“You’re no good at math, but you have a way with words. You should be a lawyer,” said my Jewish mom, for whom there were only two acceptable careers for her offspring – either being a doctor, or being a lawyer.
It’s true – I am good with words and always have been. I loved law school and excelled at it. But what mom did not realize was that to be a good lawyer, you have to thrive on conflict and be, or become, an aggressive, emotionally detached person.
You see, being a lawyer is extremely stressful. After all, our entire legal system is based on adversity and on two sides negotiating, or fighting in court, to achieve a resolution. These negotiations, court appearances, and dealing with clients, with judges and with other attorneys are not exactly pleasant. These interactions require you to be tough, emotionally detached and sometimes even heartless. It’s not fun. It’s not glamorous. I think it’s ugly.
My first year as a young attorney, I made an innocent mistake when preparing a legal deposition (the out-of-court oral testimony of a witness that is reduced to writing for later use in court.) The much older attorney representing the other side knew very well that I had made an innocent mistake, but rather than pick up the phone and tell me to get my act together, he proceeded to file a complaint against me to the Bar Association, seeking to have my license revoked.
My license was not revoked. The complaint did not aid the other lawyer’s client’s case. It only served to make my life miserable for a few months, and to show me the type of people I was dealing with – my fellow attorneys.
While studying law is interesting, practicing law is boring, repetitive and done in a highly negative environment. You basically spend most of your days writing threatening letters to others or answering threatening letters others have sent you, arguing your case against others in court, or making sure your client is well represented in negotiations and in their final outcome: contracts. Surrounded by all this adversity and negativity, you have to become quite aggressive, or you’re eaten alive by other lawyers. Did I mention being a lawyer is stressful?
The stress also has a lot to do with the fact that almost everything you do is urgent and has a serious financial implication. It’s like being a doctor (only being a doctor is even worse): if you mess up a contract, or if you mess up in court, there are going to be major implications for your client.
Being a lawyer affects your relationships and your personality. You become aggressive, impatient, cynical. I used to be a divorce attorney and after everything I’ve seen, I have this cynicism that I hate but cannot seem to shake off about love and relationships. I simply can’t believe anymore in love the way I believed in it before I saw how even the greatest love can turn into consuming hate.
The good news is, if you really want to, you can get out while you still have some semblance of humanity. Of course, this would depend on your financial situation. If you have three kids in private school, a hefty mortgage and no savings, changing careers may not be the best idea. But if you have a little more freedom, you should know that changing careers is a real possibility. I have done it. I am now a professional blogger, and although I make a fraction of what I used to make as an attorney, my quality of life is so much better now, that it’s absolutely worth it.
One of the biggest emotional obstacles to making this career change is a sense of obligation. Your legal career probably cost you, or your parents, a fortune. You also invested a lot of time in it. Please shake the guilt off. You’re thirty years olds or so, right? How many more healthy years do you have? Forty? That’s not a lot. Please don’t waste it. I don’t feel guilty anymore about “throwing away my higher education” because I feel that education always stays with you and enriches your life, even if you don’t use it in the traditional sense.
I hated being a lawyer, but I got out. Hopefully I have inspired you to at least consider the possibility of doing the same.
This blog does not allow comments anymore, but I do want to hear from you and add your personal story to the amazing collection of stories you can read below – these are the comments that this blog post has received up until I closed comments on this blog. If you’d like to add your own story, please use the form below. Anonymous is fine, but (needless to say I’m sure as you guys are lawyers!) no profanity, personal insults or identifying people by names. Thanks!
I am at my wits end being a lawyer. I have been a New York Lawyer for about 8 years- private practice, in the DA’s office, New York City Housing Authority- I am no good at it. Well I am good at the lawyering bit, just not the political part of it. I always end up pissing the wrong people off and end up on permanent probation. I can keep a job for years, thats the sad part of it. But its always the same. I even left the US, married a Brit and became a lawyer/ Solicitor in England. I have had the same job for a local Council for two years over in UK but now I have started to piss my bosses off over here. I hate administration, get bored very quickly and often wear my heart on my sleeve. I am a middle age attractive Korean girl and sometimes my bosses harass me and of course, I report it. Everytime I have a problem like this, I end up reporting it to the senior managers and its always the same. They sympathise then start to demote me. I am not an idiot but I have seen idiots rise faster than I have in this profession. In England its different- you have to be an idiot and an aristocrat to be considered a star in this profession.
I am so tired of it, that I need a big change but i don’t have any ideas of my own.
Any help out there? Maybe I need someone to teach me how to be a ruthless bitch.
I’m a family law lawyer in Toronto, Canada and your comments really hit home with me. After 10 years of working in this system, I have to say that I have found my colleagues in the family law bar to be – by the vast majority -twisted, ruthless, ugly, unethical and mercenary individuals. Children get lost in the family court system like Alice down the rabbit hole and judges don’t seem to care … as long as some lawyer can file 450 pages convincing a half-sleeping judge that other parent is a worthless turd, truth and justice can just “fold up their tents like the Arabs and silently steal away”. Women (and I’m one) get custody of their children simply because they’re women, not because they’re the better parent. Poor people get shouted at by judges and mocked by court counter staff because they can’t afford lawyers and don’t know how to file documents or present their case in court. Expert witnesses are often charlatans or hired guns who will say anything for 10K. I need to get out. It really is soul-sucking. There’s a reason why laypeople hate lawyers. There are a few lawyers out there who try hard to be decent and ethical individuals and professionals, but they get eaten alive. They quickly learn that decency, ethics and kindness don’t pay and don’t go far in the legal profession, and they get out like you have. Good for you. I pray I’m not far behind you.
