How to get out of and bounce back from a nightmare
JD once… …had a passion for the law and becoming a lawyer.
…felt excitement at the thought of what the future would bring.
…had a vision of help those who were disadvantaged, discriminated against, or otherwise unable to help themselves.
…had a dream of upholding the rule of law and basic human rights.
…believed that being a lawyer would give her an opportunity to live that dream.
She worked hard at making her vision a reality. And somewhere between the hard work and the making a difference she lost her way.
“After law school, reality hit,” she said. “The jobs we had dreamed of were non-existent.”
The dream of helping others and righting wrongs became a struggle to survive in a cut throat profession. She watched talented classmates, unable to find jobs, take positions in retail.
Ultimately, when she was offered a job, she felt she had to accept it, even though it was not in line with any of her dreams, goals, or important values.
“I had to take whatever work I could find,” she told me, “and what I found ended up being a nightmare.”
She woke up every day to a job where there was no mentorship, support, or assistance. She managed a heavy caseload of family and criminal law matters, with approximately 40 of her cases going to trial in her first year of practice.
And she did it all without help. The sole practitioner who had hired her was not familiar with those areas of law. His practice was completely unrelated. It turned out, he had hired her because his clients often had problems that required the assistance of a criminal or a family lawyer, and, as he didn’t provide those services, it was convenient to have a young lawyer who could provide them for meager pay.
“Day in and day out I had to figure out how to fight battles I knew nothing about,” she confided.
There were no other lawyers in the office. There was no support staff. There were no precedents for the types of files she was running. She was forced to take every client that came in the door. She was overloaded with work and running low on sleep. She would find herself struggling in court and forced to ask for help from senior counsel who had, moments earlier, commented on how her legs looked in her suit skirt.
“The profession was unkind,” she said. “I cried a lot. I drank a lot.” She paused. “I found hot yoga and it saved my life.” She smiled, but her tone was serious.
After living the nightmare for just over a year she left. Not just her job but the profession. The flame for the law that shone so brightly had flickered in her year of struggle, dimed, and ultimately burned out.
So she got out. But when she took a step back and looked within, instead of finding that all traces of her old passions had been destroyed, she found the embers were still there.
“I knew it was time for a change,” she said. “I knew I needed to leave the profession for a bit, so I could come back stronger and full of the passion I had upon entering law school.”
After a period of rest and some self reflection the spark reignited.
“I started to remember why I once thought the law was so interesting and why it could be such a powerful tool,” she said. “The law is ever changing and evolving. This is what makes our profession exciting. It gives you a career long opportunity to learn. The changing nature of the law keeps you on your toes. It challenges you. I’m excited to start practicing again, and I hope that I am better prepared to face the challenges the profession throws my way.”
JD’s words inspired me. Although her struggles were heartbreaking our conversation filled me with a sense of hope. Hope for all of us who have got caught up. Hope that we can all step back from the busyness and find our way back to what is true and meaningful to us.
If you know that you loved the law at one time but you can’t remember why anymore...
If you once set out on a path to carry out your vision of making a difference but somewhere in the busyness the path changed direction and the meaning was lost….
If you find yourself thinking…
“This isn’t what I signed up for...”
“I thought it would be different…”
Maybe its not time to give up.
Maybe you just need some rest and a dose of self reflection. Maybe you, like JD, will find that your flame for the law still burns somewhere inside. Maybe you only need to get back in touch with it.
I hope that you will take some time. I hope that you find once again what it is that motivates you to get out of bed each morning, and that you grab it with both hands and go back out there and make the difference you always dreamed of making.
Check out the awesome tips below from JD herself, on how she overcame the challenges she was faced with and rediscovered her love and passion for our dear profession of law.
Tips from JD
- When you don’t know what you’re doing, pick up the phone. As I mentioned, I didn’t have a supervising lawyer helping me with my cases. The phone became my best friend. I called former professors, law school friends, and lawyers I had interned with. These people were able to provide practice tips and strategies that helped me in my practice.
- Network. This is an arduous word that puts fear into the hearts of law students and lawyers alike. I prefer to think of networking as making friends and acquaintances. During my year of practice, reaching out to lawyers, and introducing myself at every given opportunity helped me to meet lawyers that were able to provide me with the knowledge I needed in my practice. Networking can be indispensible to your practice, especially if you do not have a good support system at your office. It’s good to think of networking as lawyers helping lawyers.
- Find a good support system. Connect with friends and/or family often. Lawyers tend to be in their heads a lot, and tend to carry their clients burdens. Find someone to talk to, even if it is a professional. A neutral observer is able to put things into perspective for you when you are overwhelmed.
- Try to live a balanced life. Being a lawyer it not just a job title to most; it is who you are as a person. But only immersing yourself in the law, without any outside interests, makes for a square individual. Take up hobbies and interests. Take time for recreation. Interests outside of the office make for a well-rounded individual, who is less likely to burn out.
- Exercise. Enjoy the fresh air as much as you can. The last few months before I quit, I started doing a lot of hot yoga. I am certain that daily yoga got me through the toughest of times.
- Take a lunch break. This is something I never did. I always felt guilty if I took any breaks. Taking a break in the middle of the day, in my opinion, makes you more productive, and will help you combat the possibility of daily burnout.
- If at all possible, take some time to rest. This is hard, because once you are in the middle of a case, you can’t simply stop. Taking a rest from the profession can be timed with looking for a new job or career path. If taking an extended rest period is not possible, make sure you take your vacation time. This will at least give your body and mind some time to rejuvenate.
- Every so often, sit down and reflect on your passions. Refocus your thoughts. Ask yourself why you decided to become a lawyer. Is your current practice reflective of your passion? Does your current position give you some sort of personal satisfaction, other than a pay check? If you’ve veered so far from your passions, and you feel stuck, start talking to practitioners in the areas of the law you are really passionate about. Ask them about their career path. If you can’t practice in the area you are passionate about, make sure you still keep informed about the area. Sign up for that section with the CBA. Do some volunteer work in the area. Ask a senior lawyer if you can do some volunteer work for them, or go to court with them when you have time.
- Mentorship. Your local bar associations should have mentorship programs. If not, you can ask your law school for suggestions, or you can turn to an experienced lawyer you have met during your practice. Having a mentor is akin to having a good support system. Your mentor has faced the challenges you are facing, and knowing that gives you the assurance that you are not alone in this battle, and that you will come through it. Hearing about your mentors success may help reignite your passion to succeed in the profession. A guiding hand might be just the thing you need in order to bounce back.