5 Tips for Dealing with a Midcareer Crisis

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD

Most legal professionals start their career with enthusiasm, but after years of the same routine, with demanding clients, long hours at the office and rising caseloads, it’s not unusual to experience a little midcareer malaise.

How can you tell the difference between a current restlessness and a real desire for a change? And if you leave your current job, what other careers will your education and experience prepare you for? Here are five tips for legal professionals considering a career change.

1. Revisit your original career plan. You once had professional dreams. Are you still on the same path or have your career goals slipped? If the latter, maybe that’s causing you to feel dissatisfied. Or perhaps, as your life has changed, so have your professional goals. Start your self-evaluation by looking back at your original ambitions and revising them as necessary. Ask yourself the hard questions, then dig deep to find the source of your malaise.

2. Move to a different employer, role or practice area. Perhaps it’s not the larger legal field that’s giving you the blues, but rather your particular situation. If you’ve been with the same company for years, a change of scenery could help you fall in love with your legal career again. Burned out by the relentless pace of the partner track? Consider legal consulting, which allows more freedom to set your own hours and decide which projects and clients to take on. Another possibility is to pursue a different practice area that means more to you. For example, you could switch from litigation to environmental law, or from personal injury to healthcare

3. Get involved in mentoring. Gain a different viewpoint of things by taking on a mentor or serving as one. Either way, you’ll get a fresh perspective on your work. Mentoring also helps with staying on top of industry trends and expanding your professional network — both of which can increase job satisfaction. If your firm or company doesn’t offer a formal mentorship program, consider looking to another group, such as your alumni organization or a professional association.

4. Ask for a promotion and salary increase. Robert Half’s study on workplace happiness finds that legal professionals’ top driver of happiness is feeling appreciated for the work they do. Your mid-career malaise could come from holding the same job title or not having had a salary increase for years. Stagnation often makes people feel overlooked and undervalued. Asking for a raise and/or promotion may not come naturally to you, but an upgrade in salary and job title — if you get them — could cure your midcareer crisis. Before meeting with your boss, though, consult industry resources like the Robert Half Legal 2019 Salary Guide for data on what your skills and expertise are worth today.

5. Pursue a career in a new field. Allow yourself to really dream: If you could be in any job that would still pay the bills, what would it be? Before you make the leap, make two lists:

  • List One: Your transferable skills
  • List Two: The various occupations that ignite your interest

Here is a list of some of the top skills that legal professionals typically possess and other fields that could benefit from them:

  • Technical writing and investigation: journalism, copywriting, content creation
  • Collaboration and persuasive speaking: public relations, marketing
  • Articulating and interpreting law: K-12 education, academia, seminar teaching, legal writing and editing
  • Organizing and focusing on the big picture: management (accounts, project, business development, or contract management)
  • Networking and advising: recruitment, college counseling, business consulting
  • Negotiating and public speaking: politics, government work, mediation

The length of your career thus far will determine which new path is for you if you decide to make a change. Depending on your background, you may transition to some of these fields relatively seamlessly, while others may require you to go back to school for another degree.

Whether your career needs a few tweaks or an entire overhaul, you can regain control of your professional path and rediscover passion in your work.