Oh my God! Someone who understands. I am a divorce attorney entering into my second years, operating my own practice. I was just thinking about today why the hell did I choose this profession. It is always something. Consistently working, never satisfied clients, drama queens and kings, dealing with other lawyers who want to make smart remarks on letterhead. I am so sick of it. It has been a blessing and a curse and I cannot see myself doing this for the rest of my life. I want to spend the majority of my life writing books and plays. Every word that you have said is a shared sentiment and here I though that I was the only one. And yes, it has completely turned me off of marriage and children.
I am heartened to know that I am not the only one who hates beng a lawyer!
I am 44, with a husband and a 9 year old son. I have my own firm doing litigation. …. quite new so we are in a lot of debt still.
I agree 100% with everything said in your post…..
I want to change but feel scared and old! What else can I do? Huge mortgage, car loans etc …… it would be impossible to afford to be a full time student again and even if I did would someone employ a woman my age?
Sorry – I don’t really expect an answer to these questions – just venting!
I said to my son yesterday “When you grow up DON’T be lawyer or doctor” ! How many moms give theirs kids that advice I wonder???
I’ve been practicing since only 2002. But in that time, I have come across way too many attorneys who are bitter about what they do but yet can’t do anything else. So, they make everyone else’s life miserable in the process. I do not want to be that attorney or that person. I don’t want to be in my 50s unable to do anything but practice day in and day out what I’ve done for the last 10 or 20 years with sparse satisfaction.
My dad used to quote me that scripture (he was a religious man, after all) about what profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? Although I’m not so religious myself, I do feel like I have lost my soul in being an attorney. The stress, the difficult clients, the unnecessary adversity and the constant weight it places on your family are just not worth it. Plus, I used to think law was about was fair, just and ethical. Boy, was I short-sighted? But, at the same time, it also stresses me out that my student loan debt is more than most folks’ mortgage.
So, how do you reconcile the two – of being able to walk away without feeling like a failure at the same time? I really need to know, because the notion of avoiding failure only stalls me from doing what I know I should do.
Reading this post and the comments thereto is therapy for me. I am an associate in “Big Law” in a big city. Not a morning passes without me regretting my decision to apply to law school. It seems that no one close to me quite understands how I could make so much money yet be so unsatisfied. Of course, folks do not realize that money does not solve all problems. The general attitude of co-workers and their inflated self-worth, the constant adversarial nature of so many daily interactions, the hours that never seem to end, the overload of seemingly meaningless or otherwise trivial actions in a severely flawed judicial system…. I feel as though I am expending all the energy in my body for something I loathe–and it tears me apart to recognize such waste. For as ludicrous as it sounds, I am not built to be an attorney; my personality, ego, integrity, and so forth are the polar opposite of what I presently am and do. It truly is painful.
Currently I am actively searching for my exit strategy, and am torn between tearing down the building and starting anew with a four-year undergraduate degree or pursuing a Masters to reorient my current career path. My greatest fear is that a Masters will simply repeat law school–the awarding of a glorified political science degree and, despite what many say, not too many career opportunities. (Don’t get me wrong–you can do a lot with a J.D.; you also can do the majority of such “a lot” without one but with an applicable B.S. or B.A.). In addition, I am fearful of being overqualified if I simply continue and do not tear down. I’ve already lost one position because the employer wanted someone with fewer credentials. And of course, I am fearful of the debt I’ve previously accrued–and may add to. My greatest pride was turning six figures into five a month ago; without such debt, I’d have long ago left the practice and, if nothing else, spent all my time volunteering with an agency such as the ARC–initially to make up for the “sins” of my practice, and over time because I’d rather help those who need help, and not simply those who can afford help.
Nevertheless, thank you for your post and allowing others like me to vent our feelings. While it may not solve life’s problems, it brings comfort to know that we’re not alone.
I completely feel your pain. I JUST finished law school in May and while I know I’m “lucky” to have a job in this market, I have hated every minute of it since I got here. I loved law school but am already regretting having gone – it seems like such a waste given the career it apparently leads to. I just hope that one day, when I get out of this hellish industry, I can get to where MomsGrind is emotionally and see that my law degree is still worth something. Right now I feel as if I left a perfectly good, rewarding job before law school (I worked for several years before going back to school) to get a degree that, while I enjoyed getting the degree, is not leading me to a rewarding, interesting, balanced career. I’m already trying to make a move out of the law, but it’s hard when the market is not good right now and people don’t understand why I would want to leave practice after only a few months in it. If it’s any consolation, I know completely how you feel. Everything you said rings true with me… there are days I would consider quitting without anything to go to but I know that would not be smart – financially or otherwise (it would be essentially impossible for us to live on my husband’s salary alone), so I try to stick it out and job search in my non-existent spare time.
I have been reading so many of the commentaries here and i know exactly how you feel! i guess it resonates with other “rewarding” careers like nursing. i am a non-practicing nurse in NYC working in a small accounting firm in midtown as an office manager. (sounds weird, huh?) i’ve updated my license for those “just in case” moments….i also have a bachelors in computer information systems; unfortunately i haven’t used it since i graduated one month after 9/11.
i am in two minds: one tells me that whatever you have learned is not put to waste; it’s extra knowledge you may need down the road or just for fun (i guess). i think it’s true with my nurse training….
the other one is saying that i’ve regretted it for not putting it to good use, so that is a waste in itself. i’ve even been hearing in the news that the college degrees aren’t as valuable as they used to be; now you have to have experience along with the degree; but here is the thing: how the hell do you get the experience when everyone rejects you for not having any?
anyways to cut my kvetching (btw i’m indian working for some very nice bosses, most of them jewish + an italian =), which explains my sprinkling of yiddish lol) the current job i’m at is great; don’t need to deal with blood or conniving nurses who look to put you out instead of helping you out; don’t need to deal with politicizing drivel at big corporations. yet at the same time i hit a road block…..getting a bit bored; but then i thought instead of driving myself to tears surfing the next i figured i go back to one of my first interesting encounters in IT: programming. so now i’m re-learning visual basic (with the express version) and it’s fun =). i’m thinking i could conjure up a couple of fun, useful, useless, strange, and in-between programs…..well what do i have to lose?
