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How To Find Joy And Fulfillment In Your Legal Career


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Six years ago, I wrote an article, “How I Used My Law Degree To Get Out Of Law,” in the HuffPost. I was a contributor to the platform and at the very beginning of my full-time journey from lawyer to entrepreneur. That article set the wheels in motion for me to openly share my story with the world — that yes, you can leave law and find success in doing something else that you love.

Since then, I’ve responded to hundreds of messages from dissatisfied or frustrated lawyers who want to do something else with their legal career besides traditional practice at a law firm. I know that feeling — all too well — in addition to the sentiments that my parents reiterated to me, “Choose a job you will love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

That specific Confucius quote sat in a frame and hung on the wall in my dad’s office for more than 15 years, and it became the impetus for me to seek out my own career happiness and fulfillment. To him, it meant that while every day wasn’t perfect, doing work should bring you energy and joy.

If you’ve reached a career crossroads, whether you’re at the beginning, middle, or tail end, ask yourself: is it the environment or the work that’s truly the root of the issue? For example, you might not fit in with the culture of Biglaw, but you might thrive in an in-house environment. You might enjoy the work of complex M&A transactions but feel more at ease if it’s not contingent on the billable hour or high-volume work.

It takes a special type of personality to thrive in a law firm environment, especially in a highly competitive and cutthroat one such as Biglaw. I knew early on it wasn’t for me based on my own negative experiences. And, while I excelled at smaller and midsized firms tackling big motions and hearings, the billable hour debilitated me. Firms said they didn’t have strict billable hours, but the reality was quite different: if you didn’t bill more than 200 hours per month, you were questioned. Vacations were also nonexistent and frowned upon. A sick day just meant working from home and still being expected to bill 12-plus hours a day. I was simply a cog in the wheel permeating an unsustainable way of life.

It wasn’t until I gained a glimpse of what in-house counsel work entailed that I truly thrived and felt the career love, along with collaboration, leadership, and a human-first culture that I yearned to encounter. For the first time in my legal career, I took a vacation without guilt and without question. I brainstormed with colleagues, and we worked in a copacetic fashion rather being gaslighted, disrespected, and undermined. I worked closely with other leaders in the business and became exposed to various personalities that worked for the common good of the business.

I share this because if law firm life isn’t for you, consider exploring other legal environments that might offer you something different before you decide to exit. This means networking with lawyers who are corporate counsels or in other nontraditional legal roles such as contracts managers, compliance officers, or even legal and management consultants. Find people who are where you want to be (or may want to be) now, five years from now, and 10 years from now. They will have different insights at different steps in the journey. In doing so, you can explore alternative legal careers as compared to traditional practice. Remember, you have wide access to networking with these professionals on LinkedIn. Take advantage of it.

Additionally, there will be common themes you find within your legal career that speak to your strengths and the parts of your work you enjoy the most. For example, in high school, I spent my weekends competing at local, state, and national debate tournaments. In college, I did pro bono writing and tutoring. In law school, I took electives that were focused on writing and analysis. In my legal career, I was always the designated brief writer and deeply enjoyed the process of researching and writing the dispositive and discovery motions, and then arguing them in court.

Each of these examples point back to my strengths and passion for analysis, writing, and public speaking — all of which are present in my current work. Writing has been my forte for as long as I can remember. I expanded that skill set in a different arena: professional writing and coaching. This has required me to continue to advance and deepen that skill set through my own professional development and training (such as getting certifications in resume writing, career coaching, and personal branding to elevate my skills).

The other side to this is that running my own successful writing and coaching business isn’t easy or glamorous — I work an unbelievable number of hours to consult with potential clients, coach current clients, and write their resumes, bios, and LinkedIn profiles. These aspects of running a business were pieces I had to acclimate to and were the deciding factors for why I remained a solopreneur instead of scaling up to run a business with a team (the latter is more common in my industry). If you’re thinking of going solo or opening your own business, talk to someone who’s done it and has been successful at it, financially and professionally, for seven or more years. Find out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Have a question about finding happiness or joy in your legal career? Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.


Wendi Weiner is an attorney, career expert, and founder of The Writing Guru, an award-winning executive resume writing services company. Wendi creates powerful career and personal brands for attorneys, executives, and C-suite/Board leaders for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications about alternative careers for lawyers, personal branding, LinkedIn storytelling, career strategy, and the job search process. You can reach her by email at wendi@writingguru.net, connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her on Twitter @thewritingguru.  





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