It is difficult to explain how and why I left my job as an attorney without first explaining how and why I became an attorney.
I have always excelled academically and had diverse interests including writing, literature, education, law, economics, and theater. After graduating from college with honors in economics, earning a graduate degree seemed like the logical next step.
I had considered going to law school and becoming a lawyer from the time I was in high school. From an economic standpoint, a law degree had the greatest return on investment. I wavered back and forth throughout college as to whether I would really pursue a law degree. With the support from my family as well as several great mentors, I had every reason to believe that I would succeed.
As I searched for LSAT prep courses, I decided that if I signed up for the LSAT prep course, I was going to go to law school.
No matter what.
An Actual Lawyer
I took the LSAT and after MONTHS of waiting finally got my score. I was devastated. There was no way I was going to get into my top choice school with that score. But, I was going to law school no matter what.
Despite what I perceived to be a “devastating” score, I received several acceptance letters and even a few scholarships. Since I was accepted to law school, I decided I should go. After all, according to the brochures, a law degree will complement any career.
Armed with the reassurance that I would not be pigeonholed to be an actual lawyer, I started my first semester of law school.
Within one month, I knew I wanted out. I struggled in my classes, some days certain that I had a different textbook than everyone else. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t want to be a quitter. So I put my head down and trudged forward, semester after semester, for three years, toward a career that I really didn’t want.
After graduating from law school, I left academia for the first time in over 20 years. After passing the bar, I started working as an attorney. I worked in a fantastic town, specializing in exactly what I thought I wanted to do.
I thought that if I found a job as an attorney, everything else would fall into place and I would like my job.
But, being an attorney in a litigious field, I found that the learning curve was steep, the hours were long, and the work really didn’t interest me.
The Daily Struggle
I struggled every single day.
During my morning commute, I would call one of my closest friends, who was also struggling with her job at a large international corporation.
We lamented that we would never find work that we truly liked—let alone loved. Finally, we decided to stop complaining.
On a cold, dreary January morning, while driving to our respective jobs, we vowed that by May 1st, we would both quit our jobs and start new careers.
It seemed impossible. We didn’t just want new jobs; we wanted new careers, in just 3 months.
I revised my resume and began applying for jobs on CareerBuilder. I sent my résumé and cover letter to any job that sounded interesting.
But, I wanted a new career, not just a new job. I wanted a career that aligned with my interests and goals.
Foot-dragging into a New Career
While out to lunch with my best friend from law school, she mentioned that one of our professors was looking for someone to do marketing work for a book he had written. I was hesitant—could this be the career I wanted? My friend convinced me that if nothing else it would give me the opportunity to leave my attorney position and prevent gaps in my résumé. I agreed and asked her to let him know that I might be interested and would be emailing him soon.
I waited. I drafted and re-drafted my email. Finally, I hit send.
In March, after several emails back and forth and an early Saturday morning meeting, I had a job offer. What started out as a small part-time position managing publicity for one book, has turned into an incredible opportunity to get on the ground floor of a new business venture in the world of writing, publishing, and seminars in the growing field of CLE. CLE is mandatory for attorneys in almost every state in the country.
Leaving my first attorney job was difficult. Telling my boss that I was leaving was even more difficult. During this meeting, I said something that I thought was incredibly honest. I told my boss that I realized that being an attorney is not right for me, and that’s okay.
Of course, it was more important for me to hear that than him.
What My New Normal Looks Like
My “part-time” position has grown exponentially. I am now the Director of Programs and Publications for the company. As Director, my interests in writing, literature, education, law, economics, and theater are utilized each and every day.
I write for our social media and develop program materials. I analyze what programs are in demand for attorneys. I create educational materials. I network and develop contacts with CLE administrators throughout the country. I have had the opportunity to co-teach and perform a program for attorneys in the field of ethics.
During this time, I finally completed a lifelong dream. I finished my first book. The Graduate’s Guide to Networking will be available this fall.
