Leave BigLaw: How to Plan Your Escape
The best time to plan to quit your job is when everything is going well. So naturally most people don’t plan. Still, lawyers love planning and many already have the dream to leave their law firm jobs. So let’s do some fantasizing and planning. Learn some lessons from when I quit my job.
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Overview of How to Leave BigLaw
Before you plan to leave BigLaw or another law firm job, you need to carefully consider the pitfalls of quitting. For example, if you rage quit, you won’t qualify for unemployment. And you have to think about debt, money, identity, healthcare, and your next job. Also, there’s the small matter of figuring out what you’re going to do with your life immediately after you quit and in the future. There’s a lot to think about, so you should start thinking early.
Why You Need to Plan Before Leaving BigLaw
Spending a lifetime at one job is as rare as having a pension these days. Likewise, you are not likely to stay at your law firm job forever. You should start planning your last day- whether to another firm, another job, or another industry – on your first day. You never know when you’re going to leave, and planning takes time.
At your legal job, particularly if this is your first job outside of law school, you should be focusing on maximizing your experience and your references. In terms of experience, you should be considering what direction you want your legal career to take. Even if you are happy at your current job, you should be scanning the marketplace for jobs that interest you and mapping out a plan to help you get the qualifications to apply for said jobs in the future. In terms of references, you should ensure that at least some of your coworkers and supervisors don’t hate you. =D Maybe that’s not a problem, but make sure they know you and your work.
Quit Your Job After Six Months?
I’ve seen a lot of people find my blog through the above search term – quit your job after six months. And I should note that I didn’t leave my job that early, and leaving any job that early is going to be problematic. For new lawyers, it means that you’ve plunked down at least four years of your life preparing for and going to law school, prepping for the bar exam, and finding and working a job. It involves a complete turn in identity. Further, any employer in the future is going to be wary about someone who jumps ship so early on. If the job is absolutely untenable, then quitting may be the better option. But if at all possible, wait to finish a year or switch to another job before quitting. Try to work to make your situation better.
I knew a friend who really wanted to quit his job after just six months. Ultimately, he didn’t switch until after he’d been there for a year and had secured a job in his former industry. I also have heard of people who rage quit – usually after a year. I assume all these people landed on their feet eventually. I assume you will too. Strike a balance between optimism and caution. If you can get your ducks in a row, it would behoove you to do so, but I understand if you can’t. You are not alone if you think you can’t take it anymore. Lots of people are searching for how to quit a job by the six-month mark.
Student loans are the 800-pound elephant in the room. You have to address them before you can plan to leave your law firm job. In fact, student loans are so monumental that you should carefully consider them before law school, during, and while you’re working at a law firm. You really need a plan to attack your debt, from law school and college.
If you have six-figure debt, it can limit your options after you leave your law firm. For instance, to pay off $100,000 in debt, Mapping Your Future estimates you would need a salary of at least $172k to afford the $1,150 monthly payments. If you whittle your debt down to $50,000, you can live off a salary of $86,000, which gives you a wider range in industries and careers.
Because you won’t know when you will leave your job, it’s best to attack your debt as vigorously and as quickly as possible. This gives you the most options in the future. A good way to do that is by assessing your money situation, as follows.
If you’re attacking your debt, you may have already started to consider your bare bones budget. That means no eating out, no clothing or unnecessary consumable purchases. Too easy? Well, you can go further.
Tim Ferriss discussed how he “simulates” losing all his money by sleeping on the floor, wearing the same outfits every day, eating rice and beans, etc. He writes that after doing these “exercises,” you may realize “there is more freedom to be gained from practicing poverty than chasing wealth.”
Once you realize that you are living the life you most feared, you gain mastery over that fear. There’s no better way to break the shackles of golden handcuffs than living your fear and realizing you’re not broken. It will save you the time of chasing after the golden handcuffs and realizing you’re not fulfilled.
If you’re quitting your job without something else lined up, it’s possible you just broke at some point. Even if you’re thinking of quitting now or even if you’re working quite happily, mental health, like physical health, is something that constantly needs mending.
Among your friends, ask around to see if anyone can recommend a therapist. It’s good to start going so that you can see what it’s like. Maybe it’s helpful, maybe it’s not. It doesn’t hurt to get familiar with the process before you feel like you need it. For me, it was always at least helpful to have the dedicated time to discuss my mental health with someone.
Also familiarize yourself with the ABA’s list of mental health resources.
If you’re switching from one job to another, then you don’t have to worry as much about your identity. You can assume the identity of your next job. But what many people fear when quitting their job is how they will think of themselves and how others will think of them.
Early retirees have reported suffering this loss of identity. Who are we aside from our jobs? Lawyers in particular derive a great sense of identity from their professions. We went for an extra three years of schooling and took a ridiculous test to be able to call ourselves lawyers, after all.
Health insurance has got to be top priority on your list if you’re planning on quitting your job before you have a new one. I bought my health insurance from ehealthinsurance.com. (Personally, when I logged on to the ACA website, I was spammed with so many spam phone calls, I could not use my phone for days, because every few minutes, a spammer would harass me.) Short-term plans might be the right option for now because you aren’t necessarily planning to leave for a long time. Also, short-term plans are often cheaper than long-term plans.
What Will You Do With Your Time?
In the direct aftermath of quitting your job, you will have a lot of errands to do making sure you don’t lose your home or insurance coverage. You may consider working on your mental health and/or relationships. Likely you will also start to look for a job and contemplate your future (see next section).
But after that, you’ll have some time to think, what am I going to do with my day-to-day time? For me, I had a lot of goals. I’m sure you have goals too that have been buried deep inside you, waiting for a time when you didn’t have to measure your productivity in six-minute increments.
One of the best choices I made in life was taking the year off after college to travel. It wasn’t necessarily life-changing and it didn’t springboard me into a life of riches. It was quite honestly a year off. And the beauty of it is that so few of us ever get that freedom in our lives when we’re unencumbered by responsibilities or obligations to others. Cherish this time and do something that you’ve always wanted to do. This is where the ‘fantasy’ of planning comes in. And don’t feel guilty if you’re doing something just for you, with no profitable gain. Sometimes we just need time to live and create and recuperate. We would all be better people if we had more of this kind of time.
What Is Your Future?
There are lots of resources out there for alternative paths and careers for lawyers. I won’t reinvent the wheel – I’ll just point you to them.
Conclusion – Plan to Leave BigLaw
This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to quitting BigLaw or your law firm job – just some things to think about. Because in reality, if you’re already thinking of quitting your job without something else lined up, you might not know the exact time or place when you actually quit. You will just be fed up and quit when you can’t take it anymore (which is a popular search term to get to my site).
I wish you the best of luck in whatever you do, whether you continue in the law or go on to wild successes somewhere else. Happy planning!