This piece originally featured in The Lawyer and was covered by The Economist, The Legal Gazette, Global Legal Post and Legal Cheek.

Survey finds almost a third of lawyers are looking to leave the law

A survey by career consultancy Life Production has found 32% of lawyers earning over £50,000 are applying to non-legal roles. Life Productions analysed the job searches of 1,486 lawyer applicants on popular job sites Reed and Total Jobs. Career changing lawyers are targeting non-legal roles in management consultancy, sales, human resources, marketing and even non-legal graduate jobs.

Over 30% of lawyers looking to change career are targeting in-house or non-legal roles in banking, finance, insurance, construction, energy and IT, where there is a higher in-house demand and where legal decision-making is fundamental to the value of the business.

68% of lawyers are targeting non-legal roles and functions other than the top seven most popular roles or functions shown in the graph below. It shows that over two thirds of lawyers are finding something different, highlighting variety of options that lawyers are choosing.

Roles/functions applied to by career changers*:

Management Consultancy (6.8%); Sales (6.2%); Human Resources (5.7%); Graduate (5.5%); Marketing, Advertising, PR (4.2%); Education (2.3%); Recruitment Sales (1.1%); Other (68.3%)

*Career changers may apply to more than one role

Industries applied to by career changers*:

Banking, Insurance, Finance (13.2%); IT & Internet (6.6%); Construction 6.2%); Oil, Gas, Alternative Energy (6.0%); Public Sector & Services (5.2%); Accountancy (4.0%); Retail/Wholesale (3.4%); Telecommunications (3.4%); Other (52%)

*Career changers may apply to more than one industry

The lawyers surveyed are all earning £50,000 and their experience ranges from NQT’s to 10 years PQE.

An earlier report conducted in 2007, commissioned by The Lawyer and carried out by YouGov, found that 24 per cent of lawyers would like a change of career. This figure rose to a third among associates with between six and 10 years' PQE.

As a consultant to lawyers considering a job change, Martin Underwood, Founder of Life Productions, commented: “Working conditions for lawyers at larger firms haven’t changed significantly in eight years. A large proportion of well-paid associates and senior associates continue to resent the lifestyle they are expected to adopt. For them, the high salary is simply not enough to justify the grinding hours, the stress and the lack of control over the volume and nature of work.”

“The talent retention crisis for Big Law is getting even worse as the industry deals with millennials, a generation of professionals who demand work-life balance and a job that is aligned to their values.”

Additional qualitative surveys carried out by Life Productions found that the financial uncertainty and perceived pay cut holds lawyers back more than walking away from the prestige and training. “It’s no surprise that many lawyers that want to maintain a high salary will leverage their existing experience and networks connected to global financial and corporate institutions. For many, their next step after this will be a change in role or function to leave the law” says Martin Underwood.

“Bolder lawyers looking to do something completely different have to overcome prejudice about the legal profession that many recruiters hold” adds Underwood. “Firstly, lawyers are considered as blockers not creators - 'we'll have to run that by legal' is a commonly heard phrase. Secondly, lawyers can get stuck in theoretical legal points far removed from the commercial reality”.

Martin Underwood is the Head of Career Strategy at Life Productions, helping lawyers and other professionals find a better career fit and take practical action through advice, courses and networking.