Help! I’m Trapped in the Law
An extremely bright and accomplished woman attorney explained to me why it was impossible for her to do anything but practice law at this point in her life. Having worked in both government and private settings, she was certain she had a clear idea of what her chosen profession entailed, and concluded that no area of the law would hold her interest.
She had a very clear sense of personal priorities and knew she wanted family to come before work. She did not apologize for her unwillingness to work a 60-80 hour week. But her remaining law school debt loomed largely before her. And furthermore, she just couldn’t imagine NOT being a lawyer; not after having invested so much time, money and hard work in her field.
Essentially, she believed she was trapped; that she had no options except to continue doing the work she was trained to do and to remain forever dissatisfied.
In my counseling experience, this is a fate to which many lawyers believe they are doomed.
The fact is, dissatisfied attorneys can find rewarding work both within and outside of the legal world. I’ve worked with lawyers who are now teachers, writers, marketing executives, entrepreneurs, lobbyists, private investigators, legal career counselors, mediators, and psychologists, to name only a few. I’ve also seen attorneys transform their lives by changing practice areas, moving from a large to a small firm, transition into academics, or by choosing alternative work arrangements.
But before you can make a change, you have to believe that you can. Here are four common myths keeping lawyers feeling trapped in their jobs:
MYTH #1. It is irrational and wasteful to choose not to practice law after completing a legal education.
MYTH #2. Your work experience gives you a thorough and realistic picture of the universe of legal practice.
Alternative work arrangements also exist in some work settings. Surveys indicate that many women attorneys neither know about, nor take advantage of flexible schedules or part-time arrangements that may be offered by their firms. In fact, many women lawyers are not even aware of their firm’s maternity leave policies.
Some women do not choose to use alternative arrangements for fear of being permanently “mommy-tracked.” This concern is often well-grounded. But as shown in the book, Presumed Equal, there are vast differences among law firms in the flexibility of work arrangements and opportunities for advancement and partnership they offer women who choose thee options. To find out about alternative practice areas, check the ABA Web site and follow the links to every section and practice area. Attend your local Women’s Bar Association meetings and network with lawyers from different work settings. Certainly, if you decide to change practice area, you’ll have to make yourself marketable. But there are steps to follow and role models to inspire you; many women lawyers have already paved the way to success.
MYTH #3. There is no other way to produce sufficient income to pay down law school debt besides continuing to work as a lawyer.
MYTH #4. You’ll need another degree to find a job outside of legal practice.
Finding career satisfaction is never impossible. The key to finding career satisfaction either within, or outside of, the law is to:
Many attorneys find it easier to accomplish the above steps and ultimately reach their new career objectives by establishing an ongoing relationship with a professional coach. Coaching is convenient. Since it is conducted via telephone (with email and fax backup), you don’t need to add travel time to your busy schedule. And the structured, task-focused nature of coaching can allow you to accomplish your objectives more efficiently.