Profiles of Lawyers Who Have Left the Law


David: Litigator to Bank Vice-President

David started his career as a standard litigator for a mid-sized firm in a large urban city. Like many other law graduates he had taken the best (and only) job that had been offered to him. Soon he wearied of the long hours, the long commute, and the adversarial nature of litigation. Two partners in the firm who practiced trusts and estates law asked him if he would like to work on a project, and he jumped at the chance.

Liking the calmer atmosphere and regular hours typical of trusts and estates work, David began to work exclusively for the two partners. He also started to work with trust officers in banks and got the idea that working in a bank would provide even more regular hours and a better quality of life. He used the annual listing of private banking departments in Trusts and Estates magazine, a trade publication his law firm received, as the basis for a mailing list.

Two months and twenty resumes later, he landed a job as a Trust Officer for one of the most prestigious banks in the country. Although he took a ten percent pay cut, the money was still quite good. As a Trust Officer, he works with the bank's wealthy clients on estates and trust accounts. The position is not in the legal department of the bank but does involve working with attorneys from outside firms.

David found the change from working in a law firm very refreshing. Everyone left at a reasonable hour in the evenings and weekend work was very rare. Family life outside of work was appreciated. The work itself was much less challenging, which was a mixed blessing. The pressure of law firm life had ebbed considerably, but David found himself doing a lot of paperwork that the paralegals would have ordinarily done in a law firm. There were also some glamorous aspects to the job, however, such as attending auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's for clients. Like everything else in life, it was a trade off.

Ironically, this type of job is perfect for outgoing, yet detail oriented people, according to David. The work itself is tremendously detail oriented and paper intensive. However, the position also requires an ability to entertain, win and retain clients and to bring in new accounts for the bank. In recent years the pressure to bring in business has increased as banks, like law firms, face increased economic hurdles.

After four years, David was promoted to Vice President. If he were to stay at the bank, he could pursue career paths in management or move laterally into a marketing oriented or financial (portfolio management) position. However, at this time David has mixed feelings about remaining in banking. It is very corporate, very image oriented, and requires you to conform to certain modes of behavior and a very corporate culture, he said. Other possible related career paths he is considering would include working for a foundation or as a director of planned giving in a hospital or academic environment.


Gail: Corporate Lawyer to Pasty Chef/Part-Time Lawyer

Some lawyers practice law on a full- or part-time basis and pursue an entirely different career after hours. Some of these lawyers have come to terms with the fact that they do not enjoy practicing law but accept it as a means of financing what they really do enjoy.

The concept behind moonlighting is that many of these lawyers are happier with their lives overall even if they do not enjoy the legal half of their day. Generally their goal is eventually to move completely away from the law if their new career becomes sufficiently lucrative. At a recent panel discussion on this topic, a member of the audience asked how it was humanly possible to practice law and moonlight at night. A panelist who does both responded that the sheer enjoyment of her moonlighting as an artist was energizing rather than exhausting.

Indeed many lawyers recently have come to the same conclusions. One notable example is Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent and Burden of Proof and partner at Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, who writes during his daily train commute to work.

Gail, like David, took the best offer she got after interviewing on-campus at law school. She became a corporate attorney at a large law firm in the Midwest. At first, the job was very exciting. She was involved in high profile transactions and enjoyed the financial perks and comfortable lifestyle afforded by life in a large law firm.

After several years she started to become unhappy with the practice of law. She was capable at this, but she basically had no deep-seated interest in finance or corporate law. Like many bright attorneys, she was doing well at her job but not moved by it.

Gail interviewed for a job in another area of the firm which did international corporate transactions. Again, she was interacting with high profile people, and traveled to Europe on business several times. Eventually, the same sense of dissatisfaction set in. She was still practicing corporate law, and becoming increasingly disinterested. At this point she had been working for the firm for seven years.

After considering (and rejecting) related positions, Gail finally decided to make the break. She gave notice and left her position with the law firm.

Gail then focused on what she liked to do outside of the practice of law, with the help of a career counselor. She had always been interested in writing, cooking and acting. She decided to enroll in a professional cooking school and started a year long course to become a pastry chef. She soon found herself happily immersed in the complexities of marzipan and butter cream frosting.

At the same time, as soon as she quit her job, new opportunities appeared. A former colleague and friend from the firm asked her to work part-time on several projects at a small private law firm. The theater group that she had been volunteering with asked her to cater one of their functions.

Like David, Gail has somewhat mixed feelings about her new life. She was very surprised, and gratified to find that leaving her job actually caused new, previously unanticipated opportunities to present themselves to her. She was amazed at the support (and sometimes envy) she received from her colleagues, her friends and her spouse.

However, she and her family have had to make some financial sacrifices and halfway through the year long course she has some doubts as to whether or not she wants to become a professional chef. Her feelings towards practicing law and giving up her high profile image are also unresolved. But she is more at peace with herself. Towards the end of my career as a full-time lawyer she was unable to sleep. For now, Gail has decided to stick with cooking school. And the results may be sweet indeed. The pastry course graduates have a one hundred percent employment rate. Gail may soon find many other lawyers joining her class.


Andrea: Government Lawyer to Journalist

One of the problems lawyers face in moving out of a traditional legal position is impatience. Yet slowing down can ultimately lead to a much more satisfying position. A move to a better quality of life with reduced work hours or a move to a non-legal position may need to be accomplished through a two- or three-step transition. For example, a corporate lawyer at an urban law firm who found the work tedious and the hours incompatible with raising two children was able to make a successful two-step transition. She first took her corporate skills to an in-house position in a corporation in a suburban area. After establishing herself within the corporation and making friends with the right people, she was able to network herself into a non-legal position doing corporate communications.

Once you are well-liked within an organization, your employers will be more predisposed to accommodate you than if you were to approach them cold from the outside.

The day that Ronald Reagan was shot in the shoulder changed Andrea's life forever. Andrea, who graduated from a top ten law school in the late seventies, had taken a job in Washington, D.C. with a large government agency.

She was busy at work one day when she learned that Ronald Reagan had been shot outside of the Hilton Hotel. Curious, she walked from her nearby office to the hospital. Reporters, television crews, and police officers were excitedly trying to get information and control the crowds. At that moment, Andrea, observing the reporters at work, realized with sudden clarity that she was observing her own life dream: to be a journalist. She left the crime scene, and never went back to her office.

Soon after that day she sent away for applications to journalism school, and was shortly accepted by Columbia University's prestigious program. After working for several women's magazines for a short time after graduating, she received an offer from a national newsmagazine to be a reporter. She has been working there ever since, covering legal issues and the Supreme Court for the magazine.

Andrea never looked back and never regretted her decision. Life is too short, she said. Her chosen profession, like all others, is not without drawbacks. It involves hours that are comparable with practicing law, and is somewhat less lucrative. But Andrea knows in her heart that she is doing what she loves best. She had the courage to follow her instincts and is now at the top of her chosen profession.

Excerpted from Jobs for Lawyers by Hillary Jane Mantis & Kathleen Brady (Impact Publications 1996).