I’ve Invested So Much in Law

“I’ve invested so much in law, I feel like I can’t leave it.” This is the point at which I sometimes mentally smack my head and wish I got paid by the phrase. I would charge a lot for this one.

dollar falling from sky over businessman

If your investment in law doesn't make you feel this good, you might want to rethink whether it's worth keeping in your portfolio.

Um, really? So if you won $50 million in a lottery, you wouldn’t leave law? You’d show up the next day at the office and happily put up with all the stuff about law that drives you bonkers? Right, I didn’t think so. There are lawyers who would keep practicing law, but they don’t read this blog and fantasize about leaving law.

Let’s break down what the investment is, anyway. It’s time, money, and lost opportunity costs.

Time and Money Invested

Time is the easiest to get past for most. You can’t get time back, unless someone actually goes and invents a time machine. You are going to be a year older in 365 days whether you are a miserable lawyer, a recovering lawyer, or a lawyer/whatever. Clinging to a time investment doesn’t serve anyone well, because it’s just clinging to the past rather than embracing the future.

Money is harder for a lot of people. Law school loans can be daunting, particularly in a down economy. You might need to really adjust your standard of living for a while as you transition out of law. Because your current standard of living pays for a lot of distractions from your grinding misery, that can seem like a hellish option. It’s actually not as bad as you fear; $15 sandwiches don’t taste nearly so good as loving what you do for most of your days. Really.

Stuff weighs you down; lack of excess cash to buy lots of meaningless, distracting crap is freeing. I’m not just blowing sunshine up your skirt (or pants), I live it. When you don’t spend as much, you value what you do spend on much more. Valuing what you have—wow, there’s a concept.

The Life You Haven’t Had Time to Live

What really keeps most people mired in their so-called investment in law is their lost opportunity costs. Rather than learning how to

  • be innovative,
  • motivate a group,
  • help people,
  • save the world,
  • run a business you care about,
  • develop a product,
  • explore creativity, or
  • do any other thing that truly interests and excites you,

you’ve been learning all about scintillating things like the measure of damages for contract breach in California and Delaware. And how to survive in a seriously dysfunctional workplace. And how to help corporations play shell games. I seriously doubt most of you reading this actually care about the substance of the law you practice, let alone the other stuff.

What you do care about is being an expert, being accomplished, right? Having respect for your knowledge and hard work, maybe? Knowing that you have been baptized by the fire of law practice and are still breathing, perhaps? Never mind that some days, you feel like you’re barely existing.

You Are Enough, Right Now

Worrying about walking away from everything you’ve invested in law is really a worry that you aren’t enough. Because you know full well that, absent a lobotomy, if you leave law you will retain

  • your analytic skills,
  • your ability to process large quantities of information quickly and accurately,
  • your ability to marshal your thoughts logically,
  • your knowledge of how the business world works, and
  • your skill in parsing complex laws and regs much more easily than the average business or consumer bear.

In fact, you get to take all of that, and then go off and use these valuable business and life skills in new ways, combined with new knowledge, skills, and experience that you will be acquiring. Sounds cool to me.

Some Inspiration

Maybe the story of Gretchen Rubin will inspire you. Gretchen Rubin is someone who tossed her considerable investment in law aside. That investment included a Yale law degree, editing the Yale Law Journal, and a Supreme Court clerkship. I’m not sure how much more invested in law you could get than that.

During her clerkship, Rubin realized that she wasn’t interested in law, and that in fact, she wanted to be a writer—and that people had jobs with that title. So that’s what she did.

Her latest book is The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my short list of books I need to read soon.


At the risk of putting on my Captain Obvious hat, try figuring out what you’re really scared of losing if you leave law. The feeling of being a survivor? Respect? Money? Approval (from family, friends or society)? And then, the part that shouldn’t be hard, but usually is: Is that worth having, at the cost of a life and work you dream about? Will that feeling or thing it make you wake up feeling like you’ve won the lottery?

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on how to invest themselves so that they have a life and work that truly pays off for them. She offers discounted sample coaching sessions so you can see how coaching can help you find your right life investments. Email her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule yours today.

4 thoughts on “I’ve Invested So Much in Law

  1. Alvey says:

    “your ability to process large quantities of information quickly and accurately…

    …your ability to marshal your thoughts logically…

    your knowledge of how the business world works.”

    I’m thinking that if I actually *had* these skills, the practice of law would be much more pleasant.

    When I try to write a brief, I feel like I am throwing a bunch of mush at the paper. Extremely frustrating. Nothing produces anxiety for me like trying to engage in logical legal writing.

    I nearly failed the legal writing class in law school because it was such a frustrating experience for me. Very traumatic. I could barely complete the class at the time. It basically just confused me.

    Part of the problem is that I’m much better at finding the *right* answer (mathematically speaking). I think this actually comes from engineering/science. Either your answer is right, or it is wrong. There isn’t any gray mush.

    I actually hate editing, revising, and proofreading so much that I would prefer to never, ever engage in those activities.

  2. What’s been so interesting about my career transition these days is how OTHER people like to talk about my “lost investment” in law school. I give these people the side-eye and explain to them that just because I spent a whole heap ‘o money on something, doesn’t mean I should keep doing it if it’s the WRONG fit. I’m often met with blank stares…*shrug*

    • @ Nina – Maybe you should reframe the debate and point out, in response, that no, you are not abandoning a “lost investment”.

      Rather, explain that you are violating the social contract between you and society that permitted you the priviledge of attending law school and becoming lawified.

      That would be funny. Although I’m not sure it would help any social encounter ow which I am aware. However, it would give you the opportunity to use “lawified”.

      I remember a speech that the firm I was with offered on the subject of the privilege of practicing law and how honored we should be to be granted the gift that was bestowed on few others. Now, that’s not the exact language used, but it was the gist of it and occurred during the firm new lawyer champagne toast.

      So, people are possibly also stunned that you would deny yourself the wonderful honor that is the law.

  3. When I left a dead end office job to go to law school (that I don’t regret, though I need some life tweaks) I found a number of office colleagues to be horrified, and one buttinsky came by to tell me that he’d calculated my opportunity cost of lost (dead end) office wages and average loan debt and that I was making a mistake. Other people are nuts (to think that we needed them to ratify). *shrug* here too.

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