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Leaving The Law: A Risky Career Change Toward Passion

By Eric Reed

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) --The day I told the law firm that I was leaving was one of the best and most frightening of my entire life. On the long walk up to meet my supervising partner I had the vague sense that I was doing something wrong, like being sent to the principal's office for some reason you can't quite name. On my last elevator ride down from the 22nd floor I kept repeating to myself over and over again, "I really, really hope this works."

For the first time in my life I felt like I'd rolled the dice in a huge way.

Last winter I decided to end my career as a litigator with a large firm. My work dealt with securities and white collar crime; if you ended up in court because of a financial transaction, someone like me was usually in the background. It made me incredibly unhappy. Although it took three years of law school, over a hundred thousand dollars in borrowed money and one brutal exam to get there, once I was in the front door all I wanted to do was claw my way back out.

I wasn't nearly alone. A survey by the American Lawyer back in 2010 revealed that nearly two in three attorneys want to leave their firms, hoping to escape from jobs that the Syracuse Law Review once called "high paid misery." Even the usually sunny Australians get into the act, with their Lawyer's Weekly reporting a staggering 15 % depression rate across the profession. As any associate attorney will tell you, those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

For most lawyers, myself included, the biggest problem is the hours. They never ended. They couldn't end. In the law your hours are what you sell. "Biglaw" firms bill the client for every six minutes someone spends touching their case, measured precisely. Those six minutes are what the partners make their money off of, not what you produce during them. In the same way that Coke produces fizzy drinks and Apple sells phones, a lawyer's product is his time, and the firm tries very hard to sell as much of it as possible.
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