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After the Bar

Personal & Financial

How Stepping away from My Legal Career Brought Me Back

Gabina Loveday

How Stepping away from My Legal Career Brought Me Back
PeopleImages via iStock

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As new lawyers, we are told from the get-go that we may experience mental health issues and that the stress we find ourselves under can negatively impact our lives. We all know the statistics. None of us ever expects to be part of them.

When to Leave Your Job

After a series of rather unfortunate events, I realized I was at a job that made me unhappy. I was there for the sake of earning income. This job wasn’t a bad job. The duties and responsibilities of the job weren’t necessarily difficult. In fact, I had great coworkers. However, this job was soul-crushing. I would come home every day to a glass of wine and a long bath to forget the troubles I had dealt with in the office. And even then, an evening to myself wasn’t long enough to recharge. In the beginning, advocating for children seemed noble, but it became more heartbreaking than I could stand. I also had to deal with some clients who lacked care in their cases, even when I was at my wit’s end.

I knew I had hit my limit when I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that I could not continue this course. I had unhealthy coping mechanisms and knew that I needed to leave the situation as soon as I could. “As soon as I could” ended up being one week without a job to follow.

A lot of people are like my parents and other family members. They thought my decision to leave my job seemed like a terrible career move and life decision, especially for someone with my student debt load. Luckily, my husband supported me and my decision to look for a job after leaving my previous one. He had seen firsthand the stress I experienced from that job. He had faith that I would be able to find another, more fulfilling job.

The Unconventional Path through Starbucks

What neither of us could have predicted was that the job market wasn’t looking for the skills I had to offer, even after leaving a one-year-long clerkship with a district court. Instead, I was left waiting, sometimes for months on end, just to be turned down without ever having the chance to interview.

After almost a year of no luck, it was my husband who recommended I get a part-time job to get out of the house and make some money while I continued my search. I have always wanted to work at Starbucks, though I never thought I would have the opportunity to do so, especially after attending law school and choosing a legal career. In a surprising fashion, I was offered the job less than three days after I applied.

As I’m sure most people are aware, Starbucks is a very fast-paced job that is not as easy as people might think. This job forced me to be on my feet and undergo manual labor after spending years using a keyboard, some books, and my brain.

I never thought I would love the job as much as I did. When I started, I thought I would feel overworked and underpaid. Instead, it provided me a chance to be out in the world and give a little bit of happiness to others, which was the opposite of what I felt at my legal job.

A Much-Needed Break

This break was everything I could have asked for and more. I got a break from strenuous mental activity; I was no longer in charge of the lives of others. I was just in charge of providing cups of coffee to customers, and that was a much-appreciated and needed change.

At the end of the day, I felt refreshed, and I had a renewed sense of enjoyment for the career I had put on hold. I found a love for leadership and teaching others on the job that I wouldn’t have otherwise gained, and I got to focus on the little things.

Listen to Your Body and Mind

Simply put, if you just trust in yourself and trust in the idea that not everyone’s career is linear, you will find happiness and fulfillment, maybe even in a Starbucks near you.

It's not to say that this journey was an easy one. I was often filled with self-doubt. I worried about why I wasn’t getting far in the job search. I asked myself why I was settling for a minimum-wage job when I had a JD. All I could do was persevere, and it brought me to where I am today. I excelled at my job with Starbucks, I got a much-needed confidence boost, and I got a long enough break from law practice. That break from the law afforded me time to wait for a legal job that was worth it.

When my fellow law school classmates were in the third year of their legal careers, some were no longer practicing, and some wished they were no longer in law practice. All the while, I found a newfound love for the law while serving coffee, and I hope my personal story of taking a step away from the law shows others that it is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s listening to and taking care of your body and mind so you may continue your career at your own pace.