It may not come as a surprise that there are thousands of lawyers who are new to the legal profession and consider themselves unhappy. After all, seeking employment while also struggling to pay back six-figure loans can result in anxiety and feelings of unhappiness. But what about seasoned attorneys who possess job security and have little-to-no debt? Would they consider themselves satisfied?
Why Did You Go To Law School?
In my experience as a coach, I’ve encountered many people who essentially decided to become lawyers as a default. I’ve offered my guidance to over 100 lawyers in a variety of situations — solo to big firm, rural to big city, consumer to business, etc. It’s my practice to pose a series of questions to each lawyer I counsel.
The first question I ask is, “Why did you go to law school?” More often than not, the response is some version of the following sentiment: “I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”
My sample includes an impressive cross-section of lawyers, yet there is an aspect of self-selection that generates a bias in terms of the results. Nevertheless, it’s my experience that a large number of lawyers attend law school as a “default” choice because their father/mother/relative/friend did and consequently lack the passion for the legal profession.
What Do Lawyers Do?
Another crucial reason for the unrealistic expectations of those entering the legal field is an absence of knowledge vis-à-vis the type of work lawyers actually do. Based on television shows, one would think that lawyers are in trial multiple times a week, every single week. I can admit that I knew very little about the true work of an attorney when I entered law school. My classmates and I had the general understanding that most lawyers didn’t appear in court every day, but we didn’t exactly know what they did on all of the other days.
Entering the legal profession is different from entering the medical profession. Everyone has a pretty firm understanding of what doctors do. When I first began law school, I believed I would become an estate planning attorney because I was apprehensive about going to court and I had heard estate planners made good money. However, I had no clue what it would be like.
Briefly, a large number of lawyers select this career path because they assume — with zero supporting evidence — that they will wind up with a lucrative and satisfying career. When those high exceptions inevitably fade, it’s no surprise that they find themselves wondering where and how they went wrong.
So This Is What It’s Like?
Ultimately, when you take the “outside looking in” point of view, some lawyers do appear to have it good. They reap considerable financial benefits and operate a thriving practice. In spite of this, one day all of these lawyers reach a point where they sit back in their expensive leather chairs and ask themselves, “Is this it?” Eventually, the brand new luxury car and the big courtroom win doesn’t offer the same thrill that it used to. There is also the troubling possibility that these things never even brought a thrill in the first place.
But after all, I’m a lawyer — not a psychologist. I’m not able to say for sure what makes some attorneys unhappy or what their expectations were when they decided to enter the profession. Lawyers aren’t the only ones to come to terms with the fact that many cannot buy happiness but continue to toil away at a career that may not be very meaningful to them.
Create Your Freedom – Take BIG Action!
Now that we’ve gotten the doom and gloom out of the way, I want to conclude this post on a positive note. It’s never too late to make changes to your career. One of the positive aspects of the legal profession is that lawyers have a wide range of career choices: they can switch law firms, modify their area of practice, go in-house or solo, etc. There are also opportunities in law-related fields, such as e-discovery, Bar Association work, alternative dispute resolution and legal recruiting. The benefit of a juris doctor degree is that you can take your knowledge and skillset to pretty much any industry and make major contributions.
As always, change involves risk, and it’s not always easy. But if you do happen to be one of the unhappy lawyers, let me offer some advice: life is too short to settle for the status quo. Do something to take charge of your legal career and create your freedom!