Last Friday I received an email from my friend Susan – entirely out of the blue – telling me that she had just given notice to her firm and would be taking a new position as a non-practicing attorney. She offered to submit my resume to replace her in her current position.
I was flattered by her offer to support my application, but floored by her decision to leave practice.
I had to ask myself: why would someone who I consider to have a stellar career, choose to leave the law behind?
We decided to have dinner together on Monday night so that I could hear all about her new job, and so that she could fill me in about the associate position she was leaving behind.
Susan and I have known each other for years. I wouldn’t consider her a close friend, but we see each other fairly regularly at intellectual property law conferences, and go out for drinks or dinner on our own once or twice each year. When I first met Susan, she had just left a large law firm, where she worked immediately after graduating law school, to join a boutique intellectual property law firm. She was excited that her responsibilities would be more specialized and hoped that the lifestyle would be easier. Unfortunately, her tenure there was brief and she was let go after two years as the firm went through some significant changes. She struggled and was out of work for nearly six months before networking her way in to a fabulous position as a mid-level associate at a mid-sized law firm, prized for its intellectual property law practice.
She has been in her current position for nearly three years. And for nearly three years, I have been envious.
But the truth of the matter is, I am not sure that Susan was ever really happy there. We’ve commiserated over cocktails a few times over the years and I know that she had been trying very hard – as I have – to secure an in-house counsel position.
So why the sudden change? Why not stay where she is and keep trying for that coveted in-house spot?
Over dinner I learned that this new position fell in her lap. She had gotten a cold call from a recruiter asking if she was interested in leaving practice. A company that provides resources to attorneys and law firms was looking for an intellectual property attorney to join a team developing a product targeted at intellectual property lawyers and law firms. She agreed to an interview and ultimately received an offer.
She felt that she had always worked so hard to look for new positions. This one came about so easily, that she felt compelled to lunge at it.
But she seems so scared. Is this the right decision? Will she be happier? Will this path ultimately lead her to a more fulfilling career and home life?
What I do know now is that Susan hates being a lawyer. In her current position, she focuses her practice on such a narrow area so as to avoid larger legal issues. She said that the partners would likely want her replacement to take a broader initiative, and that my wide range of experience could serve as an asset in the selection process. She said that she knew, from her first year in law school, that she didn’t want to be a lawyer.
Yet, she still pursued the profession, and has done remarkably well for herself. After eight years of practice, why leave now?
Susan told me that her plan was always to leave practice. She had hoped to work in-house first, to see if she found that more fulfilling; if she didn’t, she would leave practice then. But the opportunity to go in-house hasn’t presented itself, and this position has. It isn’t her dream job; she doesn’t really know what she would want to be if not a lawyer. But it is a good job, and the work sounds interesting and different.
She said that she feels she owes it to herself to see what life is like outside of law practice.
Just as I feel that I would owe it to myself to succeed her in her current position, if the offer was made.
Disclaimer: I have changed my friend’s name to protect her privacy.