How to say goodbye (to practicing law)

It’s January. It’s that time of year when everyone makes New Year’s resolutions and swears they’ll keep them. Most resolutions include better time management, more time for self, more time with family, more gym time, more vacations and less stress. Unfortunately, if the system within which we operate doesn’t change, then it is all the more likely that goals won’t be met. It’s simple logic.

I have a confession that I think most lawyers would agree with: while I enjoy practicing law, and while I love advocating in the courtroom for those who need a voice, practicing law generally sucks. We’re an adversarial bunch. We fight with each other within ethical boundaries (usually) and we zealously advocate for our clients with legally sound and factually based arguments (usually). Suffice it to say that a substantial majority of our time is spent each day trying to convince someone (clients, opposing counsel, judges, juries) of something (name anything) that those people really just don’t want to believe. And personality is key in convincing people. Anti-social and not good with people? It’s likely you won’t win people over. Social and outgoing and still not good with people? Still likely you won’t win people over. Tired of losing and tired of being tired? You definitely won’t win people over. There’s a delicate balance in practicing law and it often requires a great deal of investment – time, energy, emotion – to get it right.

Most lawyers I know don’t want to practice law anymore. They continue to do it because they own a house, own a car, own a boat, owe spousal support, owe child support and/or have a mountain of student loans that got them into the practice of law to begin with. It’s the perfect storm: debt, frustration, fighting on a daily basis and fear of failure. We’re creating a profession of havoc with each graduating class of students who believe that the only way they can be happy make money is to litigate. Forgive me, but I think that’s just wrong. Bill Quigley, a wonderful mentor and fabulous professor, once said to us, “We all are born with one bucket of crap. It’s your job in life not to carry two. When you graduate, don’t buy a car, a house, have kids, get married … wait five years … see if you still like practicing law, and if you do, THEN consider doing all of those things.” He wasn’t kidding. His sage advice echoes in my mind each day and I can’t thank him enough for it. Most of my peers went against that advice. Most of my peers are unhappy.

In case you’d forgotten (though I am not sure how you could have), lawyers are one of the top professions to die by suicide. Depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, personality disorders – they are at the forefront of our profession. I attended an amazing LADB CLE recently (“Compassion, Fatigue and Solutions”), during which the speaker told us of his troubles during his time practicing law. He said something that resonates with me still today: “Lawyers are the only profession rewarded for pessimism.” It’s true. We are brainwashed trained to think about every single possible thing that could ever go wrong and to account for it, write it into a contract or settlement agreement and hope that we never get called out for not being able to predict the future. Ridiculous, right? This kind of skill set breeds resentment, sadness and fatigue. We are encouraging people to be fearful of what the future holds, rather than encouraging them to embrace uncertainty in life and to live each day to its fullest. It is our moral and ethical obligation to take care of our peers; they are our fellow professionals. This is just one of the many reasons why Article 8 exists – to maintain the integrity of our profession – to help others when they need help the very most.

Want to know how to stop practicing law? First, you admit you have a problem. (You want to stop, but haven’t yet? That’s called denial). Then, seek out professional help to transition your practice into what you want, not what you think you wanted or what you think you should be doing because you spent a fortune on law school. The time is now. There might not be a tomorrow. Help your community. Help yourself. Act now.

If you’re struggling in the practice of law – personally, professionally, financially – I’m your girl. Let’s chat, because I know there’s a happier life waiting for you. Let me help you get it.

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About Sheila: An attorney, a social worker and an educator, she’s unlike any other person you’ve ever met. She thrives on a challenge, loves to solve puzzles and fix things and definitely loves helping make other people’s lives better – stronger – more efficient – happier. She tells terribly corny jokes, but maybe, just maybe, if you’re nice to her, and even laugh at her jokes, you’ll get something specially baked, just for you. Yep. For real.
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I have two goals each day: (1) to make a stranger laugh and (2) to be a better person each day than I was the day before. I meet these goals. Every. Day.

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