Leaving the law was a difficult decision for me to make, but I don’t regret it for a moment. Because I made that difficult decision, I found a career that is just right for me; a career that aligns with my interests and goals.
I can finally say that I love my job!
Many thanks to Amy E. Jensen, J.D. , Director of Programs and Publications at Marc Garfinkle Seminars, LLC, for an illuminating, provocative guest post. Her blog, Making Networking Work, is a resource for new graduates networking for career success. Her book The Graduate’s Guide to Networking is available on Amazon.
Do you have a leaving law story to tell? Email Jennifer Alvey, recovering lawyer and story collector, at email@example.com
I admit that I’m still absolutely horrified that I got a 168 on my LSAT.
It’s pretty humiliating even now to think about it. And that’s 14 years ago!
Honestly, it’s kind of embarrassing that I had to end up going to Duke. It still makes me feel kind of worthless and pathetic.
I TOTALLY agree with this. I understand that things can alter, & the budgeting that you were doing last year might not work with the money you actually received, but it looks like politicians break promises they knew they were seldom going to keep. They will say anything to get selected, then break their word. Are they a lot better than China? They don’t know what our government is doing either.
Sessions kimball california
I’m not sure I agree with you, ad-bot. I’m not sure that they are “breaking their word” as they are confused about the debt-saturated nature of the current market environment.
Things have been going to well for so long, that the bubble simply kept getting bigger and bigger.
Look at Germany, for example. They’re in a tight spot. If they keep bailing out Greece, they lose money. If they *stop* bailing out Greece, then it becomes possible that everything will come crashing down around their heads.
It’s quite a pickle, Ms. Markel is in right now. And it’s going to end badly. There is no way that it can end well!
So you’re just going to sit there and let me call you an ad-bot with no response?
Do you have any pride?
If I prick you, do you not bleed?
Snort. I was going to spam the ad bot, but now, I just can’t. Though making it look like JP is talking to himself is tempting . . . ;D
Great post! I am a pretty recently law school graduate and I certainly wish I heard this story during law school when it was difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Best of luck to you!
Very interesting. I could write the ‘before’ section of this! And so I will.
I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but the subjects I thought I’d like (crim law, torts) turned out not to be the buzz for me that I expected. I wanted to fish injustice – that’s why I started, that’s what I said on my first year forms. But the way of the law seemed confining, just a load of stuff to get through: a way of speaking, a vocab to acquire, and way of writing to learn, a mountain of cases to read, and some exams to spew it all out onto at the end of each year.
I dragged myself through those years, just not able to quit, unlike many of my friends. One left our criminal law mid-year exam and went straight to over to the philosophy department, dropping out of law. Next year, she enrolled in architecture. Now she wishes she’d stayed in law because it pays better than architecture!! Another friend went into marketing, then nursing. Yet another left uni completely and moved to the country. Am sure there were others, I’ve just forgotten them with the passing of the years.
I duly finished, graduated, felt like I’d achieved something, felt like I was on the verge of something new, with potential, notwithstanding the grinding boredom of the previous years. Oh, and i think I was depressed.
Imagine my delight when, on my first day in my first full-time legal job (I’d done some clerkships during uni and learned big law was not for me), I was put in the practice area dealing with one of my poorest subjects! Turned out I really quite liked it and it gave me the opportunity to think. I learned to write, learned about office politics, learned that I hated sucking up, positioning myself, jockeying for the best office, the best cases, proving myself over and over again through billable hours.
Since then, I’ve slogged through so many years.. I’ve lost count. 15,, I think! I still haven’t found the right fit – which makes me wonder if it’s me and has always been me, not ‘The Law’, for which I have some fondness as an abstract concept..
First I thought it was timesheets that killed me, so I went inhouse. They introduced a sort of timesheet, but nothing serious. I thought maybe it was the grind of a caseload, and the lack of intellectual stimulation. So I started a postgraduate qualification. In what? Law! Thought that would keep me interested. Apart from a few moments of interest, it was another grind, more boredom to be endured for the graduation pictures and the framed symbol of lots of dollars and formulaic work.. No great discussions with lecturers, no salon experiences… and I realised my complete lack of a legal philsophy background to build upon.
