One reflection exercise I suggest to disenchanted lawyers is to contemplate what they’d be doing if not practicing law. The reason is not to identify the lawyer’s next career, but instead to get in touch with what might be preferable and why, and then to consider whether that quality could exist in a legal practice. Finding the joy the long way around, really.
For instance, one client said she would teach if she weren’t practicing law. She said she’d enjoy imparting knowledge, challenging her students, and getting the intellectual high of an exchange about principles. She said she’d want to teach something on the college level, maybe above, where her students would really want to be in class and would be more likely to be engaged. We explored what she thought she’d like about that kind of teaching, what benefits she felt it would bring, and so on. When we turned to see whether she could find similar experiences in the law, she indeed found them — not, as you might be expecting, as an adjunct professor (though that would have been a good choice) but through doing training in her firm for new associates. She found that she got energy from working with these fresh-faced idealists and that she was able to bring that energy back to her practice, with the added benefit of knowing something about which associates she’d like to work on her matters.
So, if you’re unhappy — or even if you are happy, but you’re willing to explore what could be even better — I challenge you to play with this idea. What would you be doing if not practicing, why, and can you get that “why” in practice? What steps must you take to do so?