Alternative Careers for Lawyers: What To Do When You Want To Quit Law
I can’t even tell you how many times I Googled “alternative careers for lawyers” while I was working in Biglaw. It was . . . a lot.
I hated being a lawyer.
Since you’re here, I’m guessing that’s you as well.
You realize that you want to leave legal practice.
Or you may not be totally sure that you want to leave, but you definitely want to at least see what options are out there.
So you turn to the magical Google machine in hopes that if you type in the right combination of words, it will spit out an answer that makes you go, “Aha!”
(Again … I’ve been there.)
So, in keeping with the general theme of Former Lawyer, which is “create things that I wish existed when I was still a lawyer,” here is a guide to alternative careers for lawyers based on all of the interviews that I have conducted for the podcast.
If you hate being a lawyer and are trying to figure out what’s next, read on!
If you want to leave law behind, you need to figure out what you want to do next.
When you start thinking about leaving the law, it’s an overwhelming moment. This guide is designed to give you some of the answers that you’re looking to keep you from falling down yet another Google rabbit hole. (Maybe I should just go in-house? Would I like a compliance role? Why is this so difficult??)
We’re going to start by laying a foundation about why you want to leave, and what’s wrong with legal practice.
(But if you want to jump right to the list of 60+ alternative careers for lawyers with actual real-life examples, click here!)
Then, we’ll wrap up with some of the questions that you may be asking yourself is you’re considering changing careers, including a brief pep talk about why leaving the law is actually possible, reasonable, and maybe (probably) the right choice for you.
Let’s get into it!
A few reasons why you might be thinking about leaving the law.
Biglaw lawyers, and associates in particular, are incredibly stressed and overworked, but stress and overwork is not confined to Biglaw alone. (Here’s a bit of a rant about Biglaw and why I created Former Lawyer.)
All the way back in 2014, lawyering was described as “the only job with an industry devoted to helping people quit.”
Here are some of the reasons that I (and many others) think the legal industry is so toxic.
The billable hour model is the literal worst.
You’re either stressed because you’re overworked and have no time for anything else (but at least you’re making your hours), or stressed because you are slow and what if you don’t make your hours?!
In short, the billable hour model is terrible for the people inside it.
The legal profession is obsessed with prestige.
Be honest … why did you become a lawyer? Why did you choose the school that you did? Why did you choose the job that you did?
Not every lawyer is driven primarily by wanting to go to the most prestigious institution or land the most prestigious job … but many, many are.
And because the legal job market is so competitive, often lawyers and law firms use prestige as an artificial metric to weed out job applicants, confirming the idea that prestige is an inherent good.
But the reality is that if you’re making your career decisions based upon what’s the most prestigious, you are giving little to no consideration to whether the job that you’re pursuing is actually suited for you.
No wonder that especially in Biglaw, many lawyers show up and shortly afterward think, “What have I done?!”
Lawyers are not good at separating their identity from their job.
I don’t know about you, but when I was working as a litigator, I felt like I had no time to be anything but a lawyer.
There just wasn’t much time for anything else.
That’s a pretty suffocating feeling when your job makes you miserable.
But, there’s an even more insidious thing that happens in the legal profession when it comes to how you see yourself.
Regardless of how much time your job demands of you, for most of us, being a lawyer feels like a core part of our being.
“I am a lawyer,” turns into, “Who am I if I’m not a lawyer?”
Almost every lawyer I work with inside the Former Lawyer Collaborative™ is dealing with some aspect of this struggle regarding their identity.
Extreme anxiety and stress is normalized in the legal profession.
But because everyone’s anxious, it seems like something that just comes with the job, and is normal.
Yep, being a lawyer is inherently crappy.
These are just some of the reasons that you may hate being a lawyer. Truth is, there’s a myriad of reasons beyond the ones above—these are just some of the big ones.
So your reasons for wanting to do something else with your J.D. may be different than these, but regardless, if you’re here, it’s because you’re ready to figure out some real options for what might be next.
What else can I do with my law degree?
Before we dive into the specifics, I want to make one thing super clear: if you’re a lawyer, basically ANY career is a possible alternative career for you. So if you’re wondering what else you can do with your law degree other than be a lawyer, I want you to know up front that there are lots of options for you.
Often when lawyers start exploring their career options, they want to hew as closely as possible to an actual legal job, even if it’s technically non-practicing, because they’re afraid of wasting the time and money they spent becoming a lawyer.
I strongly encourage you to embrace the reality that you carry your experience with you into ANY job that you choose.
As you’ll see below, there are endless possibilities if you want to leave the law.
In fact, one of the biggest issues people tackle in the Collaborative™ is how to narrow down their options.
Stepping off the path of lawyering can feel downright scary!
It’s moving from a very clearly defined path to one that often feels murky and unclear.
But it’s worth it. So here we go!
60+ alternative careers for lawyers (with real-life examples!)
Here’s how the list works . . .
Each career, job, or field in the list below is linked to one or more podcast episodes that I’ve done with actual, real life people who worked as lawyers, and then decided to leave to do the job or career described.
