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Resume Gaps as a Lawyer – How Bad Are They Really?

One of the most common searches I get from lawyers thinking of leaving law is “How bad is it to have a resume gaps as a lawyer?” Or what they are really asking, “How bad is it to just quit my job without something else lined up and take that time to figure out what I want next?”

To put a rest to most of your concerns, I’d say the answer is a resounding no, not as much as you think.

In my experience, it’s a far more common that lawyers think of career gaps as some kind of unforgivable sin. In reality, it depends a great deal on what you do with that time and how you potentially explain it during later interviews. 

Let’s say you’re at a big law firm, and decide to give it all up someday. If you reapply at another big law firm after a gap, you can expect a certain degree of scrutiny towards your resume gaps. 

This has a lot less to do with the gap itself, and more to do with the generalization that big law firms tend to have a level of, ‘snobbery’, and are selective about their applicants. What you need to remember is that regardless of how long or short your career gap is, any good recruiter will ask you for a reason for resume gaps.

Here’s what I think; it’s not a problem, at least not as much as it’s made out to be. As long as you have a reason, a narrative, a way to explain what happened or why it did, you’ll be okay.

Resume Gaps as a Lawyer in Law vs. Outside of Law

For most lawyers and for the legal profession at large, the reality is there is a lot around prestige – which is seemingly influenced by how solid your career path seems.

In law firms, there’s a lot more concern about things being done a certain way, being on a particular path… and the reality is, if you’re considering leaving behind law for something else, you’re already stepping off that path.

If you are thinking of leaving your job before having something else lined up, I think there are some questions you should be asking before you make the jump:

  • Where am I financially?
  • What are my options if it takes me longer than I expect to make a career change?
  • What are my fallback options?
  • Do I have any outstanding obligations?

You will find that most of these questions are practical, and not based on some underlying expectation that your career will self-destruct with a gap of some sort.

Resume Gaps as a Lawyer

– It’s Not As Bad As You Think It Is

The world of law has historically had “rules of the game” and may lead you to believe that a resume gaps means career suicide. In my opinion, however, this is simply not true, it is not as bad as you are thinking that it is. 

I know of many people who have taken a gap, used that time wisely, and figured out what it is that they really want to do. The same could be true for you.

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Bonus! Watch Sarah answer the question: Is quitting law without another job lined up a bad idea?

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 about a question that I get asked a lot. The question is, "How bad is it to have a gap in my resume?" Variation of the question is, "How bad is it to just quit my job without something else lined up and take that time to figure out what I want next?" So here's what I will say. In general, having a gap on your resume is much less of a problem than you think it is because it's been my experience that most lawyers think that it's essentially like an unforgivable sin. Now, the reality is there are some limited industries or types of jobs that are going to care a lot about whether you have a gap in your resume. If you're at a big law firm and you just completely throw in the towel and quit, and then you want to go back to another big law firm, because there's a level of, let's say snobbery in that type of hiring and in that type of job, having a gap in your resume could be a problem.

But outside of that, and maybe a couple of other types of positions that are similar in the way that their industry is structured, it's just not going to be as big of a problem, typically, as you think it's going to be. I actually asked this question on LinkedIn. This was now almost a year ago because someone in the collaborative was asking me this question and everyone, except for one person who responded, most of whom were either lawyers or former lawyers, responded to the question of, "How bad is it to have a gap in your resume?" With the answer, "It's not a problem. As long as you have a reason, a narrative, a way to explain what happened, or why that happened." I mean, even if it's just, "I just needed some time." That's fine.

If there's a gap and you just don't address it, or I don't know, you have an explanation like, "I just don't care about working hard." Anyway, you get the point. The people who I have heard anecdotally express a significant concern about someone having a gap in their resume, in my opinion, often would not be the people that you would want to take a job from anyway. So take that for what you will, but especially if you are wanting to go from law to something that's outside of the legal profession, you really do not, I think, needed to have this concern that like, "Oh my goodness, what if I have a gap in my resume, people are going to think whatever?"

The reality is that the legal profession is much more, well, we've talked about it before, right? It's much more focused on prestige. There's a lot more concern about things being done a certain way, being on a particular path. And the reality is if you're leaving the law for something else, you're already stepping off that path, right? You're already going outside of a carefully scripted, carefully laid out 10 step plan. So there are of course questions that you need to ask yourself if you're thinking about leaving your job and you don't have another job lined up, and most of them are really practical questions, like, "Where are you financially? What are your options if it takes you longer to get a job, than you think it's going to take, than you estimate it will take? What are your fallback options, et cetera, et cetera?"

So I think honestly, most of the questions you need to be asking yourself when you're thinking about quitting before you have something else lined up, have a lot more to do with the practical implications of not having a job for some period, than with these overarching, "Am I going to completely blow up the possibility of having any kind of career?" I think lawyers tend to catastrophize the idea of having a gap on their resume, that is not actually based on reality. It's based in our risk averse, prestige focused, profession perspective, that is really not the perspective of, I would say most people out there. I also think that there is a degree to which these perceptions have shifted generationally, just from talking with other people and seeing what they have to say about this question. I do think that there is a lot more openness amongst millennials and gen X and the younger generations to this idea of a work life being a fluid and evolving thing. It's not that there isn't that same perspective in older generations, it's just that it seems to be increasing with each generation.

So, if you're wondering how bad it is to have a gap on your resume, or whether you should think about potentially quitting your job before you have something else lined up, these are the things that I need you to think about. And the reality is, like I said, and this is my opinion, but it is not as bad as you are thinking that it is. And I know of many people who have done this and taken the time that they get back from doing this and figured out what it is that they really want to do. So those are my thoughts about whether or not you should be concerned about having a gap on your resume.

Thanks so much for listening. I'll talk to you next week.

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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