Lawyers Leaving: Bushy-Tailed to Burnt-Out

The most stand out legal career stories are those of lawyers who went to law school, articled at a big firm, and swung open the heavy and impressive doors of their downtown office as a first year associate, still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on Bay Street. Fast forward a few years and many articles penned by our hypothetical promising protégés are likely to be entitled “Why my Law Career lasted Three Years,” “My Life after Law at 30,” “Courting Careers after the Courtroom,” “Burnt-out Lawyer to Better Life,” or “Career Alternatives for Lawyers.”

This is not one of those articles.

Career Trend: Exodus from Bay Street

It may be sad, disappointing, surprising, or confusing as to why so many lawyers – people who dream of going to law school, who study hard, get in, do the work, graduate, article, get called to the bar, and find the job – leave their coveted positions merely years later. It is trite to say this is just personal to the individual. The trend is too great to simply ignore the realities of the legal industry.

Sustainability: A Long-Term Career

Can we change the legal industry in one fell swoop? No. But maybe, as lawyers, we can commit to being more proactive and realistic about the longevity of our careers. Working 20 hours a day, never taking vacation time, never saying no and other unsustainable career choices are simply that, unsustainable. Instead, try to create your own work culture that fits within the firm’s culture that is sustainable. You’re no use to anyone if you’ve quit three years in.

(Flexible) Boundaries at Work

Create personal work boundaries for yourself. These boundaries have to be flexible given the context and pending projects. The trick is not to bend your boundaries at every turn. Create space for yourself within your career. Will lawyers in the private sector ever have true work-life balance? Maybe, I don’t know. But until the legal industry shifts, it is your responsibility to nurture your well-being and that of your career. To be clear, there will be no shift unless individuals on the ground are the catalysts for such a change.

Commitment to the Firm and to your Career

It is important to commit the firm and its corporate culture. However, it is more important to commit the longevity of your career so that you can serve that firm for many years to come if you so please.