Every year, hundreds of lawyers begin to seek out career changes. They either intend to drastically change from their profession or they just want to alter the way they approach their practice. This may seem odd, but of all our workshops, the “What Can You do next with your Law Degree?” has the largest turnout each year. We also have great attendance at our Options workgroup. If you’re a lawyer beginning to think about change, then read the following article written by one such lawyer who did so.
When I went to law school it was more with the idea of joining the federal public service in my hometown of than it was with the idea of actually practicing. But a couple of years later, I ended up in Vancouver and couldn’t get work in the public service. “Oh well,” I thought “I’ll get a job in a law firm. How bad can it be?”
Unfortunately, I soon discovered how bad it could be. I was not cut out for the private practice of law. I did not have total devotion to the law or the law firm. I did not want to spend the hours demanded and I value the process of the work and the creativity of the work more than the time spent on it or the monetary value. I became increasingly resentful of the hierarchical structure of law firms and what I thought was the need to compete with my fellow articling students and junior lawyers.
As the months of articling went on, I moved from resentment to a sense of being overwhelmed then to depression and anxiety. I was torn between my desperate emotional state and my values of job security and professionalism. My heart was telling me to leave the practice of law, but I had a profound fear that I would never work again. I was virtually immobilized and increasingly unable to function. I became scared when I caught myself having suicidal ideations.
I had first heard about the Lawyers Assistance Program through a presentation at PLTC. Even before I was called to the Bar, Derek LaCroix had been helping me to function and later, his referrals led me to additional resources such as Interlock, career assessment, counselling and clinical psychology.
My path through recovery was not smooth. Over the next two years and despite my involvement with LAP, I still went through two more law firms and another six-month bout with depression. I made some creative proposals to law firms concerning my time commitment and the type of work I would do – and to my surprise, they agreed. However, this didn’t work out either. I continued to be unhappy and depressed.
Thanks to LAP and other referrals, I got through it. I gradually became aware of my work preferences and was able to understand the problems I was experiencing in practicing law. I began to meet supportive people on whose experiences I could start to model my recovery. Very slowly, I overcame my fears and sense of low self-esteem – these were the obstacles blocking me from making meaningful changes to my life.
Three years after moving to Vancouver, I had the courage to feel good about leaving the practice of law. I began a masters degree in counselling psychology and started part time work teaching and for public services. In the two years since, I have been happier than I could have imagined.
The financial sacrifices have not been as great as I had feared. I am now involved in a career in which I find great personal fulfillment.
Like many provincial public services workers, I will be laid off this year. But in contrast to my former permanent state of fear, I am now optimistic. Many opportunities have opened up for me since I had the courage to “close the law door and open a new one”.
If you can relate to some of my emotions, or if you’ve felt overwhelmed or resentful about practicing law, I would highly recommend getting in touch with LAP. It’s a good first step in seeking support for emotional or career related problems. It worked for me.