Why ‘Leaving Law’ isn’t the End of the World

Leaving one’s profession does not necessarily need to be the dreaded “end of an era.” Sometimes, starting from scratch can actually be a blessing in disguise. Especially in the legal sector.

A law degree doesn’t necessarily suggest that one must be a practicing lawyer. A law degree is incredibly versatile, and can act as a springboard into other professions, legal or not.

There has been a noticeable trend that many lawyers are leaving the profession after the first few years of practice. If one is unhappy with their job, law or otherwise, they should leave, before years of delay and routine take a toll on their happiness. Many realize that law isn’t for them in hindsight, due to the fact that they were not informed nor did they anticipate what the role entailed.

The Numbers

According to the American Bar Foundation, about 20 percent of attorneys who had passed the Bar exam in 2000 were not practicing law 12 years later.

The America Bar Association gathered that 45 percent of practicing lawyers were unhappy with their work.

In Canada, there is also a decline in employment with the legal and paralegal industries. By 2008, there was a 25 percent decline in this sector since 1997.

Don’t Trust TV

Everyone chooses to enter the legal field for a wide range of reasons. Yet, not everyone’s intentions are exactly what they live up to once they receive that degree.

Life gets in the way, and suddenly the innocent altruism one intended isn’t necessarily practiced on a day-to-day basis. In most cases in this industry, there are false expectations. Typically, a first year associate will not land the job in the exact area of practice they had intended.

Even worse, many people go into the legal industry under the false pretense that legal practice mirrors that of what we watch on television. It is an unpleasant reality check when law students realize that their jobs don’t resemble the drama we see every week on Suits. It is this ignorance and misinformation regarding the industry that misleads people, and steers them away from the industry as quickly as they enter it.

What can we suggest?

The most valuable suggestion to an aspiring lawyer is to speak with a practicing lawyer, preferably in your desired specialization, at length. Ask them what it’s truly like; the upsides, the downsides and everything in between. Ask what exactly they did that day, and the day before. Do not let them leave out the boring details.

Not everyone exits the industry due to the industry itself. In some cases, it is their poor experiences in a particular firm that drives lawyers away. New lawyers may associate the field with the not so great people they work with, causing them to leave not only the firm, but law for good.

This shouldn’t be the case. Seek out new work that will treat you the way you deserve. One needs to evaluate what they hope to maintain in the long run: success or mental health. Sometimes they can be elements in a harmonious balance, but in many cases it’s a tradeoff. It is important not to generalize one firm with the rest.

A true lawyer that belongs in the field possesses a strong passion for their work. If the interest in one’s cases and the care for one’s clients is strong enough to blur the line between business and personal life. If you forget how many hours you are working overtime because you are so enveloped in your client’s matters. If you’d still gain equal the satisfaction for half the pay. These are ways to measure that law is completely and utterly for you. Do not stick around for the money if you gain no fulfillment. There are many practicing lawyers nowadays. Do not continue practicing if you do not love it; your lack of passion will affect the quality of your work, and your firm’s reputation. There are many other jobs besides an attorney where a law degree is quite valuable.

Bottom line – choose happiness. Whatever that may be.