The End of Lawyering Is Nigh

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.

The ten-month countdown until the end of my law career has begun.

Ella a/k/a unConfirmed Bachelorette

Ella a/k/a Confirmed Bachelorette (f/k/a Unconfirmed Bachelorette) is a 50-something recovered lawyer who left the practice of law to embrace a full-time writing life. Never-married, child-free Ella resides in Austin, Texas and Ontario, Canada with her four bad cats.

14 comments

  • “I’m fairly certain I’ll be fine if I retire completely.” Congratulations! I retired at 50 and it was the best thing I ever did. Now you get to enjoy your life.

    Liked by 2 people

  • I left after 20, and it was the best decision, next to moving to Mexico, that I’d ever made in my life. You won’t regret it, believe me. And I have a book coming out in May that may appeal to you: Second Acts for Solo & Small Firm Lawyers.

    Liked by 2 people

  • You can do anything you want now! Find a job you think you’ll like, and if you don’t, move on! Do all the stuff you haven’t had time for! I love being partially retired – but I love my job most days, so I don’t want to leave yet. My husband retired 2 years ago, took a part time job to stay sane (no hobbies, gets bored easily) and he’s so much happier now than when he was working a job he hated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds terrific for you and your husband. I have no idea what I’d like to do so far as traditional jobs go. But I’ll have time to explore. And to write. And work on my photographs. And . . . all the creative things.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I told him when he started looking for a job, “just give it a try, you can always quit!” I think that’s been liberating for him – he tends to stick things out because he made a commitment – and now he knows he doesn’t have to. He’s always been the major bread-winner, so I’ve had that freedom for a long time! It’s wonderful to be able to do what you want. Take a course! Coursera is wonderful!

        Liked by 1 person

  • I love the line: “Not knowing what else to do has kept me frozen. I don’t know where to go, so I don’t go anywhere.” That has been so true for me. You weren’t born a lawyer — why do you need to be one forever?

    Liked by 1 person

  • Oh, I feel for you young lady! I graduated from Law School in 1984 and went directly into the FBI (back when the FBI still had some high standards and honor). Many of my friends thought that I was crazy as I had done well in school and probably could have made more money with a firm, but I only went to Law School in order to get into the FBI and I was happy. Over the year, virtually all of my friends told me that I was the lucky one and that I had made the better choice. All of them did not like their work while I woke up excited to go to work every day. Now my wife and I are retired living on the beach in Ecuador.

    We are so glad for you and know that you will not regret leaving law behind. God bless you in your new endeavors. JandM

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, John. That is such a familiar story: those in private practice generally are not as happy. A young associate in my office, who has been with us for less than a year, announced recently she is leaving the firm to work in state government. She grew weary of working at all hours of the day, night, weekends. She even found herself asking the partner she’s assigned to if she could turn off her computer and sleep for a few hours. It’s nuts out here! I gave her a hearty congratulations.

      Retired on a beach in Ecuador? It sounds like you and your wife have made some excellent life choices. I’m going to have to take a peek at your adventures. Enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

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