Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Woman Left Lonely

When one makes the decision to quit law, where does she turn for support and advice? What about JD’s who are having trouble finding legal work in an endless sea of newly-minted attorneys? Where do they turn? The question of where to find a support system for such a unique problem is one I still struggle with on a daily basis, even though it has been over a year since I left my law career.

Last year after I quit my job, I did not tell my dad right away. He was going through a health crisis and I didn’t want to upset him. About a week after I put in my notice, the time came for him to have surgery and I went to visit him in the hospital. He asked me how my job was going and I told him I had given notice because I found something better. I hinted that it wasn’t entirely legal related, but that I was happy about my decision and excited about new possibilities. Rather than asking for more details on my new job, he just got this disappointed look on his face and said, “well at least you have your degree.” And that was that. I could tell he felt let down that he could no longer pass my business card along to his friends and brag about his daughter, the attorney. I had never felt more guilty. And then I felt angry that he had the power to make me feel that way.

In the hospital waiting room, my step-brother told me that my husband had mentioned my new job. Was I still an attorney, he asked with a furrowed brow. Well, if he meant was I still barred and licensed to practice law if I wanted, then yes. I don’t think that’s the answer he was looking for.

To put a little perspective on things, I have to tell you that I do not come from a family of overachievers. No one in my immediate family ever attended college, much less any kind of graduate program. I was the one assigned to legitimize everyone by finishing law school and becoming a professional.

My family and I have had our differences. After high school, I was completely estranged from them for about five years. During that time, I moved in with some friends, worked my way through night school at the local community college, and was accepted into a university, which was paid for with grants and loans. By the time I reunited with my family, I was applying to law schools, which thrilled my father to no end. Still, I never felt that close with him or my sisters. It just felt strange to be around them after such a long separation. It is true that you can’t go home again.

Since the two brief conversations I had with my dad and step-brother in the hospital last year, I have not spoken with anyone about my career. My husband and I have since moved across the country and started a new life, so it has been quite simple to not talk about the end of my legal career. My family assumes I am studying for the Bar and will begin practicing once I am admitted. I know I need to have the conversation with them to let them know on no uncertain terms that I am no longer going to practice law professionally. I just haven’t had the courage to initiate the conversation yet since the last time I tried, I felt rejected, guilty, and ashamed.

I know there are many JD’s out there who have been assigned the same role I was, to make the family proud. How have you found support while trying to find legal employment in such a bleak market? Are there any attorneys out there who have chosen not to practice whose families have been supportive? I would love to hear from you, since Thanksgiving is just around the corner…


  1. Most people don't understand why anyone would leave the legal profession b/c people see it as a glamorous, powerful profession in which you make lots of money and do things that make a difference.

    Just like YOU saw it before becoming an attorney.

    I say focus on getting a career that is the best fit for you first.. ..worrying about explaining your career choice to family and others should be way down the list.

    Accept that some people aren't going to "get" why you're not practicing law, esp. not right off. Maybe if they hear from enough ex-attorneys, they'll understand.. but until then it's not your problem, it's theirs.

    Your job now is to find a career that fits your skills, interests, abilities and for which there is a market. And then go kick ass in that field...

    As for me, I view my legal career as a past chapter in my life. Kinda like some people work in the military, then they leave and go do something else, perhaps something unrelated.

    I also have a few talking points for people who don't quit get why anyone would leave such a glamorous high-paying job they worked so hard to get.. i try not to get in an argument but put out some phrases like:

    - "...I tried it and it wasn't for me.. there's a reason why the legal profession has the highest rates of depression, alcoholism, suicide, etc..."

    -- ".. only 5% of lawyers make the bucks you hear about.. most are getting by and some are downright struggling under student loan debt.."

    -- ".. law is a mature, overcrowded industry, and I wanted to work in an industry with growth potential..."

    -- ".. I knew there were too many lawyers when I went to law school, but now it's ridiculous.. there are so many unemployed attorneys that the large fancy law firms can pay temp attorneys $20/hr. with no benefits.. no guaranteed hours .. no chance of promotion.. it's just overcrowded."

