“I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I went to law school and am now in my first job…but something seems amiss. Do I even want to practice law? Why did I go to law school?!”
Slow down. We encounter this a lot. Sometimes these thoughts start occurring in the first year, but for many we see it happen in the first five years. Nine times out of ten, you’re just in the wrong practice area. You may have taken a job due to other factors like compensation, location, or because you were familiar with the firm and already knew some of their attorneys. Few attorneys are allowed to cherry pick exactly what they practice right out of law school. Where you fit best in the legal market is a process of discovery.
Start by asking yourself: Litigation or Transactional? Sometimes I hear attorneys call this the “front end of the deal” (transactional) verses “the aftermath” (litigation). Transactional lawyers tend to get satisfaction from watching deals come together, working on teams, and helping their clients achieve business goals. Litigation attorneys tend to enjoy solving complex problems and don’t mind when things get really stressful. They like debate and enjoy competition. I have also seen attorneys who find that they like both. Litigators who start handling transactional work once they go in-house will tell you that their litigation experience serves them well in drafting contracts and other deal work. Once attorneys see things come apart, they understand the fault lines and can avoid them from the beginning.
Here’s the good news: there are steps you can take to work towards a legal career that is fulfilling and right for you!