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Why are so Many US Lawyers Leaving Law?


What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is a question adults commonly ask children. Boys and girls usually provide some very interesting answers. One child might want to be “a ballet dancer and a firefighter.” Another might want to be “a circus performer, teacher and pilot.”

But you usually do not hear a lot of children saying they want to grow up to be a lawyer. As it happens, even those who grow up and become lawyers often find out they want to be doing something else.

In the United States, the road to becoming a lawyer is long. It takes a lot of work and a lot of schooling. But it is a safe road that ends with a good job -- a job with a high level of responsibility, respect and a chance to earn a lot of money.

So why then, do many U.S. lawyers decide to go into other fields?

Warren Brown finished law school and once worked as a lawyer. But these days you are more likely to find him preparing a cake at one of his bakeries than arguing a case in a courtroom.

That is because after two years as a lawyer, he wanted out. He left a good job -- an interesting position that gave him authority and responsibility. But he says he was not satisfied.

“It was a good job -- a lot of authority, a lot of responsibility. I got to practice law, which was interesting. But three months into it, I knew that I wasn’t going to be a happy, satisfied lawyer the rest of my life.”

So he turned to another one of his interests: baking.

This was an extreme move. Leaving a secure, high-paying job to start a business could be a difficult decision. But his friends and coworkers gave him the support he needed to make the jump.

“I brought in cakes to work, I would bring them to parties, I’d show friends what I was doing and people all said the same thing, 'You should build a business around this, you should open a cake shop. You should sell these.’”

So, he did.

Warren Brown opened his first CakeLove bakery in Washington, D.C. in 2002. He soon added another store in nearby Virginia. Today he employs more than 10 assistants. They help him create his popular cakes and cupcakes.

Mr. Brown has also written several cookbooks and recently launched his newest product -- cake-in-a-jar.

“You just put a spoon right in it and go. That’s it!” It’s a mini cake in a jar.”

He is just one of a growing number of attorneys who are leaving law to become entrepreneurs.

The American Bar Foundation found that almost 20 percent of attorneys who passed Bar exams in 2000 were not practicing law in 2012.

Another group, the American Bar Association, found that 45 percent of attorneys are dissatisfied with their work. That is a lot of dissatisfied lawyers! And those numbers are growing.

In fact, there are so many dissatisfied lawyers that there are even people who work at finding them new careers.

One of those people is Casey Berman, a former lawyer. He is founder of the blog Leave Law Behind. He told VOA on Skype that he helps unhappy attorneys launch other careers.

“Often times people go to law school, not necessarily for the wrong reason, but they just sometimes don’t think about it critically, and they end up in a job where they really haven’t researched, explored, kind of assessed or optimized their skills, and there’s that disconnect that I mentioned.”

He estimates that 40 to 50 percent of the country’s nearly one million lawyers are unhappy or have considered doing something else to earn a living.

“I know there’s about a million attorneys in the U.S. I would bet that half of them or 40 percent of them are unhappy or have some inklings of doing something else.”

Warren Brown, for one, says he’s happy to have found a satisfying alternative to being a lawyer. And the people who eat his cakes are happy, too.

I’m Anna Matteo.

*This report was based on a story from VOA’s Julie Taboh. Anna Matteo wrote the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

authority – n. the power to give orders or make decisions

responsibility – n. the state of being the person who caused something to happen

satisfy – v. to cause (someone) to be happy or pleased

dissatisfied – adj. not happy or pleased

alternative adj. offering or expressing a choice

entrepreneur – n. a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money

bakery – n. a place where bread, cakes, cookies, and other baked foods are made or sold

In the comments section let us know if you are a dissatisfied lawyer or are you in another career that you would like change. After all, even we adults like to answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

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