One of the hardest issues many unhappy lawyers face is how to finance their transitions. As one reader pointed out, while it has been done, it is harder to contemplate leaving the law if you don’t have resources like a financially supportive spouse and/or significant savings to cushion the gap between jobs.
Paying back student loans can complicate the process further. If loans are an issue, my first suggestions are (1) talk to a qualified credit counselor and (2) find out what kind of restructuring may be available if you lose or leave your job. Some federal loans have income-based repayment plans, for example.
In addition, the following suggestions are based on my research (now in its sixth year!):
1) Identify what you need to live on, at a minimum. Unless you’re sure you can leap from one six figure salary to another (which has been done), think about ways to reduce your expenses before you need to. Leaving some law jobs can correlate to reduced expenses (in wardrobe, in commuting, in recreational shopping designed to offset the dreariness and boredom of an unfulfilling career), and that can help as well. Some expenses, like child care and health care, may be non-negotiable. You’ll need to know what your financial minimum is before you negotiate your next salary.
2) Get your family on board. I can’t tell you how often I speak with people whose significant others are nervous about career transitions because of a fear that they won’t be provided for as well. Sometimes that’s shorthand for a general fear of change and/or a fear of failure; sometimes it’s recognition of the burdens of mortgages, private school tuition, etc. Family anxiety can also cause the kind of personal stress that makes any career move hard to bear – after all, there’s only so much instability one person can take on at a time. On the other hand, if your S.O. understands not only why but how you’re making the transition, and can appreciate how much better a partner you will be when you’re happier, the process will be much more bearable. If you can describe a sensible and articulable strategy, like the one I recommend in Life After Law, your S.O. may be more supportive.
3) Take unemployment compensation if you can. You’ve probably been paying into it for a while, and there is no shame in receiving it. While there is usually an upper limit on the payouts, and restrictions certainly apply, unemployment payments can make an enormous difference in your ability to withstand time between jobs. If you haven’t left your firm yet and are on the brink, it may be worthwhile to explore options for leaving. Some firms will reach an understanding with unhappy lawyers, allowing them to collect unemployment insurance as part of a mutually beneficial parting of ways.
Beyond these suggestions, let’s face it: money is emotional. The psychology of money plays out in leaving law in too many ways to discuss here fully, but I’ll just toss one more out. When I left my law firm job, I was no longer the family breadwinner. It took me well over a year to accept the idea of letting my husband pay for family groceries. It was the first time in my adult life that I had been dependent on anyone and I hated it. That period of dependence, however, helped me get through the financially-suffering period that ended when I accepted my current full time job. I really like paying for groceries now.
Readers, would you please share your thoughts on how to finance a career transition below?