Essential Guide for Lawyers Seeking a Career Change

Whether you want to pivot within law or leave law altogether.

By Matt Oliver

Here you will find practical advice & insights on making a change to your career as a lawyer.

About This Guide

This guide on career change for lawyers is designed to give you what I wish had existed when I was facing my significant career changes.

It draws from over 10 years experience as a career coach for lawyers as well as my own career changes over a 10-year career as a UK commercial lawyer.

I pivoted from a private practice solicitor to in-house.

I then moved overseas and worked as a lawyer in Australia before finally leaving the practise of law behind altogether.

So, I know a thing or two about lawyer career change 🙂

How this guide will help you

If you're reading this you're likely dissatisfied with your legal career to some extent.

You've no doubt spent lots of time trying to work out your next career move with little success.

You may well find yourself stuck.

I know only too well what it's like to be a lawyer at such a career crossroads.

Whether you're certain you want to leave the law altogether or you're still unsure whether a smaller pivot might be better for you, you're in the right place.

Guide Contents

In this guide, you will find:

Is it time for a change? Assess whether it's time for you to change career with our free workbook. 

Common reasons lawyers want to make a change to their careers

There are three common reasons I hear from lawyers who want to make a change to their careers.

All of these reasons are valid and, if you have any of them, that's ok - it's not just you.

However, they are likely strong indicators that it's time for you to properly explore a change.

1. Health & Wellbeing

It's common knowledge the work of a lawyer can bring with it stress, anxiety and burnout.

It's telling there is a charity (LawCare) that exists solely to help lawyers with mental health and wellbeing issues.

In 2021, LawCare published its Life in the Law research into the wellbeing of legal professionals.

The headlines don't make for great reading:

  • Lawyers are at high risk of burnout.
  • 65% have experienced mental health issues.
  • Only 56% of those with these issues had talked about them at work. The most common reason for not talking to colleagues was the fear of stigma, career progression implications and financial consequences.
  • One in five have been bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work.
  • Only 48% of those with management or supervisory responsibilities had received leadership, management, or supervisory training.

So, if your work as a lawyer is affecting your health and wellbeing, you're not alone.

The big problem here, however, is the systemic failings of the profession around health and wellbeing.

In many firms and organisations, extreme stress and anxiety in lawyers is often accepted and normalised.

And this can make it harder to feel ready to leave a job and make a career change of some sort.

2. Work/Life Balance

Whilst law firms and in-house departments have tried to improve work/life balance and give more flexibility the reality for many lawyers is it's hard to get a healthy balance.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced firms to introduce home working and has resulted in hybrid working models of differing types.

However, the boundaries between home and work seem to get more blurred and the demands of bosses and clients get greater.

When the balance isn't there then important things in life suffer:

  • Health and well-being
  • Family
  • Relationships
  • Hobbies
  • Time off to travel or rest at home
  • A side business or project you want to work on

Without this balance, and with little confidence this can change, it's no wonder lawyers start to consider making a change to their careers.

If you had to write a "Work Wanted" ad it would likely be quite clear about the balance you want in order to live a happier and more fulfilled life.

And if this is different to your current balance then it's time to seriously consider a change.

3. Lack of Enjoyment

Many lawyers come to a realisation they don't enjoy the work, or certain aspects of it, anymore.

Maybe you never did really like the work, just the experience of being a lawyer in the early stages when it was all new and exciting (I know that was me!).

If this is you, you have likely tried to make some changes at work or change your attitude towards work.

However, these feelings around a lack of enjoyment tend to keep coming up until the root cause is identified and dealt with for good.

Of course, the lack of enjoyment may well stem from the effects of the work on your health and wellbeing or your work/life balance as outlined above.

There are also other aspects of the job that commonly lead to this lack of enjoyment:

  • The billable hours and time recording model - I've yet to meet a lawyer who enjoys this.
  • Lack of control over your time - for example, an email or phone call from a colleague or client can completely de-rail your day, evening or weekend. It can be hard to plan things as you often have to cancel plans because of work.
  • You aren't utilising your strengths enough - for example, your creativity.
  • The work isn't in line with your values and/or you don't feel you're fully being your authentic self.

Surveys are regularly published that put lawyers amongst the unhappiest of professionals - some saying over 50% of lawyers want to leave law altogether.

