Dear LiL: I think I’m done with being a lawyer. I am torn between quitting my profession and exploring other avenues. How can I reconcile my desire for change while still utilizing my legal skills and expertise in a fulfilling way?
Dear Contemplating Change:
You have bravely expressed a stuck feeling that is common among lawyers. And you have wisely expressed a truth: you have options.
As a lawyer, you have likely invested a lot of energy and time into developing your expertise. And you are curious about professional change. You want to repurpose the valuable tools, materials, and structures you currently have and build something new that fulfills you.
I believe that each choice you make in your professional life helps you in making the next one, regardless of how related the choices may seem. There are often threads of connection between the interests, skills, and talents that a person has developed over the years. These threads can teach you what work lights you up (and what work does not) and which avenues to explore as you move forward in your career. Whichever way you go, your legal skills and expertise will serve you and your people in unique and valuable ways.
I want you know that you don’t have to leave law before you explore!
I have lived professional change first-hand in taking parental leaves, moving from private to in-house practice, and leaving a legal leadership role to build my coaching practice. As a coach, I work with clients who are navigating professional changes. Based on my experience, I believe that you are an expert on you, and there is no “one size fits all” route to meaningful professional change.
To support you in designing your route, I recommend the following three-step approach:
Explore your values, strengths, and interests. Get curious about what is driving your desire for change. Identify your current needs.
Consider the elements of work that you enjoy. Imagine multiple alternative career options, just for fun.
Create a sustainable plan to do more of what energizes you and less of what depletes you. Set a reasonable timeline for a decision on your next right career step.
This approach will inform you about yourself and your career options in a practical way, while lowering the urgency and risk of making a big change.
Below are exercises you can use for each step.
Take stock of your values, strengths, and interests. You can find countless articles and books to help you, as well as assessments for free online. Here are some questions to get you started.
- On what topics could you talk, write, or think about for hours?
- What issues in the world get you worked up?
- What work do you admire in others?
- What are you doing when you forget about time?
- What would your closest people say you do well? (Ask them if you don’t know!)
- What would your biggest fans at work say you contribute? (Don’t be afraid to ask for specific feedback from colleagues and clients.)
Imagine your ideal day.
- Where are you located?
- What are you doing?
- Who are you with?
- How do you feel?
Get curious about what is driving your desire for change. You are a human with interests and needs. That feeling of being “done” can mean you are at capacity in general. Although rewarding in many respects, law is a demanding profession. The long hours and the high degree of responsibility, combined with the emphasis on logical, linear thinking abilities can easily lead to imbalance. Engaging in varied activities that interest and support you, both at and away from work, can help you move away from burnout and toward balance.
- What appeals to you about making a career change?
- What has helped you make other life decisions in the past?
- How are you spending your time each day?
-Which parts leave you feeling energized?
-Which parts leave you feeling depleted?
- What do you need for your:
-Physical health and safety?
-Mental and emotional wellness?
Now that you have collected information about yourself, start collecting information about career options.
- Think back to three specific work accomplishments that make you proud. For each:
-What attitude toward the work did you have?
-What issues were you helping to move forward?
-What types of tasks did you do?
-Who were you working with?
-What support from others helped you to contribute your best work? For example, your colleague’s talent for tracking data in spreadsheets let you focus on effectively communicating status updates to the client.
- Imagine five jobs you would try if finances, training, and experience were not at issue. Have fun with this. Try to suspend reality, just for this exercise.
Start to incorporate what you learned about yourself and your career options into your current life in small, realistic ways.
- What work do you want to do more? How can you adjust your schedule to make time for it?
- What work do you want to do less or not at all? What conversations do you need to have to decline, delegate, or amend your commitments in relation to that work?
- What new professional roles do you want to learn about more? Where can you get good information about the realities of and opportunities within these roles?
- What is one small thing you can plan that you will look forward to:
-In 3-6 months?
Set a timeline for deciding on your next right career step. Make sure to give yourself time to incorporate the above, while maintaining your momentum. I suggest between 6 to 12 months.
- By when will you decide on your next step?
- How frequently will you check on your progress?
- Who (if anyone) do you need to ask for support?
Professional change takes time, planning, and perseverance. It can be uplifting and energizing. It will also create a new set of challenges that require your energy. The above approach will help you explore what is new and possible while staying grounded in what is familiar and real.
Ultimately, whether you leave the profession or stay and explore other avenues in law, you will have learned a lot about yourself. This will set you up well for your future in law, law-adjacent work, or a completely new area of your choosing.
This question that you are contemplating is a natural part of the professional development journey. I wish you growth and fulfillment on your path, and lots of learning along the way. Now onto the fun part – exploration!
About the Author
Rebecca Hockin (pronouns: she/her) is a lawyer and a certified executive coach with a passion for creative professional growth. As founder of Recreative Coaching, Rebecca helps people in law develop and leverage their strengths and creativity so that they can make their impact in meaningful and sustainable ways. Rebecca practised commercial law for 12 years, in law firm and in-house environments. She lives in Vancouver with her family.