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The Friday Five

Lawyer Career Change: Get On With Your Life

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Career change — any kind of change — is rarely easy. Here are five things that may help you take the leap.

“This is the year.”

He sounded casual enough, but I saw the inner force he hoped to screw to the sticking place.

“This is the year I finally get out of here and start doing things I love.”

We’d been down this road before. The goal is always the same: Leave the firm where he feels tied to work he doesn’t enjoy. But extracting himself has proved nearly impossible.

It hasn’t been for lack of effort. My friend has a hard drive full of escape plans for a lawyer career change. For a decade, or so it seems, he’s studied the problem, circled it, researched options, drafted spreadsheets, solved it and then … nothing. One year he was going to sell his practice. The next, he’d withdraw from the partnership and “go on contract.” Then there was the scheme that involved physically splitting the offices in half and building walls where there are now doors. And the “go on unemployment” strategy that saw him writing an online newsletter from home. It hasn’t been poor planning that’s kept him from leaving, either. It just comes down to a lack of nerve.

“I have a hard time letting go,” he smiles. Obviously.

What Are You Waiting For?

If this sounds familiar — if you’ve grown embarrassed to even speak of it again with your mate — we are about to give you a gift. Whether it’s retirement long past due, the fifth anniversary of the final payment on your student loan, or an existential crisis of meaning, let’s just say it’s time to stop the world because you want to get off. Quitting … anything …is rarely easy.

Here are five things that may get you to hold your nose, close your eyes, and take the leap. It’s your time.

1. You’re not alone.

It may sometimes feel like you’re the only one stuck in this betwixt and between place. Nope. Baby boomers’ numbers have exploded and so very many of them are discontented, searching for meaning and scared to make a move. A good number have actually given up on the concept of retirement and see themselves working forever. (But doing something different!) Perhaps even worse is the situation for Gen Xers who find they can’t advance because the boomers won’t get out of the way. (Read “Your Boomer Retirement Problem Won’t Just Fade Away” by Ida Abbott.)

2. Just do it.

If like my friend, you’ve spent the past few years working hard to figure out how to go, maybe it’s time to take the leap and just hope you’ll grow wings. There’s a lot of information available about how to make the announcement properly. And for some, quitting has actually become a compelling new mission statement. (See”Signs It Might Be Time To Quit.“)

3. There is good reason to quit.

Sometimes you have been a tree for so long it’s difficult to believe there’s anything outside the forest. There is a better world someplace. There are stinky things about where you are. And, yes, you will still be a good person if you do something about it and leave. Here are the top 10 reasons to quit your job. Perhaps you’ll recognize some. Perhaps you have your own. Perhaps they’re better!

4. You never know how much longer you have.

Face it. Death is a fact of life. Life is a finite thing. When the end comes for you, is this really what you want to say you spent all your time doing? Perhaps the best response to the death of another is not despair, but a new resolve to make the most of your own life from here on out.

5. We’re tired of hearing about it.

Not really. Friends always care. But, man this is getting to be old news! Once you take the big leap, it could move others to get on with their own lives, too. Sheer envy may drive them to it. And studies show that happy people are more likely to do nice things for others. Do something nice for that little Zoom bitch-and-moan group of yours.

Show them how it’s done!

Illustration ©

Categories: Attorney Work-Life Balance, Friday Five, Legal Career Development
Originally published August 25, 2017
Last updated June 9, 2022
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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