I too am a former public defender and now self employed as a private defense attorney. I went into school so idealistic, wanting to devote myself and my talents to helping others (Stupid hippy mother and Catholic School is dangerous) Well, I was quickly kicked in the neck by reality. First, all your clients hate you. They will never express the least degree of gratitude regardless of how great the outcome is, you are lucky if they don’t insult you and denigrate you. Secondly, I wanted to go into public service work to avoid the cutthroat competition and evil corporate bosses, and work it a more understanding and communitarian atmosphere. Mistake number 2. That place was as cutthroat as any top corporate firm and 80 hour weeks were expected and completely the norm. At least corporate attorneys are compensated well for their efforts. After two years I left and discovered a brand new hell by whoring myself to some pretty bad people. The worst part is your clients are constantly conspiring to rip you off, constantly having a story as to why they do not have the money, crying and begging and promising to pay tomorrow, only to disappear without a phone call. These are criminals and I should expect it, but between being new in private practice and having to take what I can get, and having a generous heart, I have trouble saying no. So I get ripped off half the time. If you think coroprate clients are hard to please, try the average criminal defendant. Ever since the OJ trial, every criminal defendant thinks they should get “off” if they are paying for an attorney. No one is ever satisfied, especially when someone has to go to jail, then the entire family berates you. I hate my life.
I found this while doing a google search for how to quit being a lawyer while at work. Its interesting and sad how so many bright, energetic people are ground down into nothingness by this so-called “profession.” Like a previous poster said “I am just not built to be an attorney.” I loved law school and did extraordinarily well. I got a prestiguous clerkship after graduation and it was the best 2 years of my life. 5 years into practicing law, and it takes all i have got just to get up in the morning and slink into my office. I love the law, love learning about the law, and love writing about the law. I have been trying to specialize in appellate work, but that field is not profitable enough for my superiors. I hate depositions, hearings, negotiations..pretty much anything involving dealing with other attorneys. My second trial sent me to the hospital, and I had a nervous breakdown after my third.
My family thinks I am crazy for wanting to quit a good-paying job right now, especially since my father recently lost his job.
As frustrating as this is, what is more frustrating is that I have no realistic options. What is a washed up lawyer with a poly/sci degree going to do in this job market? I would love to go back to school to get a PhD, but I don’t think that would get me anyplace better (and the job market in academia is much worse than in law).
What is most frustrating is that no matter how many lists I write, exit strategies I plan, or dreams I conjure up, I know I will never leave this. I am too much of a coward, to proud, too insecure. I went to lawschool to prove I could be somebody; to show the world that a poor blue-collar kid could make it with hard work and intellect. Every time I think of leaving I wind up in even more self-loathing because leaving would mean I failed, I couldn’t hack it, and wasn’t man enough.
I feel like I wasted the best years of my life that I could have spent with family and friends, enjoying my youth with my head in a book and a chip on my shoulder.
Now I am middle-aged, miserable, and utterly alone.
Finally, I completely disagree that “you can use your law degree in any field.” B.S. Try applying for a non-legal job and the first and only question you be be asked in an interview (assuming you can get one) is “So, when do you plan on going back to practicing law?” or “Why should be hire someone who is just going to leave?” or “How do you think you can be a team player having spent the last 5 years of your life lying and arguing for a living.”
Awesome blog topic and comments. I seem to spend my time roaming different sites hoping one person will truthfully tell me that my feelings of angst are merely growing pains that will dissipate – so far I haven’t found that poster. I hate what I do and who I’ve become – those closest to me say I’ve changed and am more aggressive and have developed a hair trigger.
The reasons I am leaving are not unique. For quite sometime I felt ‘locked up’ with feelings/thoughts of loans, debt, potential interview questions, family obligations and an overall waste of the degree. However, I was asking myself the wrong questions. Where to go is the new question.
I just went through a grueling and painful custody process in an attempt to adopt my niece. Through the process, even though she was charging me, I felt oddly drawn to my attorney. Now, with the case being over I miss her. I am not typically a person who is quick to react or let my feelings take over, but I feel strongly about telling her how I feel. The case is now closed, most likely will not be open again…what should I do? Should I share my feelings with her…and if so how do I do that discreetly? I am confused. Please help.
have you never felt an instant of joy or satisfaction throughout your legal career?
if it is as said, why then do so many people plunge into studying law schools..i am sure most sort of know what the industry is like before or heard about how ugly things are.then why do people still want to study law?
Response to the above:
“i am sure most sort of know what the industry is like before or heard about how ugly things are”
WRONG. I came from middle-class background, wanted to rise above what my parents did and did not know anyone who was a lawyer before entering law school.
I went to law school because I loved constitutional law and theory in college, and excelled at writing and researching. I liked solving problems and figuring thing out.
I had NO CLUE what the atmosphere was like in law firms, the level of hostility from your own co-workers, the constant demand to “market” and “produce” revenue, the complete lack of any sense of professionalism. I had no clue I would have to fight about what side of town a deposition would take place; or have to deal with partners who give you a big project the day before a holiday simply becaue they want to make you miserable and/or were too lazy to get to it. etc. etc. ad naseum. I had no idea I would be trapped under a mountain of student debt and live like an indentured servant, even though I graduated top of my class.
