Making Career Changes as a Lawyer

Making career changes as a lawyer

It’s not an industry secret that legal careers can be stressful and lead to burnout. Young lawyers especially seem to be pushing for more work-life balance, but in the work-from-home era, those boundaries can be hard to enforce—and they still aren’t a cure-all for the stresses of legal work.

For some attorneys, the solution isn’t working from home or greater work-life balance, but a different career path entirely.

Deliberately stepping into the uncertainty of transition can be scary, but if you’re honest with yourself about what you’re afraid of—and write it down!—it becomes easier to address.

Understand why you want a change

If you’re considering leaving your career as a lawyer, it’s critical that you understand why. Make a list, and get everything marked down.

For instance, if the stress of billable hours or growing your client list is making you miserable, you might benefit from leaving your traditional law firm and working as in-house counsel. All kinds of institutions need legal assistance, from hospitals to city governments.

Likewise, if the all-nighters and last-minute changes in your work schedule are the issue, you may want to consider shifting to a new role where time off is more respected. There are a whole host of careers out there that will offer a healthy work-life balance, even if they don’t involve actively practicing law.

Consider a lateral move

For some lawyers seeking a career shift, a lateral move may bring the right balance of satisfaction and a sense of security.

Depending on your interests, it may be worth considering jobs that make use of your law degree, even if you’re not necessarily practicing as a lawyer.

Medical ethics and policy decisions both require an understanding of the law. Additionally, with cryptocurrency growing and NFTs now being used to represent intellectual property, NFT and cryptocurrency law is quickly growing field—and one that’s faced with increasing calls for greater legal regulation.

Recognize your current skills

As a lawyer, you’ve likely developed many valuable skills that are marketable in the non-legal world.

For instance, many lawyers are good writers—a skill with a large range of possible career applications, including creating legal content and marketing writing.

Lawyers are often good at public speaking and working with clients, too. For lawyers who enjoy more client-facing roles, accounts managing or other jobs with public engagement can be a good fit.

Finally, lawyers tend to be excellent researchers. This can translate into a career in e-discovery but can also allow you to expand into working as a researcher for academics or policymakers, a fact-checker, or a research librarian.

Identify a fallback option

Being a lawyer is a very structured career. Leaving the legal industry can be easier if you have a clear sense of what your fallback option is.

Although there’s value in pursuing what makes you happy, it’s actually quite hard to know what your “dream job” is until you’re doing it. Moreover, as you grow and change, your dream job may shift, too.

So instead of feeling like you have to bet it all on that one “right” job, consider what your path would look like if your job wasn’t your identity but instead was more about providing you with the kind of life you want to live.

If that’s location-independence and the opportunity to travel, then maybe being a writer for a legal technology company could give you that flexibility. Or maybe you want to be able to exercise a greater degree of creativity. Or know that your workday ends at five o’clock.

By all means, pursue your dream job if you have a sense of what you want, but also consider looking for jobs that could furnish you with the things you want most as a fallback.

Form your plan

Form your plan. Write down:

  • Why you don’t like your current job as a lawyer
  • What you’re afraid of if you leave your current job
  • What aspects of a job you value most (creativity, flexibility, meaningful work, etc.)
  • Any marketable skills that you have
  • Any niche areas of expertise

Once you have all this on paper, you’re in a good position to begin doing more precise research into possible alternative professions. After you’ve decided on a plan—and yes, a fallback option, too—then write down the steps you need to take to get there.

But whatever you do, write it all down. As a lawyer, you know it’s much more enforceable that way.

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