Attorneys. Is Career Change Possible?

In the interest of transparency, I want to be upfront and say that I am not an attorney and have never been one. I have never “walked a mile in your shoes”. However, as a Career Coach that spends time working with Attorneys it seems many struggle with the same issues and fight the same demons. What is it as a profession that makes it difficult for Attorneys to transition out or think about alternatives to their career. Below is a result of conversations with many attorneys on the subject of “Career Change”

  1. The proverbial “golden handcuffs.” Lawyers often get paid a lot of money to work a lot of hours and be constantly on demand. The money is incredibly attractive, but the constant hours are wearing and for many, eventually soul destroying. Even if you love the energy and excitement at first, it is very difficult for a body to sustain that level of stress for long periods of time.
  2. Lawyers are taught to “think” in certain ways. Lawyers are taught to think “critically” and analyze every situation in a certain way. Lawyers are always looking for the small details that could turn into a big problem for their client, as they as trying to find ways to use the law to their clients’ advantage. This requires quite a bit of creativity, in a way, but the minutiae and details that lawyers deal with everyday often makes it difficult for them to see the bigger picture, in business as they as in life. Without seeing this bigger picture, it can be difficult to see their life as a whole and what they actually want from it.
  3. Lawyers are taught to “think” in certain ways (continued). Lawyers are also taught the importance of extensive research, always having a source to back up your claim or legal thought. Lawyers think carefully about a problem and use precedent to back it up. Therefore, when it comes to the point where they are ready to do something different with their lives, they are unused to working without a precedent, or a model to follow. In a world in which people increasingly use boiler plate language rather than drafting from scratch, they have gotten unused to spontaneity and new ideas. It can be quite difficult to dream up a new way to do something or visualize a path not yet forged – particularly when this is to benefit themselves, not their clients
  4. Lawyers like formalities. They love their paper, whether it be a – certificate of formation, a contract, a will, or a code of statues. They often surround ourselves with written pieces of paper that tells them where they stand. In addition, they have a fancy degree (on handsome paper) that states they are lawyers. It can be very hard to look beyond that piece of paper to see that, although you may be an excellent lawyer and may have some or even many of the skills and aptitudes necessary for the job, those skills and aptitudes can be useful elsewhere. You may even have skills and talents that you have never truly had a chance to develop or even use, because they did not feed in to those things necessary to become and succeed in the law. Realizing that you are more than just your degree, more than just a lawyer, can help you develop sides of yourself you forgot, or never knew, existed.
  5. Lawyers become lawyers for the wrong reasons. Lawyers often end up in law for reasons other than a true interest in the law and desire to become a legal professional. Often, our families encourage us to be lawyers. For families and indeed, for ourselves, it seems like a good, stable job. Or, people may have told you all of your entire life that you act and think like a lawyer and should be one. Or even more frequently, they didn’t know what else to do. Perhaps you studied history, English, or something similar and did not know how to get a job with that degree, so you decided to become a lawyer (Latin American Studies anyone?). This past history can be a formidable obstacle for a lawyer looking to change career, because they have already been in the position of not knowing what to do with our careers but chose a path that seemed solid. If it does not work out, or has not made us happy and fulfilled, the idea of being back in that beginning position is paralyzing. The additional possibility of possibly getting it wrong again can be even more paralyzing. The evil you know can seem better than the evil you do not know. Plus, the training they receive in law school can be so thorough that you forget you once had interests outside the law and they’re good at things other than law.
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