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Should you leave the legal industry? 5 hard questions to ask yourself about your career goals

The legal industry, while revered and respected, is not immune to its challenges.

From high-pressure environments to the constant evolution of the profession itself, it’s only natural for some to wonder if they’re in the right place. This sort of questioning is especially prevalent during times when people are experiencing things like depression, anxiety, or troubles away from work.

These are all valid concerns, but they don’t necessarily signal a sure exit from the profession.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that I was one of those legal professionals who wondered whether the law was for me, and then decided to make a graceful exit.

Don’t let my decision cloud your perspective, however.

There are definitely days when I miss being an attorney. The legal industry is packed with brilliant minds, passionate hearts, and constant intellectual challenges. You won’t get that in many other industries.

All of that is to say I won’t let my experience get in the way of helping you consider both sides of this very intricate coin. In fact, I’ll be the first to tell you that leaving the law isn’t always the best solution.

So, if you’ve found yourself contemplating whether to leave the legal industry, let’s take an essential step back together, reflect on your goals, and ask some tough questions before you decide which particular road you want to travel down.

Are you ready?


Take a deep breath in, then consider these questions:

# 1: Why did I enter the legal industry in the first place?

Sometimes, returning to your roots can provide clarity.

When you first decided to pursue a career in law, did you do so out of passion, for financial prospects, or for societal respect? Perhaps there was another reason, such as having personal experience with the power of the system or because societal justice is a core value of yours.

Whatever the reason, stop and really think about why you’re here.

The reason for this question is simple:

Understanding your initial motivation for pursuing the law can help determine if your current dissatisfaction is a temporary hiccup or a deeper-rooted issue.

For example, if you entered the law because you are passionate about our justice system, but you’re feeling deflated because your team just lost a case, this may be an impermanent (though understandable) roadblock to your career satisfaction.

If your core reasons for entering the law are still valid, perhaps there are changes you could make that are less drastic than walking away.

Maybe it’s time to look for jobs at another firm or in another practice area that would reignite that initial love you felt for this industry. Then again, your lack of enthusiasm might be entirely personal. If you feel like you could use some relationship counseling between you and your career, grab our free eBook on How to fall back in love with your legal career.

#2: How is my mental health impacted by my current role?

Let’s address the elephant in the room.

The legal profession has long been in a mental health crisis.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Prolonged exposure to stressful environments can lead to burnout, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.

While it’s essential to recognize the normalcy of the reaction, it’s equally crucial to differentiate between industry-specific and role-specific pressures.

Again, consider whether your own current mental health challenges come from being a legal professional or from simply being where you are. Could a change to a different practice area — e.g., swapping corporate law for environmental law — make a difference?

Likewise, consider how taking a sabbatical or changing to an employer with a more generous vacation package might impact your overall well-being.

The thing is, American employers offer woefully inadequate vacation time compared with employers across the globe, and law firms are no exception. When you’re in an industry as stressful as the law, this can take a toll.

Perhaps you owe it to yourself to simply find a firm that prioritizes meaningful time off. (They do exist.) And, if you have time off available, make sure you actually use it.

#3: How do I feel about the evolving landscape of the legal industry?

From AI-driven legal tools to increased offshoring and outsourcing, the legal industry is changing in ways that are making legal professionals nervous.

For many, these shifts are producing overwhelming fears of layoffs or feelings of redundancy.

This does not, however, mean that you have to leave the profession.

Perhaps you can embrace this evolution by continually updating your skills and staying abreast of industry trends. Sometimes, adaptation, rather than a complete shift, is the solution.

Plus, if you become the go-to person for advances in the profession, you may find yourself earning more respect than you ever thought possible.

As the legal world changes, so do opportunities for career growth. You might decide that you want to stay in the industry, but pursue a new path. Check out this career guide for paralegals to explore some of those lucrative options.

#4: Am I feeling the pressure because of my current firm or role?

Let’s be brutally honest here for a second.

Not every firm is for every person. Each law firm has its own individual culture, and not every culture is the right fit for you. In other words, it is entirely possible that your struggles are linked to the specific energy of your firm or the nuances of your role.

Before jumping from the legal ship entirely, consider exploring positions in other firms or even pivoting within your current firm to a different department.

Regardless of your career, you are still a human with important personal values. Try to find a law firm (or a department within your current firm) that closely aligns with those values and see if you don’t find yourself much more satisfied on a daily basis.

#5: What are my long-term career goals, and can they be achieved within the legal industry?

The legal industry is vast with myriad roles and niches.

If you’ve always dreamt of making a tangible impact or craved work-life balance and aren’t having those needs met in your current position, maybe you can make a critical shift while still remaining in the law.

For example, roles in legal tech, consulting, or public interest law might be worth exploring.

I personally find great satisfaction in doing freelance writing within the legal industry and helping other lawyers to write books.

The opportunities to remain law-adjacent are abundant. Before you do anything drastic, consider that your career aspirations might still align with the industry, just not the path you’re currently on.

Then, go find that path.

Ultimately, my friends, life is too short to be spent in a job that doesn’t resonate with your values or goals. That does not, however, mean that the vast universe that is “the law” is not for you. It’s essential to ensure that the desire to leave isn’t a fleeting feeling stemming from a temporary challenge.

The legal industry, in all its vastness, might still have the perfect niche for you. It’s about finding it and, most importantly, ensuring that your well-being is always prioritized. Remember, a successful career is one where both your professional and personal selves thrive in harmony.

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