When I was 22, I also had all the energy in the world and ran on coffee and cigarettes. Now, in my mid-30s, I can no longer pull multiple all-nighters, I am constantly tired, stressed, and unable to sleep at night.
There is NO WAY I would have gone to law school if I had known then what I know now.
And I thought studying law once. I think I have the “intellect” [read serious world history and crimes, and not silly “mystery Agatha Christie novels” please]. And love to read how to defend onself in certain social and economical situations. But not willing to compromise my beliefs easily. Maybe I was “lucky” not have studied law. Who knows.
I too went to law school because I was enamored with constitutional law, and was talented at researching and writing and felt like I would be a natural. I was clueless as to the lifestyle it would lead me to – blinded by the idea of translating my natural propensity for reading and writing into a well-paying career. I was a fool. Now I’m embarking on my second year in private practice and I am already looking for a way out.
What really gets me is the lack of human contact. For the most part my job is solitary, what little interaction I have with others is usually negative (either antisocial colleagues, or adversaries), and like others don’t have the time to really get into anything else. My personality is slowly degrading, and I’ve become increasingly cynical. I refuse to believe those three years of my life in law school – which were great, by the way – were wasted, and I firmly believe I can find a career that gives me the work atmosphere I need while letting me use my legal education. Maybe I’m naive – obviously, I’m a little naive since I went to law school to begin with. But I think I can make it work, and by god I’m going to give it a shot before I high tail it to something else.
I, too, am a young attorney and am already searching for a way out. After yet another discourgaging day at work, I googled “Hate being a lawyer” and came across this thread. After expressing my disdain with the profession to my parents (who refuse to believe its anything but glamorous), I felt I needed validation that other, wiser attorneys are as unhappy as I am. I’m afraid if I don’t change careers now- while portable and without kids- inertia will take over and I will be 50 googling the same thing. Billable hours are the bane of my existence. You can always research more or less. Being a perfectionist, I feel like I’m stealing from clients when I charge an additional hour to ensure I’ve come to a reasonable legal conclusion. Anytime I actually leave the building for lunch, I feel like a degenerate slacker. And social interaction is taboo because that’s time wasted…and time is money. I’ve started doing crosswords on my “lunch break” to clear my head after spending hours on Westlaw and, today, received a handwritten note written across a partially-completed crossword asking the patronizing question, “Is this billable?” from a senior partner. The thought of being in this profession for another week, let alone another 10, 20 or 30 years is as oppressive and stifling as any thought could possibly be. But how do we parlay a JD into something less awful?
Having stumbled across this site, I empathise 100% with many of the comments here.
I live in Australia, but can assure you that all of the problems described in US legal practice are endemic within Australian legal practice (and, as far as I can tell, British and Canadian legal practice as well).
I loved law school (happiest days of my life, in fact), but the actual practice of law was the utter pits – I was stunned as the sheer money-grabbing cynicism, constant hostility and arrogance of senior partners and fellow practitioners as well as the dull, monotonous yet enormously stressful nature of the work.
To anyone disgusted by modern legal practice, let me assure you: “it’s not you”…the entire culture of modern legal practice is fundamentally corrupt.
A few years ago, after a close family member became terminally ill, I found myself unable to cope and began making serious errors in my work, which resulted in me resigning my position. Although this was a terrible time in my life, it forced me to examine where I was headed and resolve to change my career.
I rang around and was able to obtain work (initially casual) as a tutor at various law schools – could this not be an option for many dissatisfied lawyers here? Furthermore, it is not only law schools who offer this sort of work…how about business schools (for those with expertise in contract or corporate law) or community colleges offering paralegal and business units? Yes, its a drop in pay, but no amount of money is worth your health or happiness.
You only live once, and that life shouldn’t be spent doing something you hate. Talk to your friends and family, ask for ideas about other careers.
It only takes a few seconds to resolve to change your life.
Like so many others, apparently, I too found this site why searching on “i hate being a lawyer” – which is precisely how I feel. Now if I can just find some really good resources on what I can do apres-law that won’t require that I go back to earning the equivalent of minimum wages.
Does anyone have any ideas on where us ex/unhappy lawyers can go to get ideas for jobs, whether or not we are using our degree? I practiced law for 5 years as a public defender. I loved working with the people, but by the last couple of years I was so stressed and unhappy. I too was not cut out to be a lawyer – I am not adversarial at all. My husband got a job transfer. We moved to a different state and I didn’t want to take the bar. I got a job as a law librarian at a law school and got a masters in library and information science. I became a stay at home mom for a few years and now I need extra income and want to go back to work part time. The thought of going back into the legal field makes my stomach turn. But I am at a loss as to what to do! I too rue the day that I decided to go to law school and curse myself for not having the guts to back out when I knew it wasn’t for me by the second year of law school. All those wasted hours and years.
Thank you for your posts folks. I share many of the sentiments above, am frustrated, and am interested in planning a better future. Although I do find some reward in completing a project and being good at what I do, I find what I do unfulfilling, boring, tedious, and overwhelmingly pointless. I am confident that moving into litigation would not be the answer for me as I really don’t enjoy conflict either. It’s horribly difficult, and wished I had never backed myself in a corner. I went to law school in Chicago and went through a costly divorce; therefore, I am in substantial debt. I can certainly say that my misery at work contributed to the demise of my first marriage as well. I feel trapped until I get the debt under control, but so long for and dream for a happier future. Please, please caution anyone going into law to not back themselves in a corner. If anyone would like to discuss their experience as a lawyer and plans for a happier future, I’d welcome speaking with you. moonlightdr73 (at) yahoo.com
Well this really resonates with me. I never wanted to go to law school, that was my dad’s wish and the fact that he was terminally ill made it hard to refuse. I should have quit after he passed away at the end of my first year, but thought it was my best chance to have a good paying career where I could provide for my daughter (she was born at the beginning of my second year of law school). I was at least smart enough to get a second degree in HR, which I thought would be all I needed to get into the field. HA! That was a joke.
