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In your legal career, one of the most common things you’ll see is people leaving. You want to leave your legal career too, but you don’t want to leave the workload behind for someone else or because you feel you owe your firm. 

Unfortunately, none of this is true. In reality, you are just a widget. You serve a purpose, and when the time comes, they can and will replace you. The loyalty you have to your firm just isn’t replicated by the top-level decision-makers.

As unfortunate as it sounds, this knowledge can actually propel your decision to leave the law for good. Keep reading to learn more about widgets, loyalty in the legal industry, and how you can break free from it all without feeling guilty!

What Is A Widget?

A widget is simply defined as an unnamed mechanical object that provides a service. In this context, it means being used for a specific purpose and often with no acknowledgment. In the machine of law, you’re serving a purpose and if you leave, you will be replaced, and the cycle will continue.

I have found that there are lawyers who are afraid of or concerned about leaving their job. And, a big obstacle for them is fear of leaving their colleagues in the lurch. Like, “There’s a big case happening, and I don’t want to leave my associates with the workload.” They struggle with leaving because they think, “I’m doing all this stuff. How could they even function without me?”

I understand this feeling. I’ve seen many people have this feeling. When I was in Biglaw, I also thought, “Things are happening in this case that literally couldn’t happen if I wasn’t here because I’m the only one who understands it.”

I graduated in 2008 and experienced the great recession, firms laying off people, and multiple rounds of layoffs. There can often be a misguided sense of loyalty to your firm. There is this false sense of loyalty that you somehow owe your firm something, when in reality, if they need to cut you, they will do it in a heartbeat.

There’s No Loyalty in Law

Here’s what I learned, as I watched person after person leave Biglaw. At no point did anyone say, “We have shut it down, we can no longer function.” That’s not what happens. It is a machine, and the machine rolls on. They find another widget; they put the widget in place, and things keep going. 

You may think, “If I left, I’d be leaving people in the lurch, etc., etc.” But you soon realize that is not actually true. It feels true, but you are a widget. You are replaceable. To the people making those decisions, you are just a number on a piece of paper.

There is a sense of obligation that often builds up around your associates, but they’re not the ones who ultimately decide how the machine is going to be run. So, in reality, you owe your firm absolutely nothing. You’re allowed to leave your legal career without being guilty because when you do, they will replace you.

The Power In Being Replaceable

Usually, the thought of being replaceable is disheartening. But, in this aspect, being replaceable isn’t a bad thing at all. If you’re looking to leave your legal career. Having this knowledge of “If I leave, someone else will come in.” is actually helpful. It means that you can leave the law without feeling guilty about leaving your clients or associates in the breeze.  

Loyalty and integrity are incredibly important, but these systems used and manipulated them to keep you doing what they want. If you leave and that stops, then they just replace you because you are simply a widget.

Someone else comes along and the machine rolls on. But what you have to remember is that you may be a widget in that machine, but you are a human being in the world. You are worth more than being a widget in someone else’s machine.

If what you are doing is not working for you, please don’t hold yourself back because of some misguided sense of loyalty, or that you are the thing on which your entire firm stands and falls. That’s just not true. It’s time to do what’s right for you. All that’s left is to figure out what you’d like to do next. Luckily, Former Lawyer has your back!

Former Lawyer —A Compass For as You Leave Your Legal Career

From my experience, leaving your legal career can be intimidating, even without the guilt. That’s why I have created a free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law. 

This guide is for anyone out there who’s thinking, “Ugh! This job is the worst. I need out. Where do I start?” That is exactly where I was when I realized that I didn’t want to be a lawyer, so I have put a lot of insight into this guide. 

Sign up for the guide here, and get it in your inbox right away! When you grab the guide, you get on my email list, which is the way I keep everyone up to date about everything that’s happening with Former Lawyer.

This is also the best way to get in contact with me because I read and respond to every email. If you are ready to figure out what’s next for you, download the guide and sign up for help to leave your legal career and your path going forward! And, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out!

