You hate your law job. That’s the one thing of which you are sure. But how do you know whether that’s just a phase? This is the question that any potential career changer (whether or not you are an attorney) has to answer.
As a career coach for lawyers, I’ve noticed that one group of lawyers tends to leave the practice of law too quickly. This group certainly feels discomfort; their anxiety and unhappiness being a lawyer is real. The mistake they make is that they tend to underestimate what portion of their unhappiness is likely to go away or become more manageable over time.
New lawyers, I’m talking to you. There is no precise way to define who is a new lawyer. It is, however, quite common for lawyers to feel a great deal of career-related anxiety during the first two years practicing law. There is a lot to learn during this phase. That’s why many beginning lawyers that I have spoken to display the classic signs of imposter syndrome. They are convinced that, if only the outside world really knew just how lost and clueless they were, we would realize that they are not true lawyers. We would realize that they are imposters.
For most lawyers, self-awareness and good mentoring will, together with the passage of time, will make you more comfortable and confident. That’s not to say that, once you are three years into your law career, you will suddenly love every aspect of your job. Nor does it mean that it’s always a mistake for beginning lawyers to take steps to change careers and leave the practice of law.
I have occasionally worked with lawyers who have been practicing for two years or less. For example, a law firm associate who had worked in the business world before going to law school wanted to escape an especially abusive senior lawyer. And abuse is the right word to describe what he had been enduring. This went far beyond working long hours or putting up with prickly personalities. The lawyer negotiated a departure from the firm, and then six months later decided to return to the business world. He had enough prior work experience to put his law firm experience in context.
Through no fault of their own, most beginning lawyers lack the work experience to know how much of their unhappiness is likely to be temporary. That doesn’t mean you have to stay where you are. Rather than leave the law, it may be wiser for you to identify what specific aspects of your job cause you the most distress, or see if waiting 3-6 months helps. You also can talk to people in authority and try to make changes so your job is better for you. You can, of course, also look for another law job.
You are the world’s foremost expert on you. Only you can ultimately decide whether you should leave the law. But if you have been a lawyer for two years or less, chances are good that you are experiencing growing pains.