It turns out if you have a lot of eduction but not a lot of experience you are pretty much unemployable in any other field then you are trained for. I practiced law for 7 years doing business and employment law and I hated it almost everyday. I got myself stuck with a lot of debt and family obligations and thought I would just be miserable for the rest of my days. The recession came, work slowed to a crawl and I saw my income drop by $25K which did not leave me enough to pay my bills or support my family. I am so far behind on my debts I know I will probably have to file bankruptcy.
The happy part is that I started my own business in HR and writing and even though I have suffered a lot of depression over losing everything, I have now moved to another state and I am making a fresh start. I work from home and enjoy spending time with my family and hope that I can find employment in another field. It has been really tough trying to get jobs in other fields because I am overqualified and can’t even get an interview. I’m considering going back to school for a certificate in another field to help me get in the door in a career I will hopefully enjoy. I feel lucky that I got out of law while I still had some sanity left! Good luck to you all in finding that moment where you know you can make the change no matter the cost.
As an attorney, I feel your pain. I am always on the brink of having a break down. I start my day with the best of intentions, but end it tired, bitter and bitchy. My poor children must think I am the incredible hulk…
I HAVE to find something else, otherwise I will be found in a corner rocking asking for an invisible cigarette (and I don’t even smoke). In law school we saw all these presentations on alcoholism, now I see why. Being a lawyer will drive anyone to drinking.
Congrats on breaking out! You are an inspiration to us all!
There are some great posts on here, really enjoyed reading I am not alone. I am an in house lawyer in the uk, 7 years qualified. I have hated every bit of my career so far, right since training but I have stuck at it because I met some nice people. I also enjoyed the actual studying bit of law and the fact I got to use my education. But I can’t do it anymore, the incessant confrontation, the pressure, the niggles. Everyone I meet outside can’t believe its what I do as its so wrong for my personality. I want to work in something where i can empathise with people and use my skills and interests in the arts, holistic living and family without negotiating pointless things all day. Any ideas???
See parents don’t know what they are talking about when they say grow up to be a lawyer, doctor, etc all those common stereotype jobs.!
I am a young associate at what is honestly, a wonderful small firm with attorneys that couldn’t be nicer. I absolutely hate it, I haven’t felt happy since working there at all. I googled “people who quit being lawyers” and found this thread. I’m not sure what my next step will be, but I’ve resolved that I will wait-tables until I can find it (and I really hate waiting tables) Good to know I’m not alone in this.
I’m an engineer and I have plans to pursue law. But reading your post just now makes me really think if do i really want to be a lawyer. hahaha. Life is really short, yes i love learning new things but adding more stress would be unbearable already. Thanks!
Wow…I thought I was the only one. I was extremely unhappy as a family law attorney and criminal defense attorney. The only job I had while an attorney that I remotely enjoyed was being an assistant district attorney. Unfortunately that job paid next to nothing and I was forced to seek higher paying jobs. I’ll tell you, I was sick of fighting with other attorneys, judges, and especially clients who never appreciated what it was they were paying for.
I finally decided that I was through and despite having kids and a wife, I quit. Walked away. It was probably one of the hardest decisions I have ever made because of many of the reasons addressed on this site. You feel like you’re throwing away this education or somehow letting someone down. Or you may even think you’re a failure. But I’ve learned none of those things are true. They are only true if you believe them. What everyone else thinks is irrelevent. I’m with a lot of you, I tell people every day to think long and hard about this career because it is not worth it. I’ve finally gotten away from it and it was the best decision I ever made. Good luck to those of you contemplating leaving “the law.” I can tell you that it will be both the scariest day of your life and also the most satisfying.
I, too, found this after googling “hate practicing family law” or something like that. I’ve only been in practice for 9 months now, having made a mid-life career switch from working as a therapist. I hate every minute of the litigated process. Although I have a thick skin, I seem to be a breath away from crying most of the time. I do love mediation, though, as well as collaborative law, and am going to be working toward making the switch to practicing exclusively out-of-court law within the next few months. I would recommend anyone who enjoys working with their clients and assisting in the resolution of problems to explore collaborative law and mediation.
It’s a relief that there are others out there since openly sharing this would only subject me to being attacked by older attorneys as being a whiner and a wimp. After doing in house insurance defense for 5 years, I’m probably certifiably insane.
I had a pretty decent law school experience and most people seemed somewhat normal but since practicing, I have yet to go through a day without a psychotic interaction with opposing counsel or client or judge/court staff. I think this is a perfect profession for those who cannot interact civilly towards other human beings.
There was no hinting in law school that while in practice, you will be treated like a faceless machine who is expected to crank out work at an unreasonable rate and make no errors. If they tire of you, they will continue to overload you until you quit or get fired and then replace you with a newbie who is eager to do twice the work for the half the pay.
I really wish I knew the reality of this so I hope anyone out there who is seriously considering law school to know that the cost of it can be more than money: your time and your sanity. Everyone who has contributed to this thread definitely gives me hope but now I just need the courage to walk away. Life is too short to be spent in anxiety, hate and frustration. Good luck to everyone! Never give up!
