Ever wondered, “why did I become a lawyer? Maybe a career in law isn’t for me?”
You aren’t alone. We all question our decisions from time to time.
A career in law isn’t one thing. It’s not one skill set. It’s not one specialization. This diversity of options and trajectories can make it such a valuable career choice and a challenging one.
Finding the legal career that fits you may take some effort. It can mean making several transitions. What’s important to know is that this is a process of learning about yourself and, in turn, learning about what will align with your unique strengths, interests, values, and more. Learning what work is going to be engaging takes some experimenting.
Alli thought she wanted to do public law and discovered that a corporate commercial solicitor’s practice was her cup of tea.
James was miserable working under a particularly toxic partner. He thought he wanted to leave law. But after changing firms discovered that he was enjoying the work now that he had access to mentors and friendly colleagues.
Here are ten common stumbling blocks that might push you out of law:
- Your firm doesn’t feel like a fit for you. You can’t see yourself staying long-term. This is normal. You will not necessarily fit with the first (or second) firm or organization you join. Reflect on what you are seeking from your workplace. What is essential? What is important? Do your research and build a plan for joining a firm or organization that aligns.
- You may not be in the right practice area. You are interested in helping businesses grow but are working on construction litigation. You like complex law and fact patterns but are doing slip and fall insurance defence work—time to work on a plan to shift to a different practice area.
- It might be one toxic partner (or two, or three) that is the problem, not your legal career. There can be a mistaken impression that “all law firms are like that.” They aren’t. Law firm cultures are formed by the people within them. Move firms, and your work environment can dramatically change for the better.
- In the initial years of practice, the learning curve is steep. You are doing everything for the first time. You don’t know what you are doing. It all takes longer to do than it seemingly should. This is stressful. The pressure of the early years of practice can mask what is good and aligned for you. By the end of your second year, you are coming out of the learning curve and beginning to experience the satisfaction of knowing what you are doing and feeling more confident. This emerging competence will have a significant impact on your perspective.
- The firm or practice you are in might have the sort of clients you aren’t interested in helping. Fair enough. Identify the types of problems you like to work with and people you want to help and move your practice in this direction.
- You don’t like the long hours. You may prefer a reduced hours schedule. That is doable. Reduced hours are easier to negotiate than ever before. You can have a legal career and not work full-time hours. Work on a plan for how to achieve this.
- You may think that your dream of living in a cabin in the woods means you can’t practice law. Think again. And plan for how to make this work.
- Your perfectionism is getting in the way. Perfectionism is something you don’t escape by changing careers; it will travel with you. If you find your perfectionist tendencies are an issue, get help from a counselor to make the shift away from perfectionism and towards mastery.
- You are disorganized and wonder if this means you aren’t cut out to be a lawyer. You and probably half the lawyers in Canada (or more) started as disorganized! Practice management is a skill set that you can improve on. Small habits, systems, and processes will significantly positively impact your work life.
- You lack confidence, which also makes you wonder if you have what it takes. Please know that many lawyers (and professionals in other fields) experience this and, with time, begin to develop trust in their abilities. Here is a link to a free CLE that I hosted with the coaches in AMP available on the CLEBC website: https://www.cle.bc.ca/confidence-the-connection-to-lawyer-well-being-2021/
What a legal career can give you:
- Lots of different types of clients, problems to solve, and projects to develop.
- Intellectually challenging work. If you like complex work and puzzling out solutions, a legal career has lots to offer.
- Meaningful work. Helping people and having a positive impact. There is meaning to be found in many legal careers in various ways: Helping a founder access capital to grow her company; helping couples navigate the challenges of marital disputes so they can get on with their lives; or helping build schools and hospitals. You can search out and find what is meaningful to you and make this part of your legal work.
- Engaging work. Legal practice can be highly engaging. Intentionally seeking out more interesting work and reducing or eliminating tedious tasks is important for building a flourishing practice.
- Law is a career that can move with you. Work from another city? Live in the country? Work from abroad? With proactive planning, you can have this in your legal career.
- There are so many different things you can do with a legal career. It doesn’t lock you in. And change is possible at any stage in your career.
The bottom line?
Finding aligned work is a process. It takes thought, planning, and action. It doesn’t just drop in your lap; instead, it is something you create. Counselors, coaches, and mentors can help provide you with guidance. You have a long career ahead of you, so invest the time in yourself and make it something great. Also, expect changes to occur along the way as your practice develops and interests shift.
For more insights, please have a listen to this free CLEBC event with lawyers talking about the twists and turns their careers took on the way to a meaningful legal career: