The best choice is not always the easiest choice. Leaving any endeavor into which you have put a lot of effort creates anxiety. Focus on your new goals and prepare your exit. The exit is never a clean one. No matter how carefully you plan, you may not think of everything or everyone. However, that should be your goal. View it as preparing for your last case. Get a handle on all the variables and issues. Overlooking them might lead to unpleasant surprises. You do not want any surprises. Deal with them now.
Starting with You
The first variable to deal with is you. No matter how much you dislike you current situation, it does give your life a certain amount of comfort and structure. You know where you will be going tomorrow. You may not like it, but you will know where you are going. That is worth something. This will change. You are leaving the profession and moving into a new career. Understand that there is going to be a time of transition, a transition period that might be uncomfortable. You feel like you are losing your status, or your autonomy, or your sense of professionalism. This lasts as long as you let it. Do not let it hamper your work to develop a new career.
You are ready to face the challenges of a new career, but what about your family? The decision to exit the legal profession must be yours. However, as I said earlier, that does not mean ignoring the feelings of your spouse and family.
Next Comes Family
Your family has a lifestyle and routine built, in large part, on your career as an attorney. Like you, they may not like it. However, they are used to it. Do not take them by surprise. Talk to them about what you need to do. Do not merely tell them you want to quit. Tell them of your plans. The more they see that you have thought about and planned your course of action, the more comfortable they will feel. Give them time to get used to the idea. Maybe they will not need it, but maybe they will. Your career was one source of their security. Be firm about your decision, but listen to their concerns. It is a lot easier if you are all in this together.
My husband hated his job. He hated being a lawyer. He wanted to run his own business. He wanted his own restaurant. But, he stayed in law for us. He didn't want to upset our lives. He wasn't doing us a favor. We wanted him to quit. He didn't like what was happening to him. When he finally did quit, it was difficult for us at first, financially, because we had to use some of the savings to start the business. But, it was worth it. He is a completely different person. He smiles. He laughs. He had not done that in a long time. I only regret he didn't leave sooner.
-Wife of a seafood restaurant owner (also business partner, menu planner, and fill-in waitress)
Make sure that they and you understand the financial situation. Many times, the family members mistakenly think they have no safety net or financial cushion. They needlessly worry because the exiting attorney failed to inform them of the stock of capital. Also, by telling them, this insures that you have taken into consideration this situation. You need a financial plan for the transition period. Everybody must understand what that plan is.
Quit the Business, Not Your Clients
Make sure your clients have an attorney they can utilize. Contact each one of them, in writing, and let them know you will no longer be practicing law. Give them a list of attorneys they can call. Be careful to let them and their future attorney develop the lawyer-client relationship. Do not do it through your letter. This could create problems if something goes wrong between the client and the new attorney. Again, do what it takes to make everyone happy and not just what the law requires. You will sleep better at night without the ghosts of the past haunting you.
Take the time and get all of the files in order for the new attorney. Your clients paid your mortgage through the years. Make sure you take care of them. Keep copies of important files. You never know when something might come up and you will need some information.
Better ask twice than lose your way once.
Breaking Up Might Be Hard to Do
If you are a partner, do not forget your duties to your partner or partners. You have both legal and moral ones. Again, communicating with those affected by your decision is the key. Discuss with them what you want to do. Understand what they need from you. Make sure you have protected their interests. Do this regardless of whether the law obligates you to do anything. You owe them that much, and probably a lot more.
Recognize, too, that your malpractice insurance is a claims-made policy. This protects you only against those claims made in the year in which the policy is in force; regardless of when the alleged malpractice occurred. So, you must keep a policy in force until the statute of limitations has run out for any potential claim. Talk with your insurance carrier about coverage for the nonpracticing attorney. Most insurance companies have programs that are relatively inexpensive. Get a few quotes to find out what is going on. Make sure your partner or partners, if you have any, keep you up to date on any potential problems. Forewarned is forearmed.
My partners were stunned when I told them I wanted to leave law. But, when they heard my reasons, they knew there was no convincing me otherwise. Besides, I had a good situation lined up. It was a good, clean break. We unwound everything. Everybody got treated fairly. We are still friends. And, I'm doing what I want to do with my life.
-Attorney turned entrepreneur
Before we leave this area, let me raise one more issue. Many attorneys feel they can have the best of both worlds and ease the transition by practicing law on a part-time basis. They make a little money while they are working on their new career. This sounds like a good idea. It really is not. Practicing law and starting a new career are both activities that require your focused attention. If you try to do both, you will do both poorly. I know I will get some disagreement on this. I personally know some attorneys that have gone this route. The stress was worse than when they just practiced law full-time. Employing the strategy is easier when you focus on just one goal. You might be different and many people disagree with me on this point. However, I strongly suggest you avoid this course of action.