Is It Finally Time for a Career Change from Law?

climbing career ladder

Are you a lawyer climbing a career ladder against the wrong wall?

If so, you’re far from alone.

There are many other outwardly “successful” lawyers who are unhappy with – and unfulfilled by – their chosen career.

This causes a lot of head-scratching, soul-searching and anguish because you should be feeling very good about things, shouldn’t you?

After all, you’ve always been a “high achiever” and your career reflects this too.

Teacher knows best?

I suspect you did well at school. No matter what your educational background, your teachers probably had you pinned as one to watch and someone who could “go places”.

Many schools seem to like their alumni to become lawyers.

Indeed, I’ve heard many times from unhappy lawyers that their teenage careers advice consisted of choosing from the traditional and prestigious fields of medicine, law, banking, or accountancy.

If you were like me, being a lawyer was never something you daydreamed about as a child or got excited about as a teenager.

Indeed, you may have been one of the many people who don’t really have a career plan at 16 or 18, but you had the brains and gumption to get stuck into your A-levels and be accepted onto a good degree course.

And despite any doubts you may have had about a law career, it’s likely been easy to keep your head down, put in the effort and the hours, and be good at what you’ve turned your mind to.

You’ve travelled nicely on the conveyor belt and picked up a good degree, a law school qualification, a training contract or pupillage, qualification into a respected profession, and then several years of successful PQE.

Likely for you, similar to me, ‘success’ has come about despite a predominantly passive career management strategy.

You should be grateful

This is something I hear from clients a lot.

And it’s something that can cause a lot of angst.

After all, to the outside world, you’ve got it made.

You succeeded in a highly competitive profession, you’ve landed a great position in a respected firm, and your friends and family are proud of what you’ve achieved.

When you meet new people they are (mostly) impressed when you tell them what to do – you’ve achieved some status with your efforts.

You ‘should’ be grateful, and you must be very happy.

And yet here we are.

You’re not happy, and you’re not enjoying your “chosen” profession anywhere near as much as you would have hoped.

You look at friends with different careers who really enjoy what they do and have a good balance in their lives, and you wish you had the same.

The next rung of your career ladder doesn’t seem at all attractive anymore, as more seniority just brings more of the same things that you dislike – more hours, more responsibility, less freedom, even higher expectations.

You’ve started to dread Monday mornings, and you’re complaining about your job, firm, or the law in general to friends and family.

You may even have started to research “alternative careers for lawyers” on the internet.

All of these are signs that it might be the time to pick up your career ladder and look for a different wall to lean it against.

A familiar story

I can talk with authority about this kind of journey because it’s one I’ve been on myself.

If I’m completely honest, I had a nagging feeling that perhaps law wasn’t going to be the career for me when I started my law degree.

But like so many of us, I didn’t have any obvious alternative paths to take, so I took the easy option and stayed on that conveyor belt.

Law degree led to law school. Law school led to a training contract. My training contract ended successfully with an offer of a qualified position from the firm I trained at.

After a while, I still had those doubts, but I thought it was the nature of the work and my working environment, not a career in law itself.

So to try and “solve” that I moved in-house to Sky Sports.

Despite enjoying it more than private practice and loving the sports elements, I still wasn’t fully happy.

Then one day I realised that my 10-year career milestone was starting to come into view.

I realised that I just wasn’t going to find the personal fulfilment I wanted from working as a lawyer.

That’s when I started to explore if there was a better fit for me out in the wider world of work and business.

Many of my clients tell me similar stories about years wasted – sometimes decades. I hear things like:

  • “I fell into a law career, it was never something I intended to happen, but I ended up doing it for years”
  • “I’ve got a good job and the grass probably isn’t greener”
  • “I’ll give it another year and then make a change”

I’ll be honest with you, there are still times when I miss elements of being a lawyer.

My legal career certainly wasn’t all bad.

I was involved in many big sports media deals, I had great secretarial support, I had an impressive work canteen and gym.

But the benefits of changing my career to my overall happiness and fulfilment at work have far outweighed anything I may have lost as part of the change.

And it was a huge relief to have finally got rid of that nagging feeling that my current career path just wasn’t for me.

What YOU can do NOW

Stop mortgaging your happiness.

Stop justifying staying in a profession that makes you unhappy in the hope that you’ll find your escape somewhere down the line when you have achieved financial independence, or things are otherwise different.

Work is a huge part of our lives, whether we like it or not, and choosing to forego fulfilment and happiness now will inevitably impact your wellbeing over time.

Of course, change isn’t easy, but staying put and dealing with another 10/20/30 years of dreading Monday mornings isn’t easy either.

Now is the time to have some honest self-reflection on what you do and don’t like about the work you do.

Are you fulfilled, inspired, motivated?

If not, why not dare to dream a little?

A great way of beginning to explore your options is to expand your own reality by talking to others about their jobs, their businesses, their sectors.

Find and engage with people who work differently than you do. 

Find lawyers who have made a career change and ask to speak with them about how they went about it, and how they feel now having made the change.

The most important action you can take is to build a support team of people who believe in you and want you to be happy.

This could include an experienced career coach, trusted friends and colleagues, and your partner or family members.

Make sure “team you” is only made up of positive people who are positive about you.

Keep the negative people and voices away from your career change efforts.

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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