Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Lawyers in Transition Toolkit - Part Three When is it Time to Make a Change?

lawyers in transitionTiming is always important, but when it comes to making a career move it can mean the difference between failure and success.

Do it too early, and you might find yourself in professional limbo. Wait too late, and you risk facing a personal or professional crisis.

It’s all about timing.

“Choosing to leave a job can be a gut-wrenching decision,” says Travis Bradberry in Entrepreneur. “You need to know that you’re making the right choice. The good news is there are some clear signs that – if you experience enough of them – suggest it’s time to move on.”

Following are four signs that suggest the time is right for a change.

Your Practice Feels Like a Prison

Is your practice thriving? Is it headed in the right direction? Attracting the best and brightest talent? Do you feel you’re contributing to this success?

If you answered yes to these questions, you’re in a good place and might want to enjoy the ride a bit longer.

If you answered no, here are some likely reasons:

  • Your practice isn’t growing.
  • Morale is low and turnover high.
  • You’re having trouble making ends meet.
  • You’d rather be doing something else.
  • You worry about cutbacks, layoffs or downsizing.
  • A merger or acquisition has changed (or threatens to change) the personality of the practice.
  • You see little room for professional growth and advancement.
  • You feel trapped.
  • You’ve got a bad boss.
  • The work environment is toxic.
  • Your opinions don’t matter and your suggestions are ignored.

You spend the majority of your waking hours at work. You owe it to your clients, your colleagues and your family to make that time productive and pleasant.

Mostly you owe it to yourself.

You’re Bored

You show up every morning. You go through the motions. You accomplish your assigned tasks.

But there’s no spark. Your law life doesn’t light you up. It’s something you do, not something you love.

It’s easy to slip into a rut, but your time is too precious to be spent watching youtube videos, texting friends and dreaming of being elsewhere.

“This is not brain science,” writes Kathy Caprino in Forbes. “The clearest sign that you need is a change is how you feel about the work you’re doing every day. The majority of the time, are you feeling unhappy, depressed, thwarted, bored, misunderstood, mistreated? Do you feel that the ‘real you’ just can’t come out in this job, and the way you love to work isn’t honored or respected? Do you wonder how you ever ended up here and fantasize daily about doing something very different? Don’t be in denial about your feelings – they’re pointing you to a very real situation that needs to be dealt with.”

Your Health is Declining

If you’re feeling stressed or exhausted, you might simply need a break. Take some time off for recreation and renewal.

But if your health problems are chronic and persistent – headaches, ulcers, acid reflux, weight gain or loss, insomnia, frequent illnesses, mental dullness – you could be experiencing job burnout. Or worse. Your body might be telling you it’s time for a change.

Your Game Is Slipping

You’re having trouble staying up on your cases. Little mistakes tend to happen more frequently. You lack enthusiasm or energy for work that would have excited you previously.

Pay attention to these and similar warning signs. They might be gentle prods that it’s time for a transition.

Do it before you get sued for malpractice, reported to the State Bar or asked by your partners to exit the practice.

Five Practice Tips for Knowing When It’s Time

  1. Take a one-year view. In their 2005 best-seller Winning, authors Jack and Suzy Welch suggest looking ahead one year when assessing your professional future. “[A] year is about how long it takes to find a new, better job,” says this article in Business Insider. “They suggest trying to look forward to 12 months from now and picturing where you’ll most likely be in the organization, what work you’ll be doing, who you’ll be managing, and who will be managing you. If that scenario strikes you with anything short of excitement, then you’re spinning your wheels.”
  2. Look in the mirror. Are you still enthused about your work and engaged in your practice? What is your gut telling you?
  3. Watch for red flags. Do you dread Mondays? Do even little things feel overwhelming? Are you less patient and forgiving – of yourself and others?
  4. Shake things up. Maybe what you need is a change of scenery, fewer cases, a new practice focus.
  5. Talk with someone. Sometimes others can see things about us that we can’t see ourselves. Get feedback from colleagues or loved ones. Seek professional help if needed.
Check out part one of this blog series here. If you missed part two, no worries you can check it out here!


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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