They're down. Now they want out

“When I joined the profession I had ideals – now I feel as though all I do is shuffle assets in one form or another from one place to another in the most appropriate and beneficial way for my clients. Some days I wonder what I am doing and I certainly wonder how I can carry on doing it for the next 30 years.”

Sentiments expressed by an assistant solicitor in a company commercial department are echoed by a surprising number of solicitors responding to The Lawyer survey.

Results show significant numbers of solicitors hanker after a different career – of the 40 per cent who have regrets about their chosen career in the law, 73 per cent have given serious consideration to a change of career. And while a minority dream of a career in writing (perhaps envying the success of US lawyer and best-selling writer John Grisham) most have looked to careers in the teaching profession or commerce and industry.

Presumably many young solicitors have a wistful idea of their own days in the classroom or lecture theatre. Others see their experience in practice as a natural stepping stone to a role in business – a surprising result given that 32 per cent say they take no active role in the development of their firm or department at all.

Six per cent also see a career in arts and entertainment as an alternative – no specific jobs are mentioned but roles in BBC2's legal soap This Life would no doubt figure top of the list, This Life being preferable to real life, and certainly containing more sex and drugs than the life of your average assistant solicitor. Another litigator at a London firm would prefer to be “growing wine” – presumably not teaching English language.

Other careers mentioned included landscape design, lion tamer “because it would involve less stress”, “chef or diving instructor” (and perhaps anything in between), actor, football pundit, coffee shop owner and computer scientist. And who said lawyers were lacking in imagination?

However, many solicitors are unsure of what career to turn to, illustrating a potential lack of direction which should be of concern to managing partners and those with other management roles in firms throughout the country; lack of direction and restlessness breeds lack of motivation.

Responses to the survey questions about remuneration and benefits reveal a further cause of dissatisfaction. Over one third of respondents said their current salaries were less than they expected at the start of their careers.

Perhaps most interestingly, those expressing the greatest sense of general dissatisfaction are associates, a status which has come in for criticism as a means, in some firms, of “keeping solicitors down from partnership” or increasing charge out rate to clients and targets without any reciprocal added benefit for the individual beyond apparent status.

Below we talk to four former solicitors to discover why each went beyond the regret and daydreaming of other careers and left the profession.