Lawyers running from legal profession

Why good lawyers are
leaving the legal world

There are very good things happening in the legal profession, despite a general sense that I feel sometimes of doom and gloom. A legal education is still a prized asset in the business world and an excellent method of intellectual development. Advances in the protection of civil and human rights are progressing. Legal interpretation and evolution of the law as a discipline flows. I see fulfillment and pleasure in the law.

When I decided to read the book Running from the Law : Why Good Lawyers are Getting Out of the Legal Profession by Deborah Aaron. I was apprehensive that I would only be reading an indictment of the legal profession and the clarion call for all of us to chuck it and go find ourselves in areas other than the law.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that, while the first part of the book consisted of personal stories of dissatisfied lawyers who did leave the practice of law for other pursuits, sometimes in different areas law-related, the author did give an analysis of how you can cope and how the legal profession can be rehabilitated. There was a good investigation of 10 lawyer types from which any of us could pick out our lawyer personality. If I had stopped reading at that point, I would not have reached the part that made the book useful on a practical basis, at least for me. Aaron writes about changes to the system such as looking at the hourly billing approach and the focus on billable hours as a factor in workaholism, the need for collegiality, law schools helping with career planning services and focusing on “conciliation, diplomacy and effective interpersonal skills rather than on pure advocacy,” civility as a cornerstone of a fulfilling professional experience, the stress on mediation and public education and awareness of what we do and why. The discussion turned to positive things you can do when you are discouraged with law such as going to your lawyer assistance program for counselling and peer support, getting career counselling and testing and going to online resources (these are all American so I will not cite them here but I would be happy to pass them along to you if you want). In Canada, go to www.lpac.ca or www.olap.ca.

Aaron talks about elevating your self-esteem and self-confidence, encourages talking with others about your dissatisfaction to gain perspective and deal with the root causes, improving your financial situation by living below your needs, identifying your work preferences to discover your satisfying options, not delaying gratification, advising you not to put off decisions until it is too late, expecting an emotional roller coaster, looking for what you want, rather than what you think you can get, not to expect employers to clamour for your services and accepting the possibility of failure.

This book brought me to ponder how unhappy we may be as lawyers. I Googled “unhappy lawyer” and got 2,470,000 sites in 0.10 seconds! When I Googled “happy lawyer,” I got 15,900,000 sites in 0.17 seconds but, on examination, I saw that the words happy lawyer were the antithesis to the term unhappy lawyer or some variation on happy that was not relevant to lawyers so this was not a “happy” result.

In a blog post by Susan Cartier Leibel, who is the creator of the ezine Solo Practice University, she wrote about the challenges we face as lawyers that make us particularly prone to depression: “long works hours; the competitive nature of the work; the adversarial nature of the work; the requirement for highly focused attention to detail; the extreme repercussions of professional errors; the need to be pessimistic and sceptical, and to be prepared to deal with ‘worst case scenarios;’ responsibility for assisting clients and others who are in crisis or dealing with tragic situations; constant scrutiny of your work by employers, judges, and opposing counsel; the reality that your work will directly impact the client’s financial, relationship, liberty and quality-of-life interests; the pressure of deadlines and the potential consequences of missing deadlines; rigid and particularized rules and procedures that must be followed carefully and completely; the need to perform, both in terms of achieving results and being ‘on stage’ and observed by others in public arenas; the need to advance or defend a position that might conflict with your personal values.” Wow!!

While it is human nature to focus on the negatives there are many positive things about being a lawyer. So check out my list of favourite websites (see sidebar) to get reinvigorated about your law career.