I’ve been practicing law for twenty-four years. That makes twenty-four years engaged in a profession I don’t enjoy. I know I’m not alone here: Many lawyers dislike lawyering. There’s an entire industry geared toward helping lawyers leave the practice of law, including career counselors and therapists. I’ve personally consulted with both over the years, trying to find my way out of the profession. I thought switching firms would help, so I did that. I thought switching cities would help, so I did that. Both of those things helped for a while, but once the newness wore off, I knew it wasn’t the law firm I needed to change. I needed to leave the practice entirely.
Eight years ago, my boutique firm of nine lawyers merged with a 1000-plus lawyer firm: I was now working for BigLaw. I had hoped this newest career change would rejuvenate my interest in my law practice. Instead, it did the opposite: Any enjoyment I found in my work completely disappeared. But still, I didn’t leave. I continued to schlep to the office to bill those hours each day, and fill my bank and investment accounts with the paychecks.
A couple of times during the past eight years, particularly when everybody died, I nearly walked out. Before you experience death of loved ones first-hand, it’s easy to imagine life goes on forever and you have all the time you need to figure things out and get it right. When I was hit smack in the face with the reality of how short and fragile life is, I knew I needed to leave the law and do something else. But what?
Not knowing what else to do has kept me frozen. I don’t know where to go, so I don’t go anywhere.
I have enough saved to pay the bills. I have no debt, other than what remains of my mortgage. I’m fairly certain I’ll be fine if I retire completely. And if that turns out to not be the case, I can go back to work. Sometimes, I get nervous, and think I could use a bigger cushion. My father’s voice grows loud in my head, telling me to keep working until I drop dead, or the firm throws me out. If only the firm would throw me out so I don’t have to find the courage to walk away from a steady paycheck.
Last week, I got a visit from one of the firm’s managing partners. This is the first time in my entire tenure with BigLaw that anyone up the food chain has deigned to grace me with a visit. I was certain BigLaw MP wasn’t visiting to bring me news of a promotion or raise. I was correct in this assumption. While he did not clearly state the firm’s position, reading between the lines, I think he was intending to send a message that they are going to shove me out the door at the end of the year when the partner with whom I have worked for the past fifteen years retires. BigLaw MP didn’t flat-out tell me this. I think he wanted to dangle a bit of a carrot to see if he could get me to bill my ass off in the interim to try to save my job, or leave of my own volition and save them from worrying about any legal consequences of sacking a (nearly) fifty-six year-old female lawyer with a fifteen-year tenure.
It seems I’m now in the home stretch of my law career: Ten months remaining. It would have felt bold and powerful to make the affirmative decision to leave the practice as I’ve contemplated so many times over the past few years, rather than waiting until I’d overstayed my welcome. It would have been freeing to tell my father’s voice in my head to piss off: I’m not going to practice law until I drop dead. But it seems I need a push to walk away from the money and make my exit.