    -- ".. I might have spent a lot on law school tuition, but that is a sunk costs... like if you sink costs in to buggy-whip-making equipment.. and then somebody invents the automobile.. you better not stick with making buggy whips just because you have sunk costs.. you need to focus on future demand.."

    -- "most lawyers would not go into law again if they had the choice, and most would not let their children go into law."

    -- ".. i know lawyers who are dying to quit practice if they could find anything else.. they are jealous of those leaving the law."

    -- ".. about 1/2 of law graduates don't practice law, then 5 years out 1/2 of the lawyers aren't practicing anymore, so the vast majority of law graduates don't practice law.".. I don't know if this is accurate or not, but it seems so based on my experience.. plus it seems to shut people up

    hope this is helpful... -- E

  2. I am the only person in my family to go to college, much less law school. I have been blessed beyond measure with supportive parents who have always encouraged me to do whatever it is that I want to do. I graduated from law school in 2005 and practiced for a short time with a small firm, then quit that job due to the negative (read abusive) environment of the firm. That was in January 2007.

    I started practicing on my own at that time, taking a couple of cases here and there and then shortly after that, I applied to get my M.A. in Counseling Psychology, which is what I have always wanted to do. My parents were both very supportive of this endeavor and my father even paid for her, bless his soul since I didn't want to take out even more student loans. I finished that degree in May and am now studying for the licensing exam.

    My feeling on your situation is that it may be possible to have a win/win here. Here is one way to do it:

    1. You can tell your family you are taking cases occasionally on your own just to get them off your case (pardon the pun) regarding being an attorney. Go ahead and let your father pass out your business card. Have some cheap ones made up on Whether it's actually true or not that you are practicing law on any scale is irrelevant.

    This allows them to live their dream of having a lawyer in the family and it allows you to live your dreams in peace and quiet without their negative commentary.

  3. Wow, thank you so much for the great advice. I really do appreciate it.

    E-- I love all the responses you suggested, especially the "sunk costs" argument. If I had invested $50K in a stock that consistently went down in value and the company declared bankruptcy, no one would blink if I decided to invest elsewhere. Which is how I feel about the legal profession. I look forward to the days when I can look back on my legal career as something fun I did back when I was a reckless late twenty-something to early thirty-something. I know one day I will get there, I just need to find work that is rewarding in the meantime. I make more money now than I did as a practicing attorney and I am much more appreciated at work, but I know I am not using all my talents or passion, so eventually I hope to find what I am meant to do.

    Lawfrog- I love the idea of making some cheap business cards. It's perfect really. I can talk about my new career choices and still please my dad. Since we live so far away from each other, I can't see any harm in doing it. And since he is in such poor health, I don't mind telling a white lie to make him happy.

    I am glad to hear you have such supportive parents. What a cool thing to be going back for a counseling degree. I actually know an attorney who got sick of the law and went back to school to get his Ph.D. in psychology. He missed the lawyer money, though, so now he counsels in the afternoon and practices business law in the morning. He said the balance makes him happy. I hope you find the same fulfillment he has.

    I, too, worked for a small firm where associates were regularly berated. It was a really toxic environemnt, although I did not realize how bad the situation was until I left it. Sort of like being in a dysfunctional family. You gain a new perspective once you're an adult and looking in from the outside.

  4. "I make more money now than I did as a practicing attorney and I am much more appreciated at work, but I know I am not using all my talents or passion, so eventually I hope to find what I am meant to do."

    wow, just tell people you can't afford to practice law b/c it sounds like you can't..

    As for me, after a few very rough transitional years, I'm almost making what I did as a lawyer, which wasn't that much by lawyer standards.. Well worth it considering I don't have the stressors of practicing law..

    So I'll never make partner! Thank Gawd!!! I'd rather be happy and drive a beater than be a miserable law partner driving a Porsche Cayenne.. - E

  5. I am happy for you, E! I always love hearing about happy ex-lawyers. I'm glad you're almost back to making your lawyer salary. It's a terrific feeling to know you can still make money out in the "regular world" with sane people.

  6. Getting a first job is an important coming of age in many civilizations. Younger generation may start by doing family work, odd tasks, or working for a family business.

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