Quitting BigLaw: Part III – Some Practical Tips

Okay, back to my regularly scheduled program.

In the first two parts of this series, I provided some reality-checking approaches that may be helpful in think through the decision to jump off the StairMaster.

If you conclude that you are ready to take the leap, here are a few practical tips on making the transition.

  • Resist the seduction of a leave of absence offer – When you give notice, your firm may offer you a leave of absence. My recommendation is to resist the allure of the offer and reject it, politely, of course. I feel strongly that necessity is the mother of invention. The option of the leave of absence costs the firm nothing. Yet that safety net could very well make you less motivated to push beyond your comfort zone. I know it would for me. Why stretch yourself to discover a new path when a five-figure monthly paychecks awaits? You will be right back to where you are now.
  • Remain focused on unfinished work – This sounds like a no brainer, but once you have given notice, the temptation to slack off is strong. Try to stay focused and apply the same effort to your remaining work. It is a satisfying feeling knowing that you have ended everything on a great note with professional integrity. Thanks to my dumpster dive, I think my departure ended on a great note and, more importantly, I felt at peace with my decision.
  • Tell your colleagues about your departure in person – Some people like to leave stealthily, disappearing into thin air. I personally think a little legwork can pay dividends because you never know when and under what circumstances these professional relationships can help you. When I made my rounds saying goodbye, some people were curious about my decision to leave while others were eager to share their thoughts and ideas for what I could do. These conversations gave me much to think about and inspired me to start — and to continue writing — this blog.
  • Make a list of things you want to do immediately after quitting – As a Type A over-achiever, I experienced a bout of malaise after quitting from not being productive. You may too. Before your last day, come up with a list of things you always wanted to do but never had the time nor the energy to do, things that intrigued you but you never explored, things that challenge you but you were too lazy or too scared to do… The act of checking off these things from your list one by one will give you a sense of accomplishment, and more importantly will kick start the brainstorming process for exploring your future.
  • For example, get a library card, one of the things on my to-do list – If you are in New York City like me, you’ve got access to one of the best public library systems in the country, and it’s about time you recouped some of the local taxes you’ve paid over the years. Get lost in the stacks of books, read for fun, expose yourself to different ideas and ways of thinking, and let your mind be filled with possibilities and new promise.
  • Reset your anchor – Start to mentally prepare yourself that it could take some time to achieve what you have left behind, not only financially, but also in terms of professional identity, community and productivity. Anchoring your expectations to the perks of a BigLaw career can be discouraging and can set you up for disappointment.

Finally, on your last day, as you step out of your office building for the last time as its denizen, take a deep breath. Capture the moment in your mind’s eye. Remind yourself how far you have come from that moment of first seriously thinking through how you might escape from the feeling of being trapped. Taste the exquisite mixture of exhilaration and anxiousness and fear and closure. And begin your journey towards your wild success.

The next and final installment of this series will come at the end of this month, the six-month mark of my journey. I will talk more about the options I have been exploring and my struggle with resetting the anchor. Searching for passion is hard work. I have struggled to embrace the unpleasant uneasiness of the uncertainty. The urge to quickly dismiss an idea simply because it doesn’t have the same earning potential still creeps up. But I truly believe that motivation springs from this discomfort.

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7 Responses to Quitting BigLaw: Part III – Some Practical Tips

  1. Sun says:

    Thanks for your posts. Did you hate your job from day 1? When did you start thinking this was not for you? How long did it take from “I hate this” to decide to get out?

    I hated my first biglaw job, but quite enjoy my current job. But the fear of “I will hate my job at some point, everyone does” is always lurking… I guess it will be different for everyone, as you said, but just wondered what your experience was like. If there were previous posts where you already talk about this, you can simply point me there. 🙂

  2. barelymakingit says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m pretty sure I will leave BigLaw, not sure when (yesterday?) and how and what I will do next. But I will think about the questions you found helpful and your advice generally. Can’t wait for the last part of your series.

  3. Careared says:

    This is a great series. When I quit my job, I was also given the option of just taking some time off, and I declined as well. I’m sure that if I had left open the possibility of returning to my firm I would have treated my departure more as an extended vacation and would never have pushed myself to evaluate what I really want out of life and in my future. Resetting the anchor is the hardest task for me – much harder than I had imagined – but the discomfort is worth it.

  4. Question says:

    Law firm associates often go in-house when they jump off the BigLaw. Is being an in-house corporate counsel usually less demanding in terms of having no required billing hours and no multiple deadlines from investment banks and private equity firms, with equal or similar salaries?

  5. Angeliki says:

    Thank you for these tips. I really like the way you write. I particularly liked the second point to focus on the unfinished work. There is no point in being lazy and leave a bad impression. I’m thinking on making a career change, your last point is my big struggle. I think, I will keep on writing to-do lists and crossing off things to feel productive, I’ll focus on the things I’m certain about, the uncertainty feeling can be overwhelming, and I’ll work on my other identities, daughter, blogger etc, after all I don’t want work to define me.

  6. JP says:

    I left mid-law (100 attorneys only) (avoiding Big Law at all costs) for poverty small law. I went around and told everyone that I was leaving. Of course, the firm I was with was a relatively pleasant place to work and I liked most of the attorneys.

    The firm recently “friended” me on LinkeIn after me being gone for four years.

  7. Pingback: Quitting BigLaw – Part IV: Change in Priorities | Every Six Minutes

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