How to Approach Concerned Family or Friends About Dropping Out of Law School

Today, I'm responding to a question that has given me great pause.  Family can be such an important part of our lives, and it can be one of the most tricky parts of our lives as well.   As I've mentioned before, I feel blessed to have a family that accepted my choice to quit law school as easily as they accepted my decision to go to law school.  (They may have had their own doubts, but they only ever reassured me I was making a good choice for me.)  However, many people have families that like to be more involved, want to coach them in all their decisions, or even be downright controlling of their lives.  Many parents have great expectations for their kids and are not wont to seeing those expectations disappointed.  Not so surprisingly, parents often react negatively when their kids want to quit something.  But quitting can be the brave, the wise, and the right thing to do sometimes.  Some who quit law school know what they want, but are unsure how to approach troubled family or friends about that decision to drop out.  I received the following question (slightly edited) from Leah:
I'm almost done with my second semester of 1L and I am enrolled in a 4 year JD dual degree program at a poorly ranked law school. Unfortunately, I've spent most of the year hating every minute of every class and have realized that I don't think law is the right field for me. The idea of spending 4 more years in any law related program makes me sick. I have been waffling on whether or not to quit and am really leaning towards leaving. However, my family is not very supportive of this decision. They're also the main reason why I went to law school in the first place. There has always been the expectation I would go to law school or medical school. Whenever I call them or talk to them about it seriously they just respond, "Your first year is the worst, you'll change your mind," or "Quitting is a decision you'll regret for the rest of your life." How would you suggest approaching the topic of quitting law school with parents?

Leah, I'd be doing you a disservice if I told you there was a magic formula to disarming your parents' doubts about your choice to quit law school should you go that route. Perhaps your parents will fight you on it, and perhaps they won't get over their expectations. I can tell you, though, that it's your life, not theirs. If staying in law school will make you more miserable than quitting and possibly disappointing your parents, then that's your choice to make.  I know you haven't made up your mind entirely, but I hope you think about your best path to happiness in making this decision, and don't let others' paths interfere with yours.

Perhaps the fact that your parents tell you you'll regret it for the rest of your life means they're seriously doubting your commitment to quitting and making something else work. So I think that's where I would start. If I were you, I'd start formulating my response immediately for the question, "Well, what are you going to do instead?" I had the luxury of getting some leeway from family and friends on that. (To be honest, I still can't answer the afforementioned question succinctly.) But it sounds like you'd do well to alleviate their concern somewhat if you have a plan. The more you have to tell them about what's next, the less likely it seems that they'd continue doubting your decision.

That said, maybe your parents won't let go of their expectations that you finish law school (or replace it with med school?) And maybe they will come around. If you do decide to have this conversation with them, prepare yourself to face the possibility that they won't support you.  The fact that you mentioned both law and med school makes it sound as though your parents may want for you to have one of the classic status symbol occupations that many Americans have looked to with respect over the years. Perhaps if they're dead set on those, you'll be hard-pressed to please them without one of those types of careers. However, the world today is full of a great many very-well respected professionals whose names don't carry esquire or M.D. around with them. Perhaps you'll have to find one of those other careers that is respected and that actually helps make you happy first, and then your folks may change their minds.

Another way you could prepare is to think about what you've gained from law school and tell them about that. Explain to them, as you explained to me, how you learned that the law isn't a great fit for your desired career. Tell them about the experiences you've had that (if your first year was anything like mine) will change how you look at the world. Whatever you may have gained from this one year, perhaps it can help alleviate their concerns as well.

My final advice is to demonstrate to them as clearly as you can with examples how law school is wrong for you. Explain to them why it makes you unhappy. I know that it can be hard to articulate all of these things I'm telling you to explain, but if you're concerned about this conversation, just prepare as best you can. Explain to them that you're seeking your happiness in this decision, and not to disappoint them.
Leah, I really hope the best for you as you finish up this year. Whichever way you go, I hope it's the way that you feel will lead you to being happy. I know I probably haven't been much help here, but I really hope that if you do decide to quit that your parents understand. If they don't, you can always come vent to me. Either way, let me know if you have any further questions. Good luck!

To readers: in the upcoming posts for this blog, I'm hoping to share some other people's stories with you. I have a couple quittorneys who may potentially be explaining their views on these things, but if anyone reading this feels they'd like their voice to be heard on anything related to law school please drop me a line on the contact page. I'd love for people to hear from more of you whom they may connect with better than they connect with me and my story.

No comments:

Post a Comment