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Staying Sane While Transitioning in Your Career

Eleanor Kay Southers


  • Each attorney must decide exactly how to make a dynamic change without harming his or her well-being.
  • Morphing is staying in law-related fields but doing something different like becoming a mediator, coach, consultant, solo attorney, expert witness, or virtual law/technology consultant.
  • A strategy for morphing can help attorneys save time, identify the elements of a new career, and consider thoughtful questions about the ideal salary, work space, company culture, and other factors.
Staying Sane While Transitioning in Your Career
Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

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Lately, we have been experiencing a great period of movement in attorneys’ careers. The underlying reasons for this are varied but include the fact that high student loans have forced young lawyers to take high-paying but stressful jobs. One day they wake up and figure out how to change their careers to achieve a more appropriate work-life balance.


In my coaching I find that many attorneys become bored or dissatisfied with their jobs after practicing for six to eight years. I call this a wish to morph, which is staying in law-related fields but doing something different. Many are looking for more satisfying work where they can fulfill their dream of service and influence. Sometimes the need to make a huge salary has diminished. To give you some idea of how this works, these are a few of the morphing careers available:

  • mediator and/or arbitrator
  • coach (me)
  • consultant in one’s area of expertise
  • virtual law/technology consultant
  • expert witnesses
  • contract attorney
  • book author or legal reporter
  • teacher, either in a law school or a community college
  • owner of a small business
  • administrative law judge
  • solo attorney
  • attorney with a firm that has a life-affirming culture

COVID-19 not only has also made a huge impact on the way we work, but it also has given rise to rethinking how and why the workplace should be changed. Hundreds of attorneys who had never worked from home are now doing so and loving it. There is going to be a whole world of lawyers doing their jobs differently if they can swing it.

Then each attorney must decide exactly how to make a dynamic change without harming his or her well-being. To keep your stress at its lowest level, the first step is to make sure you are making the right career transition. Avoid wasting time, energy, and money by picking areas that are not the right fit for you. This is where we first look to retain our mental health while moving toward a different goal in life.

Fortunately, I have some suggestions about this.

A Strategy for Morphing

Most of the attorneys I work with are attempting to change in some significant way. I have been down the path with them in doing this successfully and not so successfully. Through the pain of not choosing the right morph and increased stress, I have come up with a system that seems to work much better than the way I was previously doing it. It goes something like this:

  • Explore the elements of what a “perfect career” would look like.
  • Define the elements of what your present position provides.
  • Don’t try to pigeonhole those thoughts into a real job or change right now.
  • Recognize this takes time. Moving too fast is deadly at this point.
  • Don’t get too many people involved in this process. Doing this is a lonely job and should be.
  • Take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality/temperament test and come up with your own temperament style, which will be four letters. You can do this for free at the HumanMetrics website. (Don’t get involved in their paid stuff.) The test results are not written in stone but can be very useful.
  • Once you have identified your “elements,” you will want to make sure they are valid. For example, maybe you have been traveling to the office and are hating the commute. Is that because you also are not happy once you get to the office? What if it were a joy to travel a reasonable distance and arrive at an office filled with friendly people and a great culture?
  • Carefully analyze your elements, then prioritize them. Figure out which ones are the most important and which ones could be negotiated.

For examples of what these elements might be, I’ve come up with a few ideas. There are many more you might come up with. Mine are:

  • How would you describe your ideal company culture?
  • What is your ideal salary? How much is rock-bottom salary?
  • What would your ideal work environment look like?
  • What kind of people will you be working with? Include staff, if any.
  • What temperament and attributes will your boss have? What type of management style should that person have?
  • What is the ideal structure of the business? Corporate? Big? (How big?) Small? (How small?)
  • How far are you willing to travel?
  • How generous do you want your benefits to be? (Be specific.)
  • How much responsibility do you want? What decisions do you want to participate in?
  • What kind of future do you want to be available to you?
  • What does your work space look like?
  • What kinds of issues do you want to be working on?
  • What is your purpose at work?
  • Do you want to leave the law altogether?

If you are contemplating opening a solo law practice, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are your ideal areas of practice? Describe them.
  • What range of income do you need now?
  • What range of income would you like to attain in three years?
  • What is your ideal office situation? Off-site office? Home office? Something else?
  • Will you have staff? Now? Later?
  • How big do you want your practice to be this year? How many cases? How big do you want it to be one year from now?
  • What would your best client look like? Describe this client in detail.
  • How much do you consider reasonable overhead for the first year?
  • How many working hours a week would be ideal? What is reasonable for a start-up?

If you have decided that the law is not right for you, then your questions might look more like this:

  • What am I passionate about?
  • What time in my life was I the happiest? Doing what?
  • What income do I need to live a comfortable life?
  • Do I want to work with people or alone?
  • What would be my best work environment?
  • How many hours a week do I want to work?
  • How much control do I want over what I’m doing?
  • What is meaningful about my work?
  • Do I want to influence anyone or any group? Which ones?
  • What would I have to give up to have my “dream job”?
  • Are there important circumstances that I need to take care of that require change?

An Example of Morphing

Let me give you an example of how this works.

The attorney is a fifth-year associate in a big firm. He has been unable to get on the partner track because of several factors, including the fact that he lost his sponsor. His billable hours are getting more difficult to meet as he becomes less interested in his area of law (construction defect). He sees that milking the cases has become a part of his job and hates that. He makes a very good salary, although it has not increased after he reached his fourth year. He has a wife and a four-year-old child. He has savings and is living comfortably but still working 60 hours a week.

He would like to change to a more satisfying career but hasn’t a clue what that would be. With my help, we begin his journey. First, we find that his Myers-Briggs temperament is I(introversion) F(feeling) S(sensing) J(judging). An attorney with this temperament, if in the correct field, would do well—perhaps a solo who could control his time. But we don’t stop there. He goes through the elements and finds that he wants a job that is meaningful to him. A job where he is working directly with people in need. He doesn’t mind traveling a reasonable distance. He wants a job that has rules and boundaries.

He becomes less stressed as we narrow down to the specific course he should follow. When we reach a couple of good possibilities, he can relax and visualize what the alternatives might be.

When it becomes obvious what the right direction is for you, the hard work begins of analyzing how to get there. A “Benjamin Franklin Technique” is used to plot the good and not good aspects of your choice side by side. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, put GOOD, and on the other side, NOT GOOD. Then, side by side, fill out the good, bad, and ugly truth about the choice. You can now create a specific strategic plan to test these ideas. Do not decide to actually spend the time and energy on a job choice and search until positive results can be forecast.

Maintain a Low-Stress Morph

Each step of the way, we make sure that the stress factor is as low as possible. We have found a method that works by coming as close as possible to making a big change less onerous. We can forestall some of the obvious challenges as the search progresses by identifying them and planning how to confront them. This will lessen the tension as we start actually moving toward our goals.

What about all the good advice we have received about how to reduce anxiety and stress in our daily lives? This is the time to put that in high gear. Calendar when and how you are spending your time to get necessary tasks done. Prioritize those tasks so that the important ones are maintaining your momentum. Calendar break times, meal times, work time, and family/friends time. Keep up the meditation schedule. All this will reduce your stress and increase your well-being.

Using this technique anytime you are contemplating a substantial change will provide you with a whole new set of options—which will keep you sane and healthy!