Everyone complains about their job, right? Wrong. A lot of lawyers genuinely love what they do and are happy. If you find yourself moaning about your job most days, a few simple steps will help you determine whether this is simply superficial grumbling or you are actually deeply unhappy and in need of a career change.
Make a list
The first step is to think of all the positive things about being a lawyer.
So get comfortable, bask in feelings of smugness, and start making a list of the great things about your job. The list should include advantages generally, as well as reasons that are personal to you (such as aspects you particularly enjoy, or being able to pay your mortgage, etc).
Here are five examples to get you started:
There are no two ways about it, being a lawyer is difficult and constantly challenging.
You are working at an exceptional standard and pace. You are kept on your toes by clients with complex legal problems and are surrounded by pretty amazing colleagues. You may have a demanding job, but you also know that you are performing at the very top of your game.
This means that, at some level, you are living life to the fullest.
In addition to creative and intellectual thinking, you learn to work under pressure, translate complicated information, and manage crises. Your writing is of a high standard, as are your client engagement skills, communication skills, and business awareness. The sheer variety and day-to-day stimulation involved in being a lawyer is unique.
There has been some evolution, but nevertheless the security associated with working in a respected, age-old sector is a real advantage. The relative stability, the remuneration levels, and the overall support of a professional firm/company are enviable.
Promotion routes are, for the most part, well-structured – and well-trodden paths like these are a source of real comfort in our uncertain world climate.
There are always plenty of options open to you.
If you are feeling under-appreciated, overworked or are not getting along with your colleagues, you can move firms or go in-house. If you want a new challenge, you could transfer your skills to a professional support role, change specialism, or perhaps try the bar.
As you accumulate more skills and experience day by day, you can play the long game in respect of any other career aspirations or dreams you have.
It can help to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. You are, ultimately, working in a sector that strives to uphold the rule of law and promotes adherence to fairness and justice. It may not be perfect by any means, but it does matter – pay a visit to your local free legal advice centre or take on a pro bono case and you will experience the true value of your specialist skills.
Is this enough?
Once you have finished your list and properly considered your reasons to stay being a lawyer, the inevitable next question is, is this all enough to keep me here?
You may or may not instinctively know the answer to this. To focus, try the same exercise but this time list all the innate disadvantages of your job and the parts you dislike or would wish away.
Now compare the two lists. Is one of them more persuasive? Are there any surprises? Perhaps one list has a killer factor that outweighs everything on the other list. As the saying goes, ‘notice what you notice’.
What works for you
Now think about what is important for you personally to have in a job in the long-term. This can include lifestyle factors, skills you want to use, and anything else that will make work truly satisfying for you. Crucially, it can also include values that you hold dear.
Consider how the two lists measure up in light of these requirements. What is becoming clearer and what possibilities are emerging?
Enjoy the clarity
You may realise that, on a fundamental level, law does in fact tick all the right boxes for you. Or you may conclude that, if you are being honest, this is just not the job for you and something needs to change (whether now or in the future). Alternatively, you may decide that the jury is still out and you need more time in your role.
Whatever the outcome, exploration is key and once you know where things stand, you are likely to feel really quite relieved, and be in a much stronger and more informed position to make career decisions.
Whether you choose to make any actual changes or not, at least you know deep down what the real situation is (and you can finally stop complaining to everyone about your job).
Nazish Bhaiwala is a career coach at Red Arbre and a former employment solicitor. She helps professionals explore how to be happier in their careers and to be more motivated and effective at work.
Read how these lawyers are achieving a better work-life balance here