I Want to Break Away From Criminal Law

Dear Ex-Bitter,

I’m an Assistant State Attorney with ten years of experience in criminal law, and I want more.  I want more money, more respect, and more interesting work.  I want to transition into something, anything else.  But I am afraid that I have been pigeonholed into criminal practice.  Am I stuck?  Is there no way out?

Help me.  Please.

Yes, there’s a way out, but it ain’t easy.  You’ve been practicing criminal law for TEN years.  That’s a lot of years…and a lot of crime.  Like it or not, you’re a criminal lawyer, not a lawyer.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a career change. 

The problem: There’s no natural, high-paying career segue for criminal lawyers, other than criminal/white-collar defense, but I’m sensing you’re not interested in that since you’re so worried about being pigeonholed. 

My advice: Find something you love and do it.  I know, I know, that’s annoyingly broad and simplistic.  But it’s the only honest advice I can give you.  Being “stuck” is a state of mind.  To “unstick” yourself, you have to “unstick” your mind.  Stop thinking in terms of money and respect, and start thinking in terms of excitement and passion.  If you find a job you love, the money will follow and the respect won’t matter.  No one’s entitled to an exciting, lucrative, fulfilling career.  You have to create your own opportunities, take some risk, and work your ass off.

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Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

12 Comments

  1. canadouche

    September 29, 2009 at 5:01 am

    i think there is a 2 step way out.  FIRST, take a job with a securities regulator in enforcement (eg: SEC) – that will learn you all about the world of securities fraud, etc.  Show you know what you are doing ther and THEN move from there to a private practice position doing securities litigation.  you are NOT (thank god) some corporate-type, you are a litigator.

  2. BL1Y

    September 29, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Ex-Bitter is right.  99.9% of people who go to into big law looking for more money, respect and interesting work spend their careers continuing to look for it.  Instead of looking for “anything else” spend more time figuring out what you might actually like doing.

  3. www.pinkshoelawyer.blogspot.com

    September 29, 2009 at 6:07 am

    AMEN
    give yourself permission to be happy.  It’s okay, you’re not a failure. I promise.  And you really don’t need a new handbag/latest audi.

  4. Anon

    September 29, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Don’t understand what this Crim Lawyer expects.  You picked a career path, you stayed at it for 10 years and now you want something better… Wow.  Who doesn’t want something better?  Like Bitter Lawyer says, it’s up to you to change things.  There’s no magic bullet.

  5. BL1Y

    September 29, 2009 at 8:23 am

    It might be easier to change practice areas after getting an LLM or a Masters.

  6. robert smith

    September 29, 2009 at 8:40 am

    Quit. Gather up forms used by the private lawyers to suppress evidence, etc.  and 6 months living expenses. Then walk out. Just leave the soft hours, boring work, tedious repetitive work and quit.
    Advertise yourself as a former government lawyer to people you’ve nevr imagined meeting. Drug dealers that pay with bags of cash. People facing their third DUI and prison time. Men facing a domestic violence charge.  Wait till you make enough money to pay a full time hot secretary.  Have fun! Live! You won’t be bored.  (you will treasure those boring days sometimes, and the large taxpayer supported staff you had).  But you won’t be bored. And you’ll actually live!

  7. Leon

    September 29, 2009 at 9:00 am

    I don’t think the LLM will help, unless the guy wants to be a tax lawyer. Here’s the thing, this guy should have 10 years of trial experience. That’s got to be useful, but maybe it’s a harder sell in this economy.

  8. Barrister

    September 29, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I am a former prosecutor turned defense attorney. I prosecuted for only 2 years before I realized that the work would forever be repetitive and boring – and that I would never make any money doing it. How it took this person 10 years to reach the same conclusion is beyond me. Stop crying, man up and make a change for the better.

  9. www.pinkshoelawyer.blogspot.com

    September 29, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Well, I don’t advocate quitting a job if it’s going to mean moving in with your poor mother, god bless her.  But you *do* only have one life.
    you don’t have to be risk adverse all the time…just when you’re at work.

  10. Guano Dubango

    September 30, 2009 at 1:31 am

    I say be very happy you have good job, where the pressure is low, the money is good and the work is easy because you know what you are doing.  If you are smart, you will stay away from the private practice, where you must work hard to earn money.  In the criminal law, the clients go to jail, and that is to be expected.  While I am looking for a law beauty, she should not work in the criminal law area, because she will be exposed to many men, some who she may find more interesting than me.  I recommend you stay put, where you will get a good retirement income, and you will never have to work too hard.

  11. ExCrimLawyer

    October 6, 2009 at 9:51 am

    This is really good advice. 
    The dilemma for this guy may be the fact that, as an AG, he’s been in an appellate unit, a habeas unit, or some other government black hole.  After 10 years, he may not feel he has the experience with, e.g., securities / white collar cases, or even enough trial experience to get hired to lead a civil jury trial in this economy.  I write this paragraph perhaps from a little too much familiarity with this kind of experience. 
    My advice to him may be to lay low for another year and start looking when the economy starts warming up again.  He’s already done 10 years, so people’s perceptions of him being boxed in are not going to magically change this year.

  12. Content Associate

    October 7, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Run for public office. Then make money from lobbyists greasing your palms.  With political office you will gain money and respect, but at the expense of your soul…

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