So, if you're not feeling happy or satisfied, you're not alone and you should look into the changes you can make to improve this.

Is it time for a change? Assess whether it's time for you to change career with our free workbook. 

Why aren't more lawyers leaving the law altogether?

With all this unhappiness and dissatisfaction, why aren't more lawyers exploring a career change from law?

Obviously, it's a big change and a decision that's not to be taken lightly.

There are a number of reasons why lawyers don't think they're ready for a change.

1. "If I leave the law it's going to mean an unacceptable hit to my earnings and lifestyle."

This limiting belief is often one that hasn't been considered in any great detail.

And it often stops people from exploring other options to test the accuracy of this belief.

The reality is you may not have to change your earnings or lifestyle when you make a career change.

Or, once you see what you will gain from the career change (eg more time for family or hobbies, or more control over your work), you may well see that any drop in earnings or change in lifestyle still leaves you in an overall much better position than you're in now.

2. "The grass may not be greener after all"

This type of thinking is usually driven by fear - the fear of the unknown, or the fear of uncertainty.

There is often some risk-aversion at play too.

The reality is that the grass may not be 100% green and there is a risk with any career change.

However, by letting this stop you explore a change you're making a decision (albeit a passive one) to stay in a career that lacks satisfaction and is making you unhappy.

Perhaps it's time to honestly consider how green your current grass is. 

3. "It's not the right time."

This reason is often a simple case of procrastination and can be rooted in the fears set out above.

Lawyers can also be sensitive to how their CV looks and buy into common myths around the best and worst times to try to make a change to your career.

If you're not happy with your work, then the right time to seek a change is now. Whether you can or can't make the change you want to right now will be answered when you try.

For more about these and other reasons, and what to do about each reason if they are getting in the way for you, read what I have written here: Leaving the Law - 5 Reasons Lawyers Think They're Not Ready 

Is it time for a change? Assess whether it's time for you to change career with our free workbook. 

What gets in the way of making a career change of some sort?

Our work and careers are a big part of our lives and who we are.

Making a change to our careers is, therefore, a big deal.

As human beings, we're hard-wired to resist change and we have a bias towards keeping the status quo.

The problem is, this can keep us from changing even when the current situation is making us unhappy and dissatisfied.

Therefore, having a better understanding of what is getting in the way for us when we contemplate a career change is key.

To help with this I have written the following articles for you to check out:


Is it time for a change? Assess whether it's time for you to change career with our free workbook. 

How to make a change to your career

The first step in any career change for lawyers is to get crystal clear on what it is you want.

Doing an audit of what you currently like and dislike in your current work is a good starting point for this.

The clearer you can get on your most enjoyable skills together with your interests, values and career motivations the more sustainable any career move is likely to be.

If your career change is motivated by wanting to change other aspects of your life as well as your work, you will also benefit from reflecting on the different areas of your life.

A good exercise I use with my career coaching clients is the Wheel of Life - you can access a free copy of that here >>

Depending on the type of career change you want you may find the traditional job search channels, such as job ads and recruitment consultants, helpful or less so.

The alternatives to the traditional approach include using your network and engaging in activities that will give you access to the hidden job market.

Some research says up to 70% of job vacancies are filled via the hidden job market so it's important to have this as part of your approach.

Before the job search stage, however, you will need to ensure you go through a process to generate ideas and identify realistic options.

This is usually the point where my career coaching clients get stuck before we start working together.

I take them through a process to generate lots of ideas and identify and explore options. This often leads them in a direction we could never have predicted when we started our work together.

If you are doing this on your own, this can be hard.

I recommend you get a support network of people around you to help you understand yourself better, generate ideas and find ways to explore options.

If you would like me as part of your support team, you can find out more about my one to one career coaching here >>

To help you understand some of the important areas to address and actions to take in your proposed career change I have written the following articles for you to check out:

You can also check out our guide to alternative careers for lawyers, which includes a library of over 90 alternative career options and over 60 stories of lawyers who have previously made a career pivot.

One to One Career Coaching for Lawyers

  • Get unstuck and start taking action on your career change.
  • Gain clarity around what you want.
  • Generate ideas and explore career options.
  • Get support and guidance from an experienced career coach and former lawyer with 25+ years experience of the legal profession.