I’ve been a lawyer for almost six years now, and there was one thing consistent about the first 4 years: I hated it. Without a doubt, or an “it’s not so bad,” I spent years straight hating being a lawyer. The issue was that I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do, so I stuck with it. I wasn’t always completely miserable (sometimes I was), but I was not fulfilled in any way. To rub salt in the wound, I almost dropped out of law school during my first semester. I stayed in after a professor told me that she thought my love for Legal Research and Writing would mean that I’d enjoy the practice of law.
I wondered for years if I’d made a $100,000 + interest mistake. But in 2014 I started making changes to my lifestyle and the boundaries that I set at work. Slowly but surely, I started to see improvement in how I felt toward my career. Because I know I’m not the only one who has said, “I hate being a lawyer,” I wanted to share what I’ve done to change my own mind. I hope these will help you as well.
For what it’s worth, I’m also much less emphatic when I tell people that I don’t recommend going to law school, despite still not thinking it’s a worthy investment for most people.
1) Working Out
I went to a 2 day long CLE at the end 2013 that had a session on self-care. It seemed silly to me at the time, but ethics credits are ethics credits, so I wasn’t about to leave early. She took a poll about who enjoyed the practice of law and who didn’t. She then asked us about our hobbies. “Hobbies??” I laughed. I work all day Monday through Friday and at least a half day on Saturday. My hobbies include surfing Pinterest and walking to the bar across the street from my house for happy hour when I don’t want to cook dinner.
But I began to notice a pattern. Almost every single person who said they did not hate being a lawyer worked out in some way. Some of them ran, some went to the gym, some did yoga… it didn’t matter what kind of work out, they all worked out. And the people who didn’t enjoy being a lawyer – no one considered working out a hobby or a priority. So I figured, “what the heck,” and gave it a try. I was making very little money at this point and could not justify a yoga membership. So I looked up my local YMCA, got a membership, and never looked back.
The YMCA I went to was adults only. I loved it. It had yoga, pilates, body pump, and Zumba that were super fun, plus a whole host of other group classes that I wasn’t brave enough to try. It’s also a full gym so even though I was rarely brave enough to use the weights, I would run, walk, or use the elliptical. Back then I didn’t have to wash my gym clothes after every use because I rarely got very sweaty. I wasn’t interested in losing weight or getting fit, and frankly, I’m a bit lazy. But it started to work.
Going to the gym after work created this invisible wall between work and home. Even if I thought about cases or marketing when I first arrived, by the end I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was able to go home at night and think about things I was actually interested in. Oddly, expending energy at the gym opened up energy for myself.
These days I have an unlimited monthly Barre membership. I also go running, albeit not very much during the winter. I definitely have to wash my gym clothes after each use. All of this to say, whether you work out a lot or just a little, it will help. Just get started.
2) Making Non-Lawyer Friends
It’s not easy to make friends outside of work when you’re an adult. But if you’re already semi-unhappy being a lawyer, and then only have friends from work, you’re going to end up even more burned out.
Friendships with colleagues are very important. You should have a trusted friend or two, with whom you can discuss struggles at work, questions you feel too dumb to ask your partners, or firm politics that have you down. The problem with lawyer friends is that, inevitably, you will start discussing only the law. Your brain needs a break from this all-consuming profession. When you branch out in your friendships, you will start to see that the whole world will not come crashing down if you take a night off from refreshing your email.
An hour long conversation over a cup of coffee, where no one talks about whether the drink is hot enough to hold the restaurant liable for a spill-burn, is way more refreshing than you’d ever realize. You can talk about hobbies (Remember those? You had them before law school), your family, the meal you were actually able to cook in your own kitchen recently, how long it’s been since you’ve done laundry, your recent attempt at gardening… anything. You can talk about anything that makes you a human being. Because here’s the deal, being a lawyer doesn’t define you. You can claim back what was important to you before it took over your life and made you miserable.
I’ve made non-lawyer friends at church (in fact, one walked into the coffee shop where I’m writing this just a few minutes after I arrived!), through a bible study hosted by a law school classmate where we’re the only lawyers, the Young Professional Network in my city, and the wives/girlfriends of the male lawyers that I met through legal networking events. Other places where I’ve heard grown-ups can make friends are adult sports leagues (think: dodgeball, ultimate frisbee, and the typical soccer and football options), book clubs and meet-up groups that meet to discuss or engage in things that interest you in your local area.
3) Massage & Chiropractor Visits
Sitting at a desk all day isn’t good for anyone. I’ve recently gotten a makeshift standing desk to see if it helps. My neck and shoulders basically always hurt. Thankfully, in 2014 I made a career shift and went in-house. Now I have good, affordable health insurance and sick time that I can use for doctor appointments. I only went to the chiropractor for a little while. I’m still not sure how I feel about them, so even though it objectively did improve my level of comfort, I haven’t been back in awhile.
But I’m a firm believer in massages. Finish a big trial? Get a massage. Turn in a huge appellate brief? Get a massage. Score a major client? Get a massage. Because here’s the deal…we might sit still most of the day, but our bodies are being twisted in positions that they really weren’t meant for. Plus, if you’ve started working out, the rest of your body is probably sore now too.
Go get the message. You’ll go back to work the next day without having to rub your shoulders or roll your neck every 60 minutes, and you’ll be happier.
4) Taking My Lunch Break
Now this one is probably the most controversial, and the hardest habit to keep! When I worked at a bigger firm, there was pride in the voices of people who boasted that they always worked through lunch. When you’re billing hours, every minute counts. But let’s be real. When you work through lunch, what do you do at 2 or 3:00? Do you walk around and talk to your co-workers? Do you hop onto Facebook to see what everyone else is up to? Do you google “I hate being a lawyer” or search for celebrity gossip?
Scientifically, your brain needs a break in the middle of the day. That’s why there are laws mandating that employees must take a lunch break! Don’t believe me? Check out this post on Buffer that cites to scientists and Harvard. Don’t think you have enough time for a break? Read this book that I reviewed last month.
You need a break. Not only do you need a break, you deserve a break. And so do your clients. When you let your brain rest, you will be able to come back and finish that important memo, motion, brief, pleading or phone call that’s due. It’s similar to how sleep allows your brain to process and retain the information you absorbed during the day. Don’t think you need sleep? I’ll let you chat with Arianna Huffington about that. You might be able to produce amazing work product, but your best work is going to come faster and easier when your brain has had a little rest.
I cannot even tell you how many times I sat in front of a word document while I ate a sandwich or piece of pizza. This method of eating lunch might be necessary when you have an important deadline, but it shouldn’t happen every day. Plus, when you have a designated lunch break, it’s a lot easier to resist the pull of social media, mindless chatter with your co-workers or games on your phone in the middle of the morning or when you’re just not in the mood to check your voicemail. Try taking designated breaks for a couple of weeks and only “slacking off” during those times. There’s a good chance that you’ll see, like me, that suddenly you’re less irritable, lawyerly thinking comes easier, and you’re able to leave the office an hour or more earlier every day.
Setting boundaries is incredibly important to our own mental health. It might be hard at first, but slowly implementing changes into your schedule, habits and self-care will eventually add up to you taking back the reigns on your own life.
You don’t have to hate being a lawyer. It might mean a change in your daily activities. It might mean a change in offices, areas or law, or type of practice (like me). But it will be worth the effort.
It’s going to be OK.
Are you someone who used to hate your career but now either love it or realized how to cope? I’m open to hearing your tips and tricks in the comments!