Careers in and Out of Law
you wish you could feel happier in your work, but you know something is wrong?
If you answered yes, you are not alone.
There are many lawyers who are examining whether the job they currently
hold is the right one for them, or whether they should even stay in the legal
field. However, my rough statistics, after counseling lawyers for
over fifteen years, indicate that for every ten lawyers who say they are unhappy
with their work, at least four eventually carve out a comfortable niche in a job
within, or related to, law. Only
two of those ten actually leave the law and move into other fields.
balance of those ten fall into the following categories:
one, after researching the alternatives, makes a reasoned choice to
continue in her current legal job; one decides it is the wrong time financially
or emotionally to make a change; and the last two spend a short time thinking
about a career move, then decide it takes too much effort and continue unhappily
in their jobs.
if you are one of those individuals who does want to cultivate increased job
satisfaction, it is beneficial to spend some time reflecting upon your reasons
for wanting to leave law. You might
come to the conclusion that you don’t have to completely leave the profession,
but instead can find a legal job that better fits your abilities, interests, and
work style. Maybe all you need is a
minor adjustment to your current working situation to remedy the
frustrations—perhaps moving to a different firm, area of law, type of client,
or community will suffice.
individuals who have worked at only one or two law offices are often surprised
at the varied dynamic of other offices and practice specialties.
They think, incorrectly, that all law practices are like the one where
they are unhappily working. In many
work situations, it is the intraoffice relations that cause work to be enjoyable
or contribute to its aggravations. If
you are dissatisfied with your work environment, talk to attorneys in other
firms about their office culture and relationships to discover if perhaps you do
need to move because you are in a particularly bad work situation.
As a result of this research, you may find that your discomfort isn’t
really with the law, but with your colleagues.
collegiality isn’t the problem, perhaps a move to an alternative
practice—one that removes some of the stress factors—would be enough.
Ask other lawyers about the daily routine, the stresses, the benefits,
and the growth and income potential in their areas of practice.
For example, if your discomfort is caused by the confrontation necessary
in a litigation practice, switching into a business or corporate transactional
practice may be the answer. Keep in
mind that various practice specialties often require different work styles and
personality types. A lawyer who
enjoys plaintiff’s personal injury work, handling intense negotiations and
conducting trials, would probably be bored with the detail and documentation of
an estate planning practice. Conversely,
a quiet, methodical, contemplative thinker would be constantly traumatized
running in and out of court as a public defender or district attorney, but might
thrive when drafting detailed contracts or researching complex environmental
regulations. Therefore, investigate
different practice areas that might more comfortably fit your work and
lawyers even propose alternative practices to their firms.
One of my clients discovered that all that was necessary to avoid the
anxiety caused him by litigation was to develop an appellate practice at his
firm, handling appeals from the firm’s own cases as well as cultivating
outside appeals. He loved the
strategizing, analyzing, researching and extensive writing, and he did not have
to go into court nor deal with opposition attorneys on a day-to-day basis.
And his firm liked that it no longer had to hand over its clients’
appeals to outside attorneys.
you always envisioned yourself becoming a legal “star,” it is often a harsh
realization that gaining recognition in a large city is difficult.
For that reason, some lawyers decide to move to smaller communities,
where they can become a “big fish in a small pond.”
A client of mine, who in law school had formulated the goal of achieving
broad recognition, is now a name partner in a law firm established in a small
town in a tourist area. His
five-lawyer practice is the largest one in the area.
He serves on the town planning commission, acts as the grand marshal at
the yearly parade, and is known by everyone in the community.
He acknowledges that he never would have had the same success or
recognition if he had stayed in a big city.
But in the smaller environs in which he practices, he has achieved his
also are many opportunities to work as a lawyer outside the narrow confines of
traditional law firms. If you love
the law in its theoretical rather than its practical application, you may find
contentment working in a research and writing position—with the courts, legal
book publishers or legal research services.
If you like to operate as part of a team, to further the business of an
employer and to counsel and work preventively, then seek out an in-house
position. You can also find legal
work, as a litigator, as a transactional attorney, or as an in-house counsel,
within not-for-profit organizations, bar associations, universities and
colleges, or with the biggest legal employer, the government.
who decide to examine the various options outside of law are often very
surprised at how their legal training has developed useful, transferable skills
that are much in demand in the workplace. Legal
education and work provides excellent training in analytical thinking,
communication, writing and persuasiveness, all skills that can be used in many
numbers of lawyers who switch careers move into politics, real estate, banking,
finance, the communications fields, or business management.
Other defectors seek even father afield.
Lawyers who are no longer practicing law range from a humor consultant,
to a retail store owner turned real estate developer, to a land use planner
turned psychologist. Former lawyers are growing their own small businesses (and
not so small, like The Sharper Image and California Pizza Kitchen).
They are managing companies and not-for-profit organizations.
Teaching high school. Developing
public speaking careers. Working in
corporations or universities or government agencies or hospitals as ethics
officers or risk managers. Writing
screenplays. Running for political
office or managing a political campaign or its fundraising.
Getting licensed as business appraisers or investigators.
Leading gourmet bicycle tours of Europe.
Involving himself or herself in some aspect of the publishing world, from
publisher to editor to novelist. Training
as massage therapists or mediators or acupuncturists.
And so on. When my book, The
Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook, was first published, I gave a talk at a
very large Border’s Bookstore. The
woman who worked as the publicist said that she, as well as a number of other
people, in various jobs within the bookstore, were former lawyers.
Any interesting career option that exists probably has at least one
former lawyer already involved in it.
So if you aren’t happy in your current work, look
around and ask around. Keep your
eyes and ears open. You don’t
necessarily have to leave law; perhaps you will find there actually is a legal
niche for you. But if you do decide
to take a big leap, your options are limited only by preference, imagination,
ambition, and the willingness to spend the time and energy necessary to
investigate and cultivate your next professional incarnation.
Hindi Greenberg, J.D., who
was a business litigator for ten years, is the president of Lawyers in
Transitionsm in Phoenix and San Francisco, and consults
nationally with individual lawyers on career satisfaction and options in and out
of law and with law firms on retaining or outplacing their attorneys.
She is the author of The Lawyer's Career Change Handbook, published by Avon
Books/Harper Collins. Hindi may be
reached at (480) 669-8586 or by email at JDnTransit@aol.com.