Aug 28
business people meet in conference room, caption reads "What if we don't change at all and something magical happens?"

Stare Decisis Is a Bad Career Transition Strategy

As a law student, I learned about stare decisis.

As a business litigator for almost ten years, I saw that judges applied stare decisis—unless they didn’t want to.

As a career coach for lawyers, I know that many lawyers rely on precedent too heavily when they think  about making a career change, especially if that change includes leaving the practice of law.

It’s only natural for lawyers to take comfort in knowing that some other lawyer stopped being a lawyer and successfully did something else.  But relying on precedent in this context can be a mistake.  Just because others decided to do something doesn’t mean that you will have the same experience.  It’s much more important to know why a lawyer feels a certain way about their career change than what the specific change was.  Someone may love the fact that their new career gives them the opportunity to write more than they used to as a lawyer.  But if you already feel that you write too much in your law job, their experience may not be particularly illuminating for you.

Ultimately, the best career transitions are made for reasons that are very personal.  The fact that some lawyer left the law and is now happy being a stockbroker, circus clown, or hypnotherapist doesn’t mean that any or all of these choices are right for you.  If you do want to focus on precedent, take comfort that, given the many thousands of lawyers who have happily left the profession, the right question isn’t whether you can possibly leave the law.  You almost certainly can.  The better question is this:  What career path, in or outside the practice of law, would make you happy while allowing you to achieve your important goals.