Career Change and Money

Whenever attorneys consider any type of career change, whether minor or major, the issue of money inevitably comes up. That’s hardly surprising.  Often, the changes being contemplated require some sort of financial sacrifice, at least in the short term. Some require short-term and long-term sacrifice.

For purposes of this post, I consider a career change to mean, among other things, a modification of a practice area, switching work environments, going solo, or even getting out of law.

Don’t Let Money Interfere Too Much

Far too many lawyers let the money aspect of any career change get in the way of making the best choice. Risk-avoiding lawyers are often unwilling to assume any risk, no matter how reasonable it appears on paper. This is unfortunate. These lawyers never get to experience working in areas that may turn out to be more satisfying and lucrative in the long run.

Complete Failure is Unlikely

Lawyers seem to always assume the worst. This is why money issues scare many away from career change. When you assume the worst, the concern becomes when you will run out of money, not if you will run out of money.

Keep Your Perspective

When considering any career change, envision the difference between a home run and a strike out. The most likely outcome of swinging the bat will be a single — or perhaps a double. What does that look like? Can you live with that? Probably yes. Too many lawyers, however, don’t think that they’ll get to first base. As a result, they play it safe, stay in the dugout and remain miserable.

You Can Live On Less

Others may be more confident that the planned career change will work. However, they don’t want to consider living a more frugal lifestyle.  Too many lawyers focus on what it might be like living on less, while completely forgetting that this probably won’t last for long.

Alternatively, they assume that tightening their belts for a short period of time will be intolerable.  Think about past times where your disposable income was reduced for reasons such as paying for child care, taking out a big mortgage, or paying for your children’s college.  Did the world come to an end? I doubt it. Moreover, the benefit was usually worth the cost. Sadly, many attorneys do not apply the same calculus when the benefit of a career change is a more successful practice.

Change Brings Opportunity

Another factor that lawyers often fail to consider is that planned career change can sometimes lead to an unanticipated opportunity. I’ve met plenty of lawyers who made changes in either their practice areas or where they practiced law and in essence, became the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. This could occur, for example, as a result of new legislation or a court decision. In this scenario, the attorney actually makes more money than ever anticipated.

Take a Chance!

An often-repeated adage states, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you the kind of misery you prefer.” Don’t settle for the misery of your present legal career.  Take a rational risk.

(photo: 3d illustration of dollar from Shutterstock)

Legal Careers

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  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    I’ve made several career changes, from changing practice areas (consumer law to representing startups) to starting or acquiring new businesses (Lawyerist, Bitter Lawyer). Each time, I ask myself two questions:

    1. What’s the worst that could happen? Is that really so bad?
    2. What’s the most-likely outcome?

    Usually, the worst-case scenario is something like not making any money and going out of business with some debt, in which case I would have to get a normal job. Even in this economy, that’s not such a bad outcome.

    I also try to be realistic about the most-likely outcome, as it’s rarely getting rich. Usually, the most-likely outcome is making a decent income. Which I’m okay with, but never satisfied with. Still, it’s a starting point.

    Finally, it should be obvious, but take care of your current clients, first. Make sure you wind up your representation in a way that meets the client’s needs, or get them to a new lawyer in a way that won’t leave them at a disadvantage.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewsalzwedel Matthew Salzwedel

    “‘Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you the kind of misery you prefer.’” Indeed.

  • http://cogentlegal.com/blog/ Morgan C. Smith

    Thank you for getting this message out to attorneys. It’s something I care about and advocate, having gone through a major career change midway through my career–which was one of the most difficult, scary, challenging, but ultimately important and rewarding (not necessarily in the monetary sense but in the satisfaction sense) things I’ve ever done. I left a boutique law firm I co-founded after more than a decade to branch out in an area that combines my passion for litigation with art and technology, and I founded a litigation graphics and trial strategy firm. The one piece of advice I’d add to your column above is: consider taking a break before making the change. I pulled the plug on my regular life and raided my savings to spend almost a full year traveling the world with my wife and two kids (and “road schooling” my kids along the way) to really contemplate my next career step while having extreme quality time as a family. I know not everyone can do this, but taking a break to me is key to re-evaluating your values and determining your career path. Also, you learn that you can indeed live on the cheap and get by with few possessions (as we did while traveling). Thanks again for this great column.

  • Jay

    Inspirational article for certain. The key though was the phase “Take a rational risk.” I think many people would like to make a changed and can identify the risk. But, you need to plan for success, and separately plan if you do not have success, at least immediately. The hard part is determining how you will handle failure, expecially if you have a family to support.