Beware the Magic Bullet

When you’re in the midst of grinding misery, well-paid though it may be, you want out. As in, beam me up, Scotty.

Some people in horrid situations do get out of them fast. Particularly if they’ve been fairly happy before in their lives, and haven’t been drowning in awfulness for very long. How long is very long? Probably not more than a year, maybe two.

Thing is, most of the unhappy lawyers I’ve ever known were not unhappy solely because of their job. It may be the most acute thing bothering them, but if you get out the old navel-gazing equipment, they’ve probably been unhappy before law school. There are often a lot of interconnected reasons unhappy lawyers have landed where they have.

I’m not laying blame here. In one sense, yes, your decisions are what got you into this miserable mess, but that’s hardly the place to stop questioning the origin of your misery. Life is complex, and distance is often the only way to observe some patterns in your life. Some choices on the surface look soooo glittery and good, like being paid well over $100,000 in your first real job.

But you are most likely trying to find a downwardly mobile job to escape your golden hell. And once you have something that seems reasonable in your sights, you want to jump. Particularly if you just got trashed by the person you hate most in your firm, or worked for the 8th straight weekend and have yet to hear “thanks.” Anything, you think, has to be better than this.

You could be right. It could be that your first job after law practice will fill you with joy unmeasured forever. But don’t count on it. Leaving law is a process, not a stamp on your passport that guarantees your entry into nirvana. That first job out will offer you a lot:

  • the chance to work with people who aren’t obsessed by recording every six minutes of their working day;
  • the chance to enjoy the work you do;
  • the chance to work only 8 or so hours a day, and no weekends;
  • the chance to take vacations when you plan them.

And so much more.

But one day, you’re gonna wake up and realize this sparkling new job, well, sucks in some way. Possibly hugely. Maybe your boss is an asshole, just in a completely different way than most lawyers are. Maybe the work isn’t so riveting anymore, because the novelty is gone. Maybe you’re tired of the windbag idiots in marketing holding all the power in your company.

Whatever it is, it’s OK. You did not throw your career away in a huge mistake that can never be remedied. That first post-firm job is a step on the path, and a very important one. But you don’t want to be stuck in the same place forever. Hell, that would be boring. As long as you don’t fixate on that one job as the only magic bullet to your happiness, you will be fine.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on getting what they truly want out of work and life. She offers discounted sample sessions so you can try out coaching and experience its unique power. Email Jennifer at to schedule yours today.

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