I also struggle on a daily basis if I have what it “takes to be lawyer.” Most times, the lawyers I meet seemed to “love” their practice and I feel like how could they continue to be happy and enjoy the practice and often seemed amused at expressed misery. Often I feel like the odd man out because anxiety, uncertainty, and inability to enjoy the tedious aspects or hostility constantly weigh on my mind. I sometimes consider changing career paths or at least try to get my footing in some remotely law-related field but it seems like I am taking the easy way out. If I were to get out, I worry the long-term consequences or how it’s perceived: I would be considered a failure or worse, why can’t you work “hard” like all the others without letting it affect you? It seems the ones who succeed are especially good at detaching themselves or really resilient, neither of which I am especially good at.At this point, to other more established lawyers, it seemed like I couldn’t “work hard to succeed” like all the beginners. I feel completely lobotomized. How can I turn this attitude to something more productive, either in law or some other field?
Me too – 8 years qualified family lawyer in the UK – burnt out, cynical, finding it hard to deal with the negativity stress aggression emotional detritus client complaints that relationship breakdown inevitably brings….help!!!
I’ve been a lawyer since 2009. I hate it. Law school was great, but the stress and tedious nature of the actual practice is not worth it at all. I am at my wits end. I am at a small gen. practice firm and just loath myself. It is that bad. I may be bartending before too long…and would be so much happier.
Why don’t they tell you how being a lawyer will destroy your life, your marriage and your health BEFORE you start first year law? I’ll tell you why: because the law schools need the tuition money coming in, so they can pay their professors who are lawyers who managed to get out of the practice of law because it was destroying their lives, marriages and health!!! The whole profession is a scam. I have been practicing for 14 years and am burned out and tired of everything. It destroys your zest for life and you become unable to enjoy any part of life because you are always stressing about that trial you haven’t prepared for, or that sentencing submission. It never ends. There is never a light at the end of the tunnel. It is a hamster wheel that just keeps on spinning, until you die.
I just changed into the public sector after a few years of private practice. I have a lot of friends who are practitioners and after I made the change, despite knowing the toxic environment I was working in, seemed to dismiss my career move and decision not to practice any more. You blog reminded me of why I made the change and that it was worth it.
I could not agree more with your comments above. I’ve been out of law school for a year and although I feel lucky to be one of the few of my class mates to have a job as an actual attorney, I HATE IT. I work at a general practice. I started with personal injury, family law (divorce, custody, support) but I’ve ended up concentrating in criminal law. Although going to court can be fun, most of what I do is simply try to cut deals with over zealous assistant district attorneys (many also right out of law school) who aren’t supposed to be political about their job (haha what a joke). I know one fair and decent ADA who used to be a public defender herself.
Interacting with clients is only fun when you get them off or you win at trial. Otherwise, many are ungrateful. Many guilty clients have unrealistic expectations about the legal system. They think hiring an attorney is a “get out of jail” free card. I had one client who worked at bank, where he used is position to steal from a disabled senior citizen. He took over $40,000.00 from this unsuspecting “complaining witness” (as you’re supposed to call victims) over a year long period. Going to trial would have resulted in conviction, I am sure of it. This would have meant over 20 years inside. I got him off with two misdemeanor charges which required restitution in the full amount. I told him I have law school loans that triple his restitution amount. During his allocution, the Judge even commented on what a break he was getting. Instead the client tried to bring an “Ineffective Assistance of Counsel” against me. ABSURD!! I should have let him pay me the $25,000 to go to trial, which would have resulted in a conviction.
I just lost my first job as a lawyer after having returned to law school and finally becoming a lawyer at 40. I am just very thankful for your blog – I am getting a lot out of reading everybody’s posts. Thank you for keeping them available to people who come to such a disheartening conclusion such as “I hate being a lawyer” to see that they are not alone.
I was a very successful Assistant District Attorney in a major city for years. I was damned good at it, too. I had a heart, and liked creative plea-bargaining where appropriate. But if you pushed me to trial, when I’ve tried to be reasonable (selfishly—so I could have a break), you’ll be sorry (because you cost me the break I needed). I loved it. I still love it. I miss trials, believe it or not. It’s the only time in my life I had absolute confidence in my skills.
I never imagined I’d have kids. Or have a mini van. Or join the PTA. Done. Done. And done. No one told me I’d love it. You could have knocked me over with a feather. But I still do closing arguments in the mirror when I see a big case on TV. I have two kids, and I can tell they love the stability and security of our home, and my full involvement with their lives. I miss being a DA, but if I go back, I have to be That Person again, and in the words of Diane Keaton’s character in “Baby Boom”—I’m not the Tiger Lady anymore. If anything, being a mom has probably enhanced my ability to pick a jury and relate better and do better in trial. But the cost to my family, to me, is too great. It’s busy work, and I can’t stop a day of trial with a jury in tow, because my child is sick and needs to be resting at home. So now comes the phase: “how do I translate my experience into something part-time that makes a little extra money because the kids are starting ballet and soccer and art lessons and…”
I am so overwhelmed, I can’t even think about what I could possibly do, and I need time to think about it, but I never get time alone (I was interrupted countless times by my kids just typing this). I was thinking of going into family law and taking a few clients a year, but seeing this blogger’s thoughts on the topic, must think again….when no one will interrupt me….which is NEVER. It’s a good thing my little buggers are cute….it’s their saving grace, lemme tell ya….
I had what everyone wanted. A full tuition scholarship to law school, all the important lines you need on your CV while I was there, first hired out of my graduating class for a prestigious job. As a litigator, the positive feedback from judges and senior counsel was frequent.
