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Risky Business: Avoiding Risk Might Be the Riskiest Thing You Can Do

Ashley Hallene


  • When lawyers get out of their comfort zone, they can find fulfillment and purpose in their work. Taking risks can help you learn more about yourself, your values, and your priorities.
  • Avoiding risk can lead to limited personal growth, missed opportunities, lack of innovation, and increased fear and anxiety.
  • Taking a risk is often a necessary step in pursuing personal growth and achieving success in various aspects of life.
Risky Business: Avoiding Risk Might Be the Riskiest Thing You Can Do
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Most lawyers will tell you they are risk averse. After all, a good part of our job is to mitigate the risk that our clients are taking, whether it is the risk of starting a new venture, going to trial, settling, or any combination of situations. We are skilled at analyzing the scenario, identifying the facts in our favor, and recognizing the pitfalls. Still, sometimes we fail to turn that analytical mindset on ourselves. This is our comfort zone. Here is a story of a lawyer who found her comfort zone working in-house for a company.

A Lawyer’s Parable of Personal Growth

Once upon a time, there was a lawyer named Sarah who worked at a company. When she started at the company, Sarah believed she was on a path with rapid growth potential (“the sky was the limit”). But the longer she forged on at the company, the more she found herself feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. She spent long hours at the office, working on matters of little importance and feeling disconnected from the path she thought she was on.

One day, Sarah realized the corporate ladder that she thought she was climbing was an illusion. When she challenged the company to explain why the opportunity she was brought in for was no longer there, the company responded, “It doesn’t matter, where else are you going to go?” Keep in mind, not every company wants their employees to feel trapped, but the higher-ups at this company prioritized their own interests over their employees’ well-being. In this case, however, the company miscalculated. There is always somewhere you can go. Sarah left the company, taking the skills she had honed there, and began working for herself. She quickly learned that working for herself offered new challenges and limitless possibilities. She could work from home, set her own schedule, and be there for her family.

As she looked back on her career, Sarah realized that her decision to leave the comforts of the corporate world and forge her own path was a turning point. It led her down a path of personal growth and transformation that has allowed her to find fulfillment and purpose in her work as a lawyer.

Risk Aversion Is Also Risky

The funny thing is, you actually risk a lot by staying in your comfort zone. Dangers include:

  • Limited personal growth. When you stay too long in your comfort zone, you tend to avoid new experiences and challenges that could help you develop new skills. Over time, this leads to stagnation and limits your personal and professional growth potential.
  • Missed opportunities. By sticking to what you know, you may miss out on new and exciting opportunities that could enhance your life or career. Stepping outside of your comfort zone can open doors to new experiences, relationships, and career paths.
  • Increased fear and anxiety. While staying in your comfort zone may feel safe and familiar, it can also lead to increased fear and anxiety about the unknown. This can cause you to avoid new experiences, which can limit your personal and professional growth.
  • Lack of innovation. Comfort zones can become a breeding ground for complacency. When you’re comfortable with the way things are, you may not feel the need to innovate or try new things. This can be a disadvantage in today’s rapidly changing world, where innovation and creativity are highly valued.

So, you risk something by staying in your comfort zone, and you risk something by stepping out of it. Which one has the potential to help you most in the end? The biggest reason we don’t take risks in our personal and professional life is fear. Taking risks often involves facing and overcoming fear.

Evaluating Risk

Here are some steps to help you evaluate personal risk:

  • Assess your financial stability. Start by reviewing your budget, including your income, expenses, and debts. Consider how leaving your job or changing your practice might affect your financial stability and determine whether you have a sufficient safety net in place. Your emergency fund should cover unexpected expenses such as medical bills and car repairs.
  • Consider the job market. Research the job market in your field and the demand for your skills. Consider the likelihood of finding a new job quickly and whether the new job will offer similar pay and benefits. If you are hanging out your shingle, consider your experience and your network of contacts. Your network should include other lawyers, potential clients, and referral sources to build your new practice.
  • Evaluate your skills. Con- sider your skills and experience and how they might be transferable to a new role. Personal and professional transitions can be daunting, but it is important to remember that the skills and experience you have gained in the past can be valuable assets in your future. Nothing you have done before is a waste of time. Many skills are transferable across different industries and roles. For example, lawyers are highly skilled in communication, problem-solving, and project management. These skills are highly valued in many different fields.
  • Consider the impact on your personal life. Consider how leaving your job might impact your personal life, including your relationships and stress levels. The change may affect your income for a while and may require you to alter your lifestyle. Changing careers may demand more of your time during the transition. You may feel anxious, uncertain, or overwhelmed during the transition, which can affect your mood and relationships. Moving to a new city may require you to meet new people.
  • Consider the long-term impact. If you are leaving a job, think about how leaving might impact your future career prospects and financial stability. On the upside, leaving a job may lead to new opportunities that were not available in your earlier role. You may have the chance to take on new challenges and learn new skills. On the downside, leaving your current job without explanation may hurt your reputation and make it more difficult to find opportunities. If you do not have another job lined up, you may have a gap in employment that can make finding new opportunities difficult.
  • Seek advice. Talk to trusted friends, family members, or advisors about your decision. Look for a mentor in the area you think you would like to land. Mentors can provide valuable advice and guidance based on their own experiences in the change you are interested in pursuing. This applies not only to your career but also to entering a serious relationship, marriage, becoming a parent, and more. For a career change, speak with professionals in the industry. Start at LinkedIn and see if anyone in your network is in the industry.

Risk and personal growth are closely intertwined. Taking a risk is often a necessary step in pursuing personal growth and achieving success in various aspects of life. Successfully navigating a risky situation can boost your confidence and self-esteem. Taking risks also involves the possibility of failure. However, failure can be a valuable learning experience and provide opportunities for growth and improvement.

Taking risks can also help you learn more about yourself, your values, and your priorities. Take command of your journey, and don’t be afraid to change course.

This will be GPSolo’s final Rōnin Reports column. Future issues of the magazine will feature a new column exploring the particular needs and interests of solos and small firm lawyers. The GPSolo Editorial Board would like to thank Benjamin K. Sanchez for ten years of amazing Rōnin Reports columns and 12 years of dedicated service on the Editorial Board.