Leaving the Law – 5 Reasons Lawyers Think They’re Not Ready

can't change careers

And some advice on what to do if any of them sound familiar to you

In over a decade as a career coach to lawyers, I’ve met only a handful of clients whose circumstances were so specific that they really were prevented from leaving the law at that point in time.

Yet, almost every other client has had a tendency to think they are in that same position.

I wanted to share with you the top 5 reasons I hear time and again as to why lawyers’ career change aspirations can never happen – and how they are almost always wrong!

If you’re unhappy with your legal career but one or more of the following are preventing you from doing something about it, I hope some of the suggestions I make can help you on the way to overcoming them.

1. “If I leave the law it’s going to mean an unacceptable hit to my earnings and lifestyle.”

That’s simply not a given.

There are plenty of alternative careers where you can earn the same or more than your current position.

There are also almost unlimited opportunities where you might earn less but feel so much better for it.

For many unhappy lawyers, when they assess their situation more objectively, a drop in salary and a change in lifestyle could absolutely be worth it if it would mean more time with your family, or the freedom to pursue your hobbies and real passions.

In many cases, a salary drop is only temporary as you bed into your new career.

Many ex-lawyers find their earnings recover relatively quickly thanks to their newfound passion and commitment to an alternative career they actually love.

Not to mention the strong skill set they have developed as a lawyer.

But there’s no need to play the “what if…” game!

The beauty of money is that right now you can decide to test what it would be like to live on less.

I advise running an experiment for three months where you put a fixed percentage of your salary straight into a savings account on payday.

Make it an automatic transfer so you don’t even have to think about it.

So now you can see what it might be like to take a percentage “pay cut” and how it feels.

What “luxuries” would you have to give up, and how much would you really miss them?

This experiment usually forces my clients to properly analyse their income and expenditure (often for the first time) so they can see where their hard-earned money really goes, and what actual value they are getting from their lifestyle and discretionary spending.

It’s often too easy to look at the downsides of “earning less” at the expense of the sometimes unquantifiable benefits:

  • How about spending less time commuting or not having to pay off a season ticket loan?
  • Being able to do more school runs?
  • Always being home for bath and bedtime?
  • Not having to work at weekends or be “on-call” for clients all the time?
  • Being able to book holidays or social events knowing that you’ll never have to cancel at the last minute because of work?
  • Actually having the time and energy to enjoy hobbies, or to keep (or get) fit?

There are also often quantifiable savings to be made from changing your career.

Reduction or elimination of childcare costs because of more flexible working, fewer transport-related bills, expensive lunches – perhaps even less “retail therapy” because you’ll feel better about what you’re doing?

Something I remind all of my leaving law clients is that any drop in salary can be seen as the cost of making you feel happier, more satisfied, and ultimately more fulfilled.

What is that worth to you?

2. “The grass may not be greener after all”

There are often a couple of things behind this reason.

The first is fear.

Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of losing security.

Another side of this is the worry that you’re being selfish by wanting more, that you should be grateful for what you have – after all, many people would give their right arm for what you have now, wouldn’t they?

But why shouldn’t you figure out what you really want to do with your working life, and then try to do it? After all, you’re unhappy now – and we all deserve to be happy.

The UN has recognised the importance of the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing to everyone in the world, and that includes you!

Why should you deprive the world of your talents and passion for something that brings you fulfilment?

But let’s be honest, if you leap before your look, the grass may not be greener.

If you are unhappy with your work then you need to do your utmost to find something better – that “something” is undoubtedly out there, you just need to make sure you do your due diligence.

With the proper investment of time and research, your chances of finding greener grass are good.

But the only way to know the answer is to try something else that promises to deliver it.

If you don’t, how will your career story end?

Will you remain trapped in a job that you will come to actively hate, at the possible expense of your mental and physical health?

Steve Jobs famously said:

“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

3. “It’s not the right time.”

For most people, this reason is either simple procrastination or it’s about over-thinking how your CV is going to look.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been in your current role for 6 years or 6 months, if you’re a great fit for the position you want to go for (and it’s a better fit for you than where you are now) then it IS the right time.

And that’s also the case even if you’ve changed jobs a couple of times in recent years.

Provided you’re not moving regularly between jobs because of issues you’re causing, or because you’re being made redundant regularly, the mere fact you have moved around isn’t any sort of barrier to moving again.

You may be questioned about that mobility, but provided you prepare your answers and have solid reasons behind why you feel the new role is an excellent fit, you’ll be fine.

Remember, it’s not “time served” that’s important, it’s the experience you gained and the skills you learned or developed while you were there.

People move jobs more often today than ever before, and successful people tend to be the most mobile as they seek new challenges and opportunities to meet their career goals.

4. “I have to find my ideal new career first before I can leap into it.”

Quite a number of my clients have got themselves trapped by this one.

They have read about other lawyers who successfully left law and are doing something they have a real passion for.

And so they are waiting to discover what their “passion” is before they leave to go and do it.

But you don’t need to think of it this way.

For the vast majority of disillusioned lawyers I coach, the work we do together is much less about ‘leaving law’ than it is about ‘career transition’ or ‘career pivoting’.

So rather than staying stuck in your current rut trying to figure out the “perfect career” to move to, try to understand what career steps are open to you NOW.

What moves might help you to pivot from where you are in another direction.

It could be a big pivot, but it could equally be a small one that works to help you develop new skills or have a change of focus that helps you with a more gradual career transition rather than a quantum leap.

Don’t become paralysed by trying to seek the perfect career now.

Instead, think of the moves you could make that will find you a better fit than your current job.

By seeing this as a longer process of exploration and change you will bring yourself closer to knowing your ultimate destination with every move.

Of course, if you find your perfect alternative career choice along the way that’s great!

5. “I have to keep my career change a secret.”

Of course, it’s understandable that you may not want your boss or other colleagues to know you are thinking of making a change.

But worries about them finding out you’re exploring your options can often lead to inertia because it means you try to do everything on your own.

This is the hardest way to make a career change, and in my experience is rarely successful.

To get this right, you must involve other people, because they will help you to generate ideas, bring useful information and experience to the table, introduce you to other people and give you much needed support and encouragement.

Professional contacts can also be your eyes and ears out there and are a vital link to the hidden job market.

So, whilst there may be a small risk of your career explorations getting back to your boss, it’s a risk that can be managed and it’s one that is worth taking given the upsides of identifying the right career move.

Be Wary of These ‘Reasons’

The fact these reasons are commonplace makes them ‘real’ and will often block attempts at a career change.

However, when examined more closely and when you work on getting past them you will see they are most likely not the true reality of your situation.

I work with these reasons and other blockers regularly in my career change coaching work with my lawyer clients. If you want to know more about my career change coaching get in touch to arrange a free initial introductory call.

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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