You can click through on each and read the blog post accompanying the episode, plus listen to the episode for all the details that each of my guests has shared!
And, my guests are happy to connect with you, so if you’re particularly interested in a specific career, just look for the links in the show notes on each page to connect with the former lawyer of your choice directly.
And now, without further ado . . .
A non-exhaustive list of alternative careers for lawyers with real-life examples:
- human resources professional;
- life coach for high-achieving moms;
- law school career counselor;
- genetic genealogist;
- lawyer career coach (also here);
- leadership coach and facilitator;
- policy associate/regulatory advocate (also here);
- working artist (also here);
- clinical psychologist;
- non-profit management and development;
- DEI consultant;
- marketer for lawyers and law firms (also here);
- online stationery shop owner;
- hair-bow company owner;
- business coach for women-owned online businesses;
- planner and productivity company owner;
- couples financial counselor;
- baking business owner (also here);
- executive & life coach;
- career & business coach for women with JDs;
- wedding planner;
- professional development for lawyers;
- nature photographer;
- legal educator for online entrepreneurs;
- yoga and meditation instructor;
- tech sales;
- career & business coach for women;
- portable photo booth creator;
- holistic health coach;
- legal publishing;
- online financial educator;
- climate and environmental advocate;
- calligrapher and calligraphy teacher;
- travel writer;
- digital marketer;
- publicist/public relations agency founder;
- content marketer for law firms;
- jewelry designer and jewelry company owner;
- director of a state’s department of juvenile justice;
- information security consultant;
- journalist (horse-racing, travel, conservation)
- freelance writer (finances, travel, more travel, legal content, self-publishing book, full-time);
- realtor and real estate investor;
- chocolate tour company founder;
- brand and marketing consultant for small-batch chocolatiers;
- accredited financial counselor (more here);
- director of operations/COO of a startup;
- career coach (resume & LinkedIn rewrites, interview coaching, career narratives & personal branding);
- portrait painter;
- higher ed administration;
- interior design;
- SEO expert;
- home organizer;
- entrepreneur (six-figure!);
- podcast producer;
- legal tech strategy and business development;
- stationery designer; and
- grief recovery coach.
Check back often, because this list is updated all the time as I do new interviews.
So you’ve explored the list of alternative careers for lawyers … now what?
Okay, so now you’ve seen the list, and you know that there are a LOT of things that you could do if you don’t want to be a lawyer anymore.
I imagine there were probably at least one or two things on that list which surprised you.
But the next question is . . . how do YOU figure out what YOU should do if you quit law?
First, check out answers to some of the common questions I get from lawyers who want to change careers:
Frequently asked questions from lawyers considering alternative careers:
- Am I ready to leave law? How do I know?
- Is quitting law without another job lined up a bad idea?
- Law is my second career. Can I still leave?
- What if I regret leaving the law?
- What if I feel trapped in the law by my law school debt?
- Isn’t it a huge waste of time and money if I leave the law?
- How do I know if I’m experiencing lawyer burnout?
Second, here are a few things that I think you should know if you hate being a lawyer and want to quit.
Things you need to know if you’re exploring alternative careers for lawyers:
- It’s okay to quit being a lawyer (and here’s when you probably should);
- There is nothing wrong with you for not liking being a lawyer;
- There is no perfect next step if you hate being a lawyer;
- Your job should not make you cry (seriously … that’s not normal);
- If you’re in Biglaw, you’re not a failure because you’re human (even though Biglaw makes you feel that way).
- If you’re trying to figure out what else you can do with your J.D., don’t rely on prestige (it’s a liar).
- Sometimes you just need to find a non-law job ASAP to give yourself space to really explore what you want to do next.
- Three of the biggest obstacles you face when trying to leave the law.
Resources for lawyers looking for alternative careers
Finally, here are three ways to get the ball rolling, whenever you’re ready to figure out how to ditch your legal job for good.
1. Listen to The Former Lawyer Podcast
A weekly podcast sharing honest conversations with former lawyers about their decisions to leave the law for different careers, plus advice and insight from my own experience. Know that you’re not alone and start developing an imagination for what’s possible. Listen on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you listen to podcasts using the RSS feed.
2. Grab a free copy of the First Steps To Leaving The Law Guide
The free First Steps To Leaving The Law guide shares the very first steps that you should take if you want to explore the possibility of leaving the law (or just bailing out of your current job), plus four myths that could be holding you back.
3. Join the Former Lawyer Collaborative™
The Former Lawyer Collaborative™ is designed to help you answer one very important question: what could be an alternative career for me outside of the law?
The core of the Collaborative™ is a simple and powerful five-part Former Lawyer Framework™ to help you identify the alternative career that is right for you. Inside this confidential community, we help you explore different careers options, identify your new path, and put a plan in place to get there.
I hope this guide has been helpful for you. If you’re not sure where to start after all of this information, start here—> download my free guide, First Steps To Leaving The Law!
This article was updated on April 29, 2021.