I left, one year post-call, a premeditated exit with a good reason.
My first three months were a confusing whirl of self-doubt. I know how many other lawyers talk about people who leave, I knew some people I used to think of as colleagues and friends would say I couldn’t hack it, that I was smart on paper but couldn’t deliver. Rational knowledge that this behavior signifies deep personal unhappiness doesn’t take away the sting of betrayal and having people denigrate your very real accomplishments. I wondered if I had blown something, if I had just stuck with it “a little longer”, if I was a failure. I worried my life would be hard in the future because I didn’t bank enough of a nest egg before I left.
Then, I took my first job outside of law. I covered my past and got a normal low-paying job overseas. Regularly, people would ask how I could be so happy and friendly at work. I was happy because I wasn’t interacting with clients with draining problems, other lawyers with personality disorders, and paperwork that made me numb. I was friendly because working with the general public actually made me remember how lovely and funny human beings can be.
I came home and considered becoming a lawyer again. The money can be really good, and I was good at it. I’ve started to register and apply, interview, network. The interviews make my skin crawl. Reading these stories has reminded me that I am not crazy for walking away and that now is the time to find a career that uses my skills and intelligence that doesn’t make me hate life.
I do know some people who are genuinely happy and lawyers, but not nearly enough, and I don’t think I was ever going to be one. I know a lot of people who would quit if they were younger/didn’t have family obligations/had a better financial situation and I feel for them a lot.
I don’t know how old this article is but it really resounded with me too – perhaps I am different in that I got out fast before I could ever actually become a fully-fledged lawyer. As a UK trained lawyer, I completed most of my legal traineeship in the UK in a practice where my colleagues seemed almost sub-human, and where the company clients remained faceless. I have never been so unhappy in all my life and it felt as though it would never end. I would totally agree with certain comments here about how some lawyers seem to have personality disorders and inflated sense of their importance. If you do not have that character it is awful to be in that environment.
Fortunately I got a great secondment working in Brussels on EU policy which was far more my thing. I think there can be real diversity in legal work without necessarily practising as a lawyer. I have since been doing humanitarian legal work in the US which again is far more satisfying. However I would say that it’s still not enough to make me want to actually want to practice as a lawyer, especially when I see how even the most idealistic lawyers can become trodden down, emotionally detached, and yes, stressed individuals. Funny how even when you are fighting for human rights causes, you can still remain a lawyer! But they are tons nicer than ones I’ve worked with in a commercial environment.
Your comment about education being a life-long enriching experience has so much value, and noone should have to feel stuck in a career just to meet certain expectations. I personally believe though that it is possible to use a legal qualification in a more diverse manner like I’ve found, such as branching out into policy and research and getting involved in NGO work. No fees or billing, or work targets – perfect! Alternatively, I may dare to live the dream one day and become a singer…what I really want as a career, but of course fear of realities, practicalities hold me back. But having read some of these comments, it has encouraged me to at the very least, never ever think of returning to legal practice!
It may sound a little dumb but i thought lawyers were very happy and i was the odd man out. Although i have surfed the net quite and researched on sundry topics (some
downright abstract), i never dared to search the fact about being a lawyer hand HATING it. Maybe I was scared of being zapped with smileys with the following tag lines “its amazing” , “law is the best”, “its a rewarding profession” etc.
I have always liked logical subjects like math or science and have entered into serious debates into defending their superiority over everything else.I was good in debating and elocution at school. My parents thought it would be nice to have a lawyer in the family and told me so but they did not force me. It was my own folly.
But i did some soul searching and realized that a life of litigation would make me terribly unhappy and unfulfilled. Thankfully I found another calling which is legal but not litigation. I still had some doubts about it but after reading your article I have concluded that unless litigation is your sole passion, it can be downright frustrating.
The bottom line is we are “sentient chemical combinations” allowed by nature to occur but with a limited life span. We will perish one day so its best to do something WE feel is worth while and something WE really enjoy doing.
Thank you for writing such an honest article and rooting “doing-what-you-love”.
It may not mean much, but i wanted to say thank you. You have given me hope and inspiration. I am a lawyer that hates it for all of the reasons you expressed. I hate it so much it makes me weep, as I feel like I am in perpetual detention. Unfortunately, I am a single mom with a mortgage, one girl in private school, the other in college and a loser ex-husband. I will figure it out, somehow, someway, and soon. Thank you again for giving hope.
I have practiced law for about 15 years. I have hated almost every minute of it. You deal with insane stress, constant deadlines, nasty clients and a system that has no concern with justice. The long hours and stress make lawyers miserable, nasty and eventually destroy their health.
I am not an attorney, but I have been dealing with them in a custody case for the past 3 years. I am so glad to hear there are some of you that actually have emotion. As the original author stated, you wind up becoming emotionally detached and the kids wind up getting lost in the middle. It seems to be all about money. Period. Doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. I have yet to find a lawyer who is actually compassionate. I’m on my third.
After years of law school and a year of practice, I now know for a fact that I cannot do this for the rest of my life. It is such a repetitive suffocating antagonistic job. I’ve made the decision to start midwifery school in 2014, which earns less, no doubt and will require another 3 years of schooling, but I know in my gut it’s the career that’ll make me happy.