So I moved into policy with a legal angle. I was bored by the project, by being at the bottom of the foodchain all over again (who cares what a policy officer thinks?), and by the lack of variety.
I moved again, to an area that involved some inquiries and investigations – high pressure, low autonomy, and lots of stupid letters to write. It didn’t help that in the last two positions, i worked for difficult men, one of which really didn’t respect or like women.
So it was back inhouse. The job is OK. The legal role isn’t always understood, the non-lawyers are sometimes disrespectful, and the work can be dull and repetitive at times. I’m largely cut off from the egotism and competitiveness of the legal world – a huge plus, even if I occasionally suit up and go to the top of a tall building to consult an expensive lawyer – at least I choose the ones I deal with. Generally I am allowed to do my own thing. I don’t manage anyone (another goal to tick off the list!) , it’s mostly comfortable, and the hours are good, etc etc.
But still I’m unhappy. I still feel the lack. It makes me sad. i feel like I *should* like the law. It’s *my fault* that I don’t. If only I found an interesting job, maybe I’d like it, would feel that sense of blossoming and succeeding and *fitting in* that I long for.
What worries me is the idea of spending the next 25 or 30 years (forgot to mention the job doesn’t pay that well!) doing something that I’m basically capable of but don’t feel I’m flourishing in, because I’m too afraid to try something else, lose everything including my house, be on the street, and have to start at the beginning again…. having clawed my way up through the system without playing the game.
I enjoy your blog – I read it at the end of the day when I’m hoping to dream of something else. I like reading about other people who have taken the chance. I still nurse the faint hope of being one of them, one day.
Thanks for letting me spill it out here!.
You’re welcome, Zoe, and thanks for taking the time to share. I wonder if there isn’t some little thing you could dabble in when you’re not working–an actual hobby!–that might light you up or let you blossom a bit. Something far away from law. Painting, gardening, riding horses, whatever sparks your interest and is really unexpected for you. Like Joseph Cambpell says, Follow your bliss.
umm, fight injustice, not fish it….
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Its amazing how you managed to get dragged into something you didnt really like… I’ve just started reading law essays at my school as I was thinking of doing this when i graduate… Your story makes me wonder if Law is something i really want to get into or to do computer sciences which i reallllllly enjoy… Tough decisions ahead!
In law firm world, it’s pretty easy to get dragged into something you didn’t like.
Of course, in my case, I actively pursued something in which I had no interest, basically because I needed to generate cash flow. I figured I could put up with it for several years until I rebuilt my net worth to something above zero.
If you have something you actually enjoy, why would you go to law school now rather than try computer science.
Law school isn’t going anywhere.
When I started out my working career in consulting we had paper timesheets. These were (supposedly) to be filled in daily, submitted weekly, and data from them entered into the accounting system monthly. However, people being people, the accountant only checked them once a month, so they were generally only submitted once a month, and thus usually only filled in once a month when prompted by project managers. This resulted in inaccurate and late timesheet information. This affected billing, time and materials projects would take up to four weeks to be invoiced, and thus it could be up to 60 days before payment was received. Why then are some companies constantly challenged with getting employees to accurately complete their timesheets while other firms have no problems? The difference is usually leadership and data ease of data entry. Most consulting companies employ skilled intelligent people, and a manager who fills in his timesheet information promptly and accurately can legitimately expect his staff to do so. However if the system is cumbersome and difficult to use then there will be constant conflict
Interesting. There is a lot going on here, but it seems to boil it down to one key factor that was significant to you, and is to most of us: “the work didn’t really interest me.” While each of our law school individual experiences and reasons for feeling that way might all be very different, that is, I think that is the major reasons why this site exists: we just don’t find this part to be nearly as interesting (or, therefore, as motivating) as we’d expected, and so it fails to justify the hours that we put in, the encounters with other lawyers’ personalities, the chasing of clients, etc.