Fed Up? 5 Tips for Successfully Leaving the Legal Profession

By December 5, 2014Uncategorized
So far our career-related posts have focused on making changes within the legal profession – whether that means switching to an in-house practice from a law firm or advancing your career by making internal or external moves.

But what if you’ve decided to leave the legal profession entirely? How can you tell whether you’re truly ready or just acting out of frustration for your current situation?

Here are 5 tips for making a successful career pivot. NOTE: These tips also work for less dramatic career changes.

1. No Golden Handcuffs

It’s human nature to increase our standard of living as our careers progress and salaries increase, but if you’re considering career changes it’s best to make sure you’ve built up a cushion of savings and reigned in your expenses.

It’s likely that moving out of a legal role will cut your paycheck in half – at least initially. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to move into a leadership position if all you’ve had so far is legal experience (even if you’re an extremely talented lawyer).

It can be unnerving, but money certainly isn’t everything. Remember, you want to be able to take opportunities that make you happier in the long-run – which may mean taking a pay-cut.

2. Don’t Burn Bridges

Once you’ve decided to take a different path, it’s tempting to definitively shut the door on the past to focus on the future. While directing attention to your new career is important, it’s wisest to preserve your legal networks and relationships.

First, the world is small and changing professions doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t encounter your old colleagues. In fact, depending on your new role, you may find the dynamics between you and your peers have changed so that they’re now your clients. Tread lightly – enough said.

Second, it’s not uncommon for lawyers to explore other options only to find that they miss practicing law. You may discover after some time and distance to reflect, that it was your environment (and not the work you were doing) that you found disagreeable. So be gracious – you may need to lean on your network to get back into law.

3. Take Baby Steps

Part of the reason transitioning out of law seems so daunting is that lawyers often put pressure on themselves to make a perfect first transition. But pivoting isn’t easy, and making a dramatic 180 degree change may not be the best way to set you up for success in your new career.

For example, if you’re changing roles and industries, it might be better for you to gain industry experience first by taking a legal position. If committing to a full-time job you aren’t excited about makes you feel ill, consider taking an interim position through an organization like FLEX.

Working as flexible in-house counsel can mean you’ll be working full-time for a short period of time (ex. 3 months) which gives you exposure to the new industry and can help you make contacts that will make transitioning a lot easier. Part-time work can also give you extra flexibility to take classes or complete volunteer projects to gain relevant experience.

4. Know You’re Climbing a Different Ladder

Remember that changing roles may mean you’ll be starting at a “lower” position. This means you may require more supervision than you’re accustomed to (i.e. you may have less “power” and discretion to make your own judgment calls).

Be careful not to let your ego get in your way. Instead, embrace the learning curve. Take pride in being open to learning new things and receiving constructive feedback. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s the fastest way to learn. Be patient with yourself – if you’ve chosen a new path that highlights your strengths, you’ll be rising to the top in no time.

5. Do Your Due Diligence

They say the grass isn’t always greener, or if it is, it’s only because there’s more BS. The bottom-line is that you owe it to yourself to be responsible for your own career and do your research. Talk to as many people as possible about the new role so you can manage your expectations.

For example, if your primary motivation to get out of legal practice is more work-life balance, make sure that that’s actually the case. Plenty of non-legal roles are equally (if not more) stressful and require long hours.

Keep in mind that if the new role is something you genuinely enjoy, you’ll derive greater satisfaction from it even if it requires as much or even more effort.

Ready, Set – Go!

Finally, understand that it can feel disorienting not to include “lawyer” as part of your identity. Thus, it can helpful to practice what you’ll say when people ask what your profession is. Former-lawyer-turned-sales manager? Head of business development for a tech start-up?

Once you have a personal tagline you feel good about, you’re well on your way to a successful transition (although you may need to accept that your mom will still say you’re a lawyer). Good luck!

Next Up

For our next blog post series, we’ll interview some of our attorneys about why and how a FLEX practice is working for them.