How to Overcome Fear of Career Change for Lawyers

career change fear

A look at why you have it and some practical advice to deal with it

As lawyers, we strive for certainty and go to great lengths to mitigate against risk.

It’s no wonder, then, that many lawyers have a real fear when it comes to the uncertainties and risks associated with making a career change – even when it’s obvious that the change will be for the better.

The Fear of Change

Many lawyers find themselves in an unfortunate paradox.

They are frightened of making a career change, but they are also frightened of what will happen if they stay where they are.

The bottom line is that fear is rarely a positive influence.

A career in law usually means you’ve invested huge amounts of time, energy and money in your career progression.

Years of study and exams, hours and hours spent in the office, and thousands of pounds on student loans and living expenses to get where you are.

Fear of “wasting” all of that is one of the main factors holding lawyers back from pursuing an alternative ‘happier’ career path.

Another is the fear of losing security, especially for those with mortgages and families.

An established legal career can certainly feel very secure in troubled times, and living to your means can make for a comfortable lifestyle – at least away from work.

Fear of the unknown, though, is one of the fears I hear most from my career coaching clients.

A lot of dissatisfied lawyers adopt the “better the devil you know” principle with their career because of this fear.

There are many more fears too, including loss of status, dented pride, and loss of identity.

Fear of change is closely linked to the pre-historic part of our brain that was vital for our survival.

Change back then often meant danger – think sabre-toothed tiger showing up.

The unfortunate thing in our evolution as humans is that part of the brain still makes us fear change.

Research has shown that the brain perceives career change to be one of the top 20 biggest threats to its survival (more stressful than having your house repossessed!) – no wonder we try and avoid it if we can.

Feel the Fear & Do it Anyway

If you’re a lawyer who’s feeling unhappy with your legal career there are some practical steps you can take to help overcome the natural fear that “prehistoric” brain of yours can make you feel about making a change.

Name your fears

Write them down, make a list.

Describe them in detail.

This forces you to think carefully about them, and gives you something to reflect on and think more objectively about as you navigate the career change process.

Start pushing out of your comfort zone

Regularly do small things that make you feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter what it is – strike up a conversation with a stranger on the commute, change up something that you always do on a particular day of the week, take a regular day off from the internet and social media.

The key is to do things you might usually avoid. It trains your brain that change is ok, and the world doesn’t end if you do something different.

Take some action, even small steps

Fear doesn’t like action.

By doing small things that get you closer to changing your career you will keep on top of it.

Why not make contact with someone you know who has left the law and is loving it – ask them questions and listen to their story.

Get in touch with a career coach, explore options and start to build a plan.

Spend an hour researching alternative career paths or different legal roles you could pivot to.

Set aside the time

Any career transition requires time and energy.

Treat it like another part-time job and schedule dedicated time each week to work on this (even if it’s only a small amount of time).

You should rank it in equal priority with everything else and act accordingly.

By committing to looking at your career like this you are giving yourself permission to take some action, despite the fear that you have.

Fear is a good thing?

Yes, it can be!

After all, you wouldn’t fear something that wasn’t important or didn’t warrant serious consideration.

Your fear shows you that your thoughts about your career are valid and worth the effort to explore.

This fear means something and it may well be the only compass you need for your change in career direction.

Don’t Go It Alone

Fear can make you feel very lonely, even if you are surrounded by loving family or friends.

Find someone you can trust who understands what you are going through and who you can be completely honest with.

Make sure that they can perform the role of “critical friend” and give you some tough love if require.

Make sure friends and family are 100% supportive and positive before you share your thoughts or plans with them.

Avoid opening up to negative people who might drain you of positive energy, even if they are your “nearest and dearest”.

Wait to bring them onboard until much later in your career change process.

And if you’re in need of some independent, specialist guidance on your career change do what I did – get in touch with a career coach.

Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus and a former in-house lawyer (Sky Sports, London & Foxtel, Sydney). With over 12 years of experience as a career consultant & executive coach, he supports lawyers with their career development & career transitions. He does this through this website, a regular email newsletter and his one to one lawyer career coaching.

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