Sick and tired of being a lawyer? There are options

Have you had enough? When you look at the number of hours you work, the financial pressures, clients that are hard to please, workplace conflict, and family and friends asking when they will ever get to see you, do you wonder if this is the life you want? Do you feel the work you are doing is making a difference? Have you considered leaving your practice and doing something that you hope will be more fulfilling and less stressful?

Each year a number of lawyers decide that they are going to leave the practice of law altogether. They dream of doing what their hearts desire and going to bed happy every night. Some actually achieve this. Others find that what they thought their new career would bring is not the reality of the situation. As Doron Gold, case manager at the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance Program (OLAP), likes to point out in seminars on work/life balance, the problem may not be the law but what you are doing in the law.

Before you decide to leave your law practice behind, you might want to look at what your stressors are to see if changes in your practice and your time management approaches will make the law workable for you.

Dan Pinnington, director of Practice PRO at Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company (LawPro), has written a large number of articles and has resources to help you with practice management. I particularly like his “The 2/3 Rule That Will Make You a Happy and Successful Lawyer.” All your clients must meet at least 2/3 of the following requirements:

  1. You are working on interesting and challenging problems;
  2. You are working with people you enjoy; and
  3. You are getting paid for your work.

In that same vein, my mentor told me that every Christmas I was to give myself the gift of divesting myself of three of my most difficult or non-paying clients.

The CBA Practice Link (www.cba.org/cba/practice link.bwl/puttinghappiness.aspx) has a great article entitled — “Putting Happiness Back in Your Practice: Thirty Tips for Having a Happier, Better Practice.” From that list I have chosen two tips to focus on in this article and then I will add a further tip that I think is vital to a successful life in the law.

Take good care of your health

Lawyers are highly-focused people who are perfectionists, controlling and used to delayed gratification. You see this in the need to get everything right, trouble delegating, and working long hours, sometimes even missing family events or social commitments. Some lawyers believe that the rules of nature do not apply to them as they skip meals or eat greasy, fast food, do not get adequate sleep and have as their “exercise program” trips to the coffee maker or the walk to the car at night after a long day.

There are simple rules my mother taught me to stay healthy physically that are relatively easy. Eat three balanced meals a day, especially breakfast, sleep at least eight hours a night and exercise strenuously, preferably cardio, for a half hour at least three days a week. Cut down on, or better still, cut out caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

Work on your relationships with family and friends

As lawyers, we tend to isolate. Our lives are filled with stress. Having a support network makes it easier to feel fulfilled and connected to someone other than ourselves. If I were to ask you who the most important person or persons are in your life, you would probably say your family. In examining that belief, does the tire hit the road in our actions? Maybe not. To develop a strong relationship with your family, eat dinner or a meal with them four or five times a week. Attend the sporting events and school activities of your kids. Have a date with your partner at least once a week to stay in touch. With friends, call them often or spend time with them. It helps to share your feelings with people close to you and check in with them to see if you are on the same page in trying to have balance in your life.

Get help when you need It

Lawyers spend their days trying to solve problems, so we think that we cannot have them ourselves. If we do have an issue, we believe that others will think us weak and may take advantage of us. These myths are not true. Lawyers who are aware of their personal challenges and who ask for help early can avoid negative consequences before they become a crisis. Those in a crisis can get help from an objective third party to work on solutions to avoid making things worse. If you have a health issue, call your doctor to deal with your problem. Better still, take the time to get an annual physical to check blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar counts and overall fitness. If your issue is of a mental wellness challenge, see a psychologist or a psychiatrist to deal with a mood disorder. Each province has a lawyers’ assistance program that can refer you to appropriate resources for your issues. You could be connected to a peer support lawyer who has had the same issue that you are facing and will give you a sympathetic, nonjudgmental ear and time. In Native American culture, asking for help is a sign of strength as you are using the community to help you be productive and well. I subscribe to this belief.

If, after all this self-examination and effort, you still decide that you must leave law, there are lots of resources available to you. Again, the CBA Practice Link (www.cba.org.cba/practicelink/careerbuilders_advancement/alternatives.aspx) has a great article titled—“Career Alternatives for Lawyers.” Discover your passion and set up informational interviews with someone doing that kind of work so you can see if it is what you think it is. There are multitudes of job websites. Head hunters are keen to try to place lawyers with their transferable skills and experience. Your work and personal network will help you access the hidden job market. Career coaches can help direct your search.