I came across this blog while googling “Frustrated after law school”. I am an In-house counsel at a large private company in India and I can assure you that it’s the same out here too,I hate my colleagues and there is so much pressure.The work I get is awful, boring and monotonous. These fellow lawyers are the biggest negative environment contributors. While I was at law school I enjoyed so many subjects like sociology, political science, economics,constitution and IPR, as I did socio-legal LLB, but I am hugely disheartened by the profession and the long hours required and the outright bitchy sphere. I am planning to complete 1-2 years and quit this profession and study masters in public policy,Liberal Arts or allied subjects and towards a doctorate.I am a voracious reader and a classical dancer,but this profession hasn’t allowed me to pursue any of my interests.I am glad that this blog post has addressed a swept-under-the carpet-issue.I think mental health and physical wellbeing of lawyers is a neglected issue.I pray for all the other fellow frustrated lawyers like me and advise you all to make a graceful exit.You can sell your soul for only so much!
Your blog post speaks to me. I’m having a very hard time right now dealing with the stress of my first trial. The evidence is over and I think I botched it all up. Over the course of last week I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. I do not like conflict and confrontation and my opponent was very adversarial. She is obviously suited to this profession but I think I am not. Being so stressed, I forgot to ask key questions of witnesses and now I am terrified that failing to get out some important evidence will mean I have lost the case. I have dreamed of the trial every night since the evidence finished and now I have to go back over the transcript to prepare submissions and I just feel like I can’t face it. I have never felt this powerless and helpless in my life – it feels like this trial / court thing is actually psychologically beyond me and yet here I am, stuck with it at least until this case is over. I’ve really started thinking I need to find a new career.
I found this site googling “I hate being a lawyer”, for the record. Now, after reading the post and the comments, I’m just here sitting saying yes and yes over and over again. I’m a 39 yo civil lawyer, been practicing for 14 (plus 5 years of law school – it’s this long here) and I HATE it, have disliked it since first starting off, but I thought that with time and knowledge gained I’d learn to like it. Family assured me I’d like it, because I was going to be good at it, I was good at studying it. Oh how wrong that was. I never learned to like it, I just got better at it, enough to earn a living, but that is all. I have come to distrust people to such a degree during my work that I can hardly make new friends. I’d rather spend my time alone than listening to another person’s story /case. Studying law was stimulating, but lawyering is soul-killing. Sometimes I feel it dehumanized me to a degree I could never imagine – after a while every personal tragedy seems just like another case and every personal story or even funny joke gets debunked by my brain automatically associating to laws and regulations, I kid you not.
I used to be nice. Now I’m cynical, cold and sometimes even look heartless, but I can’t be “soft” or the environment and the field will eat me alive. Sometimes I even treat friends as clients (read: cold and uncaring), and I can’t say sorry enough. I’m so used to finding the problems, the bad, the weak point in situations (contract analyzing), and to see things from a bird perspective (not emotionally close, so I can draw the picture of relevant facts) that sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten how to be a human being. I’m extremely lucky I still have friends, and I really don’t know how they put up with me sometimes. Sometime I wonder if all the world is either just repeated formulas/texts with data insertions or people at each other’s throat teeth out, growling (though there is the odd friendly contract, but it’s a rare fresh breeze of air nowadays).
Going to Law school was the worst decision of my life. And I don’t even make money, living in a small provincial country on the edge of nothing means that it is only enough, but alternative professions (not just art) are a straight way to outright poverty. If anyone nearby considers studying law I tell them NOT to! And the clients… oh the clients. The best ones only yell and lie. The worst ones smell so bad you have to air your office afterwards even if it’s freezing (and not “poor” people), or leave stains on the furniture. I’ve heard worse (but never experienced luckily). And they HATE paying, they are capable of disappearing for MONTHS for a small sum. Some you never see again (good riddance, though a lot of unpaid work).
And the stress. And the insomnia.
I’ve tried switching careers. I’ve tried switching sectors. It’s not the firms, it’s me. But what to do? I’ve spent the last almost 20 years on caffeine and nicotine. I know law. It’s a very difficult question. BUT: today – especially after seeing how many other lawyers feel like this (like here) I have come to a decision: I will, in time, leave the field. Of course there are considerations to make, but for now I have a job and time to make them. Who knows maybe I’ll even get to study art or astrophysics. Wish me luck. Thank you for this post, also all you commenters too. And congrats for getting out! I will look at you as an example. Always have all the luck you need and more. Also to those who just read this.
After practicing law for 23 years, I absolutely hate it. I left my ex-husband after 21 years of abuse (emotional, verbal and physical) and when I finally got back into the swing of things- I found I could not handle the personal attacks at work. I have my own practice and have made decent money, but my health is at risk- I now have all sorts of digestive problems. To make matters worse, my new husband, also an attorney who recently had to medically retire, absolutely loves the law. He would tell people he would do it as a hobby if he couldn’t get paid. So I get no real understanding from him. I want out, and although I have my mediation certification, I am shackled by guilt over quitting something that is so profitable and for which I have invested so much.
Where and What Kind of law matters! I went to law school late (54) and at night at GWU Law in D.C. I was a senior environmental professional at EPA and had frequent contact with DOJ, attorneys and staff at EPA and other federal and state agencies. After passing the MD Bar I remained at EPA, never practiced in the private sector. I enjoyed my work because I was able to help environmental professionals get the resources from individuals and companies that had polluted the environment. I had some great arguments with DOJ about naming federal agencies as responsible parties, fought about native American Tribes being legally responsible. I was involved in dozens of cases and sites. The work sometimes added stress to my life but I enjoyed it.
Thank you for your article, most of which could have been about me and the first two paragraphs are about me exactly. After 9 years of either trying to get into or working at law firms in Holland, France and England, I am close to finally getting out of it all and stating a new life as a freelance legal translator. All I need is that financial cushion, which I will hopefully gain with my next bonus in a couple of months. It is good to know I am not alone, since the sense of guilt and insecurity about giving up a career so heavily invested and anxiety about the future can be overwhelming!