what’s called for to be an attorney.

To say it one more way, you have to work extra hard at being an attorney because it’s not really what you do well, when there are other jobs out there in the world the description of which would connect much better with what you bring to the table.

I want that to sink in for a moment. You can look outward at all the “usual suspects” as the source of the misery. But as we’ve said before, the frustration in doing that is you cannot change any of these things. 

You can’t make the partners nicer or the work less boring or the deadlines less stressful. 

You can’t stop the fighting or the six minute billing or the lack of purpose.

What you can control is how you react to things. You can begin to realize that this job as an attorney is not for you. You feel misaligned and disconnected and like an imposter. You might get by, you might be able to fake it, you might need it to pay your  bills, you might be able to do some aspects well. But the job as a whole isn’t for you.

When you admit that, the unhappiness can begin to go away. 

When you admit that, you then can begin to see what you are good at. 

When you admit that, you can begin to create and collaborate, and not take down or destroy.

When you admit that, you can prevent your skills from dying on the vine, from being left on the table, and begin to put them to good use somewhere else. 

When you admit that, you are able to look beyond all of the noise and drama and stress of what you think is making you unhappy, and see that the real reason why you’re miserable working as an attorney is because you’re simply in the wrong job. 

The good news is that there has never been a better and easier time than now to find the right career for you.

And the even better news is that there have never been more resources to help you identify and pursue alternative career opportunities.

You can first off find many roles online. LinkedIn boasts of its catalogue of millions of job opportunities. Now, you likely will not get a job by only applying online, but combing through the online job directories can give you a sense of what’s possible, what the job entails and how you can match your “lawyer” skills and strengths to these job roles.

You also can find many resources to understand how your lawyer skills can be “transferable” to these “non-law” alternative careers. You can work with your network and friends to do a self-assessment, or return to your law school’s career services office or review some of the past articles I’ve written on this topic here at Above the Law, like “Do What You’re Good At” and “My 21 Step Guide On How To Leave The Law And Begin Anew“.

You can also tap into your network. I know, I know … you may feel that you only know other lawyers. And you may say you don’t want other people to know you’re considering leaving the law. That’s fine. Your network is likely bigger than you think. And you’d be surprised how many of your friends, family or professional colleagues would really like to help you. Of course, do some initial legwork up front (get a handle on your “transferable” skills and what you’re good at, become familiar with the “non-law” job or job areas you’re interested in, create for them a short blurb/narrative that describes what you’re interested in and why you’re considering leaving the law) but then begin to reach out to your network to have them possibly make introductions to people, companies or opportunities they may know of. Most jobs are actually not found online, but rather through your contacts.

And of course, there are career coaching programs to help guide you, like our program the Leave Law Behind career coaching course.

With all of these options at your fingertips, why continue on at a lawyer job that only makes you unhappy, miserable and burned out?

And for more information about how to leave the law, click here to read our guide on Alternative Careers for Lawyers.

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