Pretty much every legal professional knows a lawyer who has decided to leave the industry. Indeed, one of the good things about a law degree is that a legal education can be helpful in a number of fields, and many people decide to use their legal education and experiences to pursue endeavors outside of the law industry, such as in the business world, journalism, or a plethora of other fields. However, many lawyers talk about leaving the legal profession as an “escape” and deride their former work. It is not uncommon for people to talk about how they “broke free” from the legal profession as if being in the legal industry was a horrific ordeal. It is unclear where much of this bitterness comes from, and this sentiment can help reinforce a negative view of legal professionals.
When I was deciding in college if I wanted to join the legal profession, the only people I knew who went to law school beside my brother were educators. These individuals did not suggest going to law school and talked negatively about their experiences in private practice before they were able to join academia. This experience showed me early on that people might leave the legal profession and not have good feelings about their former vocation.
Other former lawyers that I meet now as a practicing attorney share a negative sentiment about their former vocation. I have a few friends from law school who later went on to graduate programs and entered completely different fields. They speak as though they have escaped some kind of hellish ordeal and are so happy that they no longer in the legal field. Of course, there are also a number of active lawyers who also speak negatively about the legal profession, but former lawyers seem to have a greater license to bad-mouth their former vocation since they are no longer practicing lawyers.
However, it is unclear why former lawyers have so much negativity about the legal profession. People who are members of a variety of different fields may find later on that they do not like the line of work they initially decided to pursue. Indeed, I had a few teachers growing up who did all kinds of work before they finally decided to become teachers. I never really heard any of these people bad-talk their former careers, so it is unclear what is so polarizing about the legal profession that departing lawyers hold so much animosity.
Perhaps the law school experience is one of the reasons. Pretty much every lawyer had to endure several years of law school, and this can be a competitive and academically rigorous experience. In addition, people may need to borrow an arm and a leg to attend law school, so perhaps departing lawyers are resentful that they needed to spend so much money and time to earn a law degree that they will no longer entirely need. However, many people think of law school fondly as a great time to grow socially, and people need to borrow student loans to earn all kinds of educational credentials. Moreover, a legal education can enrich all kinds of vocational and personal pursuits even though an individual will no longer be a practicing attorney.
Perhaps the grind of working at a law firm is another reason why former lawyers seem to harbor so many negative sentiments toward the legal profession. Law firm work can be a grind, since many lawyers work on repetitive matters, and administrative chores involved in private practice can be extremely annoying. Indeed, some firms might be competitive or have office politics that can make it unpleasant to work at a given shop. However, the administrative and bureaucratic unpleasantness at many law firms are present in pretty much any other corporate job a person might have. Indeed, anyone who works at an office that has a corporate structure is going to have bosses, annual evaluations, performance expectations, office politics, and everything else that stinks about working in an office. Unless a lawyer leaves the law to work in a completely different setting that does not have the same corporate structure, they are likely to encounter all of the same challenges that makes law firm life unpleasant at times.
Although, there are reasons departing lawyers might not like the vocation they are leaving, there seems to be no reason why former lawyers have more ill will to the legal industry than any other person who leaves a profession.
In the end, I am not sure why former lawyers hold such ill will toward the legal profession and to what degree that can impact the perception people have about the legal profession. I would love to hear perspectives from readers on why they think former sisters and brothers of the bar have animosity to the legal industry.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].