Fact. If I had a penny for every single time a lawyer told me they’re unhappy in their current role I’d be rich and could take early retirement.

The sad truth is that so many lawyers (including lots of my contemporaries) fall out of love with the profession quite soon after qualification. But most stick with it – simply to conform. That should hardly come as a surprise given the traditional career paths enjoyed by previous generations when partnership was much easier to achieve and when loyalty towards an employer guaranteed greater job security.

Thinking back to the mid-1990s, when I secured my training contract with Linklaters I immediately started looking ahead and pictured myself as a future partner. The thought of leaving Linklaters or indeed changing careers didn’t occur to me for even just a second. But as I approached 3-years’ PQE I decided to quit law and moved into legal journalism.

I’m not suggesting that if your current role is making you miserable you should just throw the towel in and change careers. But successful career management does require a degree of self-awareness and acceptance that a change may be for the best. The next step is taking control by being proactive and setting positive and realistic goals.

Change can of course take many forms. For some of you switching employers may be just the tonic. For others moving from private practice to in-house or into a professional support lawyer role may be more suitable.

If that doesn’t grab you and you yearn for something completely different then a good starting point is to look at non-lawyer positions in the legal sector. The ones I come across most frequently are support roles within law firms, including HR, L&D, legal ops, PR and business development. Legal recruitment is also super popular (although this is obviously more challenging in the current economic climate) and then there’s the route I took, which is journalism. Another one is teaching on the LLB, GDL or LPC.

A more radical step would be to leave the sector altogether, which although sounds scary, seems to be growing in popularity. For example, former lawyers in my network have switched to management consultancy, medicine, secondary school teaching or have joined start-ups or indeed launched their own businesses.

However, before making any rash decisions it’s worth thinking about some of the following:

  • What aspects of your current job do you enjoy/dislike?
  • What is preventing you from looking for a new role? Are they genuine barriers or simply psychological ones you’ve created in your head?
  • If money were no object then what would your dream job be?
  • What are your short, medium and long-term career and life goals?
  • What are your key strengths and transferrable skills and can you demonstrate them convincingly to a new employer?
  • Do you need to re-train? Are their any fast-track courses you can enrol on to update your current qualifications or to gain new ones? If you have to go back to university could you cope financially?
  • What is your attitude to risk?
  • What are your current financial commitments and can you afford to take a cut in your salary? If so, what minimum starting salary is acceptable to you?
  • How does your family feel about you changing jobs/careers?
  • How do you feel starting from the bottom of the career ladder and being managed by someone who is potentially younger than you?
  • Who in your current network of contacts is worth turning to for help?

The above list is not exhaustive and merely includes suggestions that can be used to start discussions with people around you who can offer support and guidance.

For some, changing jobs or careers is slow and complex process. It can be also be mentally exhausting so you may wish to work with a career coach.

By Husnara Begum, Associate Career Coach and Contributing Editor