Do you really enjoy litigation?
Most litigators, truth be told, do not. Based on my experience as a professional lawyer coach, there is a small percentage of lawyers who truly enjoy trial work. They love the strategy, challenge and competition it provides. But these attorneys are in the minority. The majority of lawyers who call themselves litigators, or trial lawyers, do not truly enjoy what they do.
There are reasons so many attorneys go into litigation:
- It’s sexy. We grew up seeing lawyer shows on TV and in the movies. Heros in the courtroom, wrongs being righted, the innocent vindicated and the guilty convicted.
- In law school we learned the nuts and bolts of litigation and may have tasted trial work in moot court competition.
- There’s plenty of work. Law firms thrive on controversies and litigation is the bread and butter of many firms’ profits. Firms are always looking for new associates to handle litigation grunt work and provide a nice mark up in billings to corporate clients. Solos have plenty of opportunities to pick up a litigation case, or a few-there are lots of controversies out there.
- There are plenty (relatively speaking) of jobs for litigators. If you want to do litigation, the odds of getting a job with a firm increase.
But it isn’t as glamorous as billed:
- Big firm associates are lucky to first chair a trial in their first five years of law practice. Many litigation partners have had few jury trials.
- Conversely, small firm attorneys and solos handling smaller cases may have the overwhelm of too many court appearances and trials.
- Your schedule is not your own. Trial dates, discovery deadlines, etc. are for the most part out of your control and can take a toll on your personal life.
- It is tedious. In complex litigation, document review, discovery, motion practice, etc. are pretty much what you do, especially as an associate.
- The conflict becomes wearing after a while.
Excuses attorneys make to not quit litigation:
- That’s why the firm hired you.
- You have invested so much time in developing your skills.
- Your’e too old to make a change.
- You need the money your litigation practice generates.
- You don’t know what you would do instead.
How do you quit litigation? Here are the steps to take:
- Admit to yourself that you are in the wrong practice area. It’s OK, you are not alone. Many attorneys, partners as well as associates and solos, have changed from litigation to a practice area better suited to them. It’s been done before.
- Commit to making the change. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back. Sure, right now you don’t know what will happen, but trust that it will work out for the best. Keep in mind that every month you stay in litigation will entrench you even more and will make it just that much harder to make the transition.
- Develop a plan to make the transition. Don’t just daydream. Create a plan in writing that sets out in detail the steps you need to take. It should have a timeline and the tasks and sub tasks you need to complete to achieve your goal.
- Devote the time to work the plan. Commit to a minimum amount of time every week that you will devote to working your transition plan.
- Work the plan:
- Self-assessment should be the first step. There are exercises and assessment tests available that will help you understand yourself better. The more you understand yourself, the easier to decide on the professional path to take.
- Develop a list of practice area options within the law and career options outside of the law. Determine the criteria the new practice area or career must meet to be viable.
- Investigate all your options. Begin with online research and a review of legal materials and periodicals. Research non-legal careers in which attorneys have transitioned. Rule out practice areas and careers that do not meet your criteria. Develop a short list of the most viable options.
- Work the short list. Make use of your contacts, they are a valuable asset. Talk to attorneys in the practice area you are interested in. Set informational interviews to learn about alternative careers and develop new contacts. Use any other technique available to uncover the opportunities that are a right fit for you.
- Make the change. You have done the work, now is the time to just do it. Step into your new practice area, or non-legal career, with the belief and confidence that you have made a significant advancement in your career! You have!
You have invested considerable time, money and effort to become a lawyer. If you are a litigator and have determined that litigation is not for you, you owe it to yourself to quit litigation, make the transition to another practice area, or non-legal career, that best suits your talents, interests and abilities. You are not alone, it has been done before, you can do it too!
Have a Great Practice!