When I tell acquaintances that I used to be a corporate finance lawyer and I left my cushy position to pursue a career in education, a couple of them felt that it was a crazy move. Friends and family members pondered why I bothered to spend the time and suffered through (and paid for) two years of law school, passed the bar exam in UK, and walked away from life as a lawyer…
You’ll be surprised to know that so many others in the profession have probably considered leaving, even if they ultimately decided to stay put. What pushes the lawyers to leave their high-paying careers? There are many reasons, but here are some compelling ones.
Let’s face it, lawyers work long hours. Whether it’s demanding clients, pushy partners in a law firm, hard deadlines in court, or just commitment to the work; working in a firm is rarely a 9-5 endeavour. Even more so in the BigLaw. Trust me, I was in one. The largest law firms in the nation are given that industry nickname for a good reason.
After years of missed family dinner and last-minute canceled vacations, the hourly toll can start to add up – to the point where no amount of money is worth it. At that point, professionals tend to quit in search of the elusive work-life harmony.
Along with the hours, one faces the constant pressure of trying to prevail in an inherently adversarial system. Add to the fact that lawyers are often dealing with very serious, real-life problems (involving emotional and important aspects of lives; such as family, money, freedom and so on) and you’ve got a recipe for stress and pressure. Over time, without appropriate coping mechanisms, this pressure can become unbearable – leading lawyers to throw in the towel.
The Constant Arguing
Some pressure is inevitable in the law, but much of it is created by the constant arguing that goes on (especially between litigators). Beyond the inherent arguing over precedent and facts in court, there’s the daily grind of arguing over when to schedule depositions, or how many document requests each side is going to be allowed to make.
Some people love this sort of thing, but many don’t. If you’re not in the “I love to argue!” camp, the weight of ongoing arguments can rapidly become too much to handle.
The Work Itself
Let’s face it, much modern legal work can get pretty repetitive. If you went to law school with visions of giving frequent, compelling opening and closing arguments in court and executing surgical cross-examinations on a regular basis, the reality of modern practice might come as a harsh surprise.
Very few cases end up in a trial, and many so-called “litigators” have never actually tried a case. Most work takes place in writing, and much of your time will be spent alone in an office drafting contracts, thinking and doing research. The law itself, in theory, is pretty fascinating. This is probably why the people who loved law school are often the first to exit the profession.
The Lack of Control
In many cases, lawyers find discontent in the control (or lack thereof!) they have over work and schedule as an attorney. When you’re subject to the whims of the court, or of the partners or other senior lawyers you work for, the lack of control can become highly frustrating. This is why many lawyers leave (or opt out of firms and other large organizations to open their own practices).
If you’re currently reading law or thinking whether law’s for you, don’t despair! It is still possible to find yourself a good fit within the system or – worst case – you can join the legions of other disaffected attorneys who left for greener job pastures elsewhere. At least you’ll be in good company!
The main reason why I left the corporate law is the amalgamation of the long working hours and the pressure which I knew would not be good as I was thinking of starting a family. I didn’t want my career to eat up the lot of my youth, and facing the scenario of fighting the clock when I do decide to want children. I never regret the decision made, and now that my daughter is old enough, I am going back to the grind.