Bench + Bar of Minnesota

I hated being a lawyer!


By Paul M. Floyd

One day, 15 years into being a litigator, I was driving down 35W with my wife, Donna, when I blurted out, “I hate being a lawyer!” To which my wife responded, “You don’t have to be one.” To which I replied, “Oh, yes I do. You don’t understand.” Donna said, “Well, you don’t have to be that kind of lawyer.” After a long pause, she asked, “What would you rather be doing?” I immediately said: “Teaching and counseling professionals instead of litigating.” She said: “Let’s talk about how we could make that happen.” 

In talking over the years with mentors, peers, and younger colleagues, I have heard this refrain numerous times from lawyers who are stressed, frustrated, and on the verge of throwing in the towel. It grows louder after receiving a terrible decision from a judge, being stiffed by a client, or getting an ethics complaint. 

For me, “I hate being a lawyer!” was an epiphany and a turning point in my career. Tired of the games some litigators play, all I could see ahead of me was dreary years of arguing with opposing counsel and bringing motions in response to delay tactics. It was not for me. I was depressed and seriously considering leaving the profession. I dreaded going to work. My acute but low-grade stress showed up as high blood pressure at my annual physical. It also was coming out sideways in my closest relationships—where I was grumpy, tired, sad, and in general not pleasant to be around.

My wife’s words of encouragement, followed by some helpful therapy, prompted me to move in a new direction. I left my litigation job and started a new firm with a law school classmate. My practice evolved over time from litigation to transactional work, especially serving lawyers and other professionals and their firms. More importantly, I began to teach college and law school. It made all the difference to my mental health, personal relationships, and outlook. It’s wise to pause every so often and take account of the pros and cons of our practices and then act. 

For many of us (assuming good health), our law practices will span four decades. Each of those decades is characterized by different life and practice stressors, with ebbs and flows in work-life balance. In the first decade, you find your own style of practice and focus on becoming competent. Some lawyers, perhaps in a search for work/life balance, move from firm to firm and even in and out of law practice, trying to find the setting that best aligns with their values or personal goals. This is a time for building relationships with peers and mentors, which can be enhanced through bar association socials, CLEs, and section, committee, or task force involvement. Writing an article for Bench & Bar or a district bar publication can help to establish your competence in your practice area.

The second decade is generally focused on doing what you do well and developing a good reputation among peers and referral sources. For those in private practice, the focus moves from becoming a law firm shareholder or partner to marketing and building a book of clients. Client relationships and referrals are pivotal here. Again, bar associations’ resources and member benefits can support your growing practice. Becoming certified as a civil trial, criminal law, real estate, or labor & employment specialist can further burnish your reputation and solidify your legal competence in the marketplace.

The third decade can be one of major change: going in-house, becoming a judge, starting your own firm, or joining a new firm and establishing a professional brand for yourself. Here, volunteering in bar associations’ sections, committees, boards, DEI and pro bono initiatives, and leadership tracks can help a lawyer to stand out to another law firm when considering a move, to their corporate client when looking to go in-house, or to the governor’s office when seeking a judgeship. 

The fourth decade is different for each attorney. Figuring out how you want to spend the last years of your practice before retirement is essential for mental well-being. For many, the last decade of practice is the most enjoyable. You don’t have to prove your “value-add” to your firm or clients. You can say yes or no to client matters and volunteer projects. Being active in your bar association before you retire can be rewarding. Consider joining the Senior Attorneys Section and enjoying the support of your fellow senior attorneys before and after you retire.

Be intentional and seize control of each decade of your career. The practice of law is not about getting a job and putting your life and career on autopilot until you’re miserable or you finally retire. And don’t wait until you’re yelling into the wind about hating being a lawyer before you figure out what kind of lawyer you want to be. Thankfully, it’s a career, not a sentence. 


Paul Floyd is one of the founding partners of Wallen-Friedman & Floyd, PA, a business and litigation boutique law firm located in Minneapolis. Paul has been the president of the HCBA, HCBF, and the Minnesota Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. He lives with his wife, Donna, in Roseville, along with their two cats.

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