Mentioned In This Article

Free Guide: First Steps To Leaving The Law

Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. 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. Today, I want to talk about something that might make some people mad. Maybe it won't. Unclear. We'll get into it and we'll see. What I want to talk about is the fact that you are a widget. What does that mean? Often, I find that there are lawyers who are afraid of or concerned about leaving their job. A big motivation for them, even if they're incredibly miserable and know they need to leave, is, “Well, I don't want to leave my colleagues in the lurch. I feel bad leaving because this or that thing is going on,” or there's some big case or whatnot happening. Granted it's something, in most cases, that's going to be going on and on. I'm talking about things that are going to be extending for months, not like, “Oh, there's something that's going on for the next three days.” They struggle with leaving because it's like, “Well, but I'm doing all this stuff. Could they even function without me?” Let me just tell you. I understand this feeling. I've seen many people have this feeling. I myself at times, when I was in Biglaw, had this feeling of like, “There are things happening in this case that literally couldn't happen if I wasn't here because I'm the only one who understands it, blah-blah-blah.” There's a sense in which that's true. It often is true that you're the only person on a case who really understands certain aspects of it.

But here's the thing that I pretty quickly learned as I watched person after person leave Biglaw. There is no person who leaves and they're like, “Oh, we gotta shut it down. We can no longer function. We can no longer serve our clients.” Like this third year associate, first year associate, eighth year associate, junior partner, whatever, senior partner left and like, “All is lost, we might as well just pack it up and go home.” No, that's not what happens. It is a machine. The machine rolls on. They find another widget, they put the widget in place, and things keep going.

Hey, it's Sarah. I'm popping in here to remind you that I have created a free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law for anyone out there who is just like, “Ugh! This job is the worst. I need out. Where do I start?” Which is exactly where I was when I realized that I didn't want to be a lawyer. You can go to formerlawyer.com/guide, sign up, and get the guide in your inbox today. When you grab that guide, you get on my email list, which is the way I keep everyone the most up to date about everything that's happening with Former Lawyer. It's also the best way to get in contact with me because I read and respond to every email. If you are ready to figure out what's next for you, go to formerlawyer.com/guide, download the free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law, and get started today.

I think once you see that happen over and over, you start to realize like, ”I know I'm having this internal felt sense of like without me, this would be so problematic. If I left, I'd be leaving people in the lurch, etc., etc.” Then you realize that is not actually true. It feels true but you are a widget. You are replaceable. For me, for someone who graduated in 2008 and experienced the great recession, firms laying off people, and multiple rounds of layoffs, there can often be what I personally believe as a misguided sense of loyalty to your firm. There can often be a misguided sense of loyalty that you somehow owe the firm something when in reality, if they need to cut you, they will do it in a heartbeat.

The reality is that the people making those decisions, in most cases, you are just a number on a piece of paper. Maybe the individual people who interact with you, they'll feel something like sadness. But often, I find there is this sense of obligation that often builds up around your individual relationships with people. Those people are not the people in any kind of decision making position. They are not the ones who ultimately decide how the machine is going to be run.

Really, to bring it back to the original theme, I just want to say to those of you who are in a work environment, like the one I'm describing—which not everyone is but many people are—and you are feeling this like, “Oh, but everyone's already so overworked. If I leave, then I'll just be even more overworked. I need to be loyal.” Loyalty and integrity, all of those things are incredibly important. But I think those things are used and manipulated by these systems in order to keep us doing what they want, which is humming along with the system. But if we leave and that stops, then they just replace you because you are a widget. Someone else comes along and the machine rolls on. Just remember, you are a widget in that machine but you are a human being in the world. If what you are doing is not working for you, please don't hold yourself back because of some misguided sense of loyalty or that you are the thing on which your entire firm stands and falls. That's just not true. That is my thought on that. I will 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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