Is Now The Time to Leave the Law? (TFLP 089)

This week on the show I want to talk to you about a question that I get asked a lot, which is some variation of, “is now the time to leave the law, am I ready to leave the law, have I given the law enough of a chance, etc.?”

Generally speaking, when people ask me a question along these lines, the first thing I do is ask them all or one of these questions:

Is there another type of legal practice that you’re genuinely interested in trying?

Are you just generically concerned that you haven’t given legal practice enough time? 

Are you just trying to avoid having to make the hard decision to leave?

I ask these questions because many times I find that lawyers are in this position where they’re like, “Okay, I don’t like what I’m doing. This isn’t enjoyable. I definitely don’t want to do this.” But there’s this idea that, in theory, there could be some magical other practice area type of law.

I say this as someone who was literally in this position. For me, within a couple of years of starting to practice, I realized this really might not be for me. And there is understandably a period of time where you often question, “Well, maybe I haven’t given it enough time.”

Is It Too Early To Know If It’s Time to Leave the Law? 

It’s common for one of the questions related to “Should I leave the law” to be, “Is it too early for me to know? I really feel like I know that this is not for me, but it’s only been six months, 12 months, 18 months, two years, etc.” 

In this case, many lawyers feel like they can’t trust themselves, because they’re only six months or a year or 18 months or two years in. And what I would say to those people is, yes, you can trust yourself. 

It is normal to have this feeling of, “Well, maybe I’m missing some perfect other option for me.” That is a normal feeling to have. But here’s the thing, I do not think that exploring other career options should be put on hold for the possibility that maybe you could find some other type of legal practice that you actually enjoy.

What Else Is Out There

I often find that lawyers fall into one of two categories, they know a specific practice area they think they will enjoy or they just generally believe there is “something better” out there. 

If there is a specific thing that you like, something that genuinely sounds interesting, then in that circumstance, great, do your due diligence. Do your research, see if that area of practice is actually going to be a better fit for you. Talk to people who are actually doing that work, who are actively engaged in it, and ask hard questions. Don’t just ask questions to find out what parts of it might be better than what you’re doing now. Ask questions to really get at both sort of what might be different about it and also what might be the same as sort of some of the things that you’re currently running into.

For those that believe there is “something else” out there, it’s really important that when you’re thinking about your possibilities, that you’re actually thinking about something tangible. Because often what I see is people telling themselves, “Well, maybe there could be something better” but really, they’re just sort of like holding it against themselves that they can’t come up with some better option within the law. 

Don’t Hold Yourself Back

My best advice to you, if you have the question of “How do I know if it’s time to leave the law?” – regardless of if you’ve just recently started legal practice or whether you’ve been practicing for many years – is do not stay in the law just because you think there might be something else that you could identify – even if you haven’t currently identified it and have no real plan to figure out what that thing might be. 

I find that people use the possibility of a theoretical “other legal job that could somehow be better” to hold themselves back from really exploring what other options might be out there for them. 

Trust Yourself

This type of questioning and wondering if there is something else out there is normal, regardless of which stage of practice you are in.  If you’ve listened to the podcast, you’ve heard many people talk about how they knew in law school, in their first summer job, in their first year of legal practice, there is no “right” time to know.

What’s important is that you learn to cultivate the skill of trusting yourself. This is very hard to do when you’ve been on the lawyer train. But the reality is, in my experience, that it is basically never too early for you to know. Trust yourself. 

Are You Looking For Permission? 

This brings me to my last point for those of you who are asking this question about it being time to leave the law: do you already know the answer? 

Are you just looking for permission? 

Frequently when people come to me with this type of question, they know what they want to do. Generally, they want to leave, but something about it feels scary to them. Something about it feels wrong or feels risky or pushes on the issue of sunk costs, and the issue of their identity. 

In these cases, they are looking to borrow courage from someone else. I completely understand where that comes from, again, because I’ve been there. But the reality is that you really need to think it through for yourself and trust in your answer. 

If you are dealing with this question of, “Have I really given the law a fair chance?”, ask yourself if you’re looking for the answer to that question because you really don’t know the answer, you really don’t know whether you want to leave, or you really don’t know whether it’s too early for you to really know…or do you know? Do you know you want to leave? Are you confident in the fact that this is not for you, but you’re looking for permission because it’s hard and it’s scary?

Again, I completely understand that. This is a conversation that we have in The Former Lawyer Collaborative all the time. People thinking about leaving the law brings up all of this stuff. And a lot of it relates to, “Can I actually trust myself? Can I actually trust what I think about my career, especially because I ended up in a career that isn’t working for me?” 

My Best Advice When to Know If It’s Time to Leave the Law

If this question is something you’re struggling with, my best advice is to get around other people who are dealing with the same question. Those other lawyers who are trying to move in a different direction, they really understand what it is that you’re experiencing on a soul level. And getting that kind of community around you can help you have more clarity about these questions. 

Lastly, if you haven’t yet, I invite you to download my free guide, First Steps To Leaving The Law. This is a resource created for you if you are in this situation I’ve mentioned in this post, if you are questioning if it’s time to leave, this free guide may help you untangle things for yourself. 

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Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I am your host, Sarah Cottrell, and on this show, I interview former lawyers to hear their inspiring stories about how they left law behind to find careers and lives that they love. Let’s get right to the show.

Hello, everyone. This week on the podcast I want to talk to you about a question that I get asked a lot, which is some variation of, “is now the time to leave the law, am I ready to leave the law, have I given the law enough of a chance, etc.?”. 

Generally speaking, when people ask me a question along these lines, the first thing that I ask them is, “is there another type of legal practice that you actually know something about that you’re genuinely interested in trying? Or, are you just generically concerned that you haven’t given legal practice enough time? Or maybe even more honestly in some cases, are you just trying to avoid having to make the hard decision to leave?”

Here’s why I say that. A lot of times I find that lawyers are in this position where they’re like, “Okay, I don’t like what I’m doing. This isn’t enjoyable. I definitely don’t want to do this.” But there’s this idea that in theory there could be some magical other practice area type of law. And to be clear, as with everything, I am not saying this because I am holier than thou. I am saying this because I have literally been in that position. You know, for me, it was within a couple of years of starting to practice that I realized this really might not be for me. And there is understandably this period of time where you often question like, “Well, maybe I haven’t given it enough time.”

I often get asked by people who are in their first or second year of practice like, “Is it too early for me to know? I really feel like I know that this is not for me, but it’s only been six months, 12 months, 18 months, two years.” They feel like they can’t trust themselves because they’re only six months or a year or 18 months or two years in. And what I would say to those people is, yes, you can trust yourself. 

It is normal to have this feeling of, “Well, maybe I’m missing some perfect other option for me.” That is a normal feeling to have. But here’s the thing, I do not think that exploring other career options should be put on hold for the possibility that maybe you could find some other type of legal practice that you actually enjoy.

Again, if there are specific things that you’re like, “Hey, this other thing actually genuinely sounds interesting.” Then what I would say in that circumstance is, great. Do your due diligence. Do your research, see if that area of practice is actually going to be a better fit for you. Talk to people who are actually doing that work, who are actively engaged in it and ask hard questions. Don’t just ask questions to find out what parts of it might be better than what you’re doing now. Ask questions to really get at both what might be different about it and also what might be the same as some of the things that you’re running into in whatever kind of practice you’re in currently.

It’s really important that when you’re thinking about, “Well, maybe there’s something else out there”, that you’re actually thinking about something tangible. Because often what I see is people telling themselves, “Well, maybe there could be something better” but really, they’re just, like, holding it against themselves that they can’t come up with some better option within the law. 

And so, whether you’ve just recently started legal practice, whether you’ve been practicing for many years, if you’re having this question of like, “Is it really time? How do I know?” My advice to you is, do not, do not, do not stay in the law just because you think there might be something else that you could identify, even if you haven’t currently identified it and have no real plan to figure out what that thing might be. Does that make sense?

I find that people kind of use the possibility of a theoretical other legal job, that could somehow be better, to hold themselves back from really exploring what other options might be out there for them. And that, again, can be true with people who are early in their career or late in their career. And just to circle back around to the whole idea of, is it too early to know if you’re six months or a year or two years in, the answer to that is no. If you’ve listened to the podcast, you’ve heard many people talk about how they knew in law school, in their first summer job, in their first year of legal practice.

Being able to trust yourself is a skill that you need to cultivate. It is very hard to do when you’ve sort of been on the lawyer train, the lawyer track. But the reality is, that in my experience, it is basically never too early for you to know. 

And so, that brings me to my last point that I wanted to make for people who are asking me this question, “is now the time to leave? Do I need to look at other options? Have I given the law a fair chance?” One of the things that I often talk with those people about is this question, “Do you already know the answer? And are you just looking for permission? Do you already know the answer? And are you just looking for permission?”

Not all the time, but frequently when people come to me with this type of question, they know what they want to do. Generally they want to leave but something about it feels scary to them. Something about it feels wrong to them in the sense of it feels risky, it pushes on the issue of sunk costs, it pushes on the issue of their identity. And so, they are looking for sort of an additional… to borrow courage, right? To borrow courage from someone else. I completely understand where that comes from, again, because I’ve been there.

But the reality is, that you really need to think. If you are dealing with this question of, “Have I really given the law a fair chance?”, ask yourself if you’re looking for the answer to that question because you really don’t know, you really don’t know the answer, you really don’t know whether you want to leave, you really don’t know whether it’s too early for you to really know. Or do you know? Do you know you want to leave? Are you confident in the fact that this is not for you, but you’re looking for permission because it’s hard and it’s scary?

Again, I completely understand that. This is a conversation that we have in The Former Lawyer Collaborative all the time. People thinking about leaving the law brings up all of this stuff. And a lot of it relates to, “Can I actually trust myself? Can I actually trust what I think about my career, especially because I ended up in a career that isn’t working for me?” 

So, if that’s something you’re struggling with, I know I talk about this all the time, but my best advice is to get around other people who are dealing with the same question. Those other lawyers who are trying to move in a different direction, they really understand what it is that you’re experiencing on a soul level. And getting that kind of community around you can help you have more clarity about these questions. Have more clarity about the question of, “Is now the time for me to leave?”

So, those are just some things that I want to leave with you to think through especially that last question. If you’re thinking that you want to leave the law, but you’re feeling some uncertainty, you’re feeling like, “Is it too early to know?” Ask yourself, “Do I already know the answer? Am I just looking for permission?” 

Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven’t yet, I invite you to download my free guide, First Steps To Leaving The Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.

 

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