8 karmaJoined Dec 2020


If you're in your mid-twenties, and making solid progress on a professional career path that may (or may not) give you the potential to have some positive impact later on in your career, should you stick on that path or jump off and try to start something new that may enable you to have an impact sooner?

I'm 27 years old and about to become a barrister in the UK, having studied physics, chemistry and philosophy at a very good university before converting to law. I am not interested in big money commercial law, but am going into employment law/human rights/public law/judicial review. I know that being a lawyer is generally seen as a terrible EA choice (and rightly so - there is an unbelievable amount of wasteful paper pushing) but I also know that successful lawyers in the later stages of their career are in high demand for positions that can have a lot of impact. For instance, top lawyers are regularly sought after to be execs and non-execs on boards; many enter politics; some become influential political advisors; and some become highly sought-after advisors to NGOs, companies, charities, and educational institutions. 

I feel I'm now approaching my last chance to jump off the professional treadmill. If I continue to the Bar, my expectation is that I will still be there in my early forties. The large majority of good barristers don't leave the Bar before then and there's no reason for me to think that I'm that different from them. 

So, my question is: should I stick at my current job or not? 

  • On the one hand: I'm good at my job and really enjoy it; it pays me enough that I can donate a fair amount to charity along EA principles (though not as much as if I went into commercial law); I have a small but consistent positive impact by helping my clients that makes me feel good; and there is the potential to have a much bigger impact later in my career. 
  • On the other hand, I feel like I will be wasting the next 15 years of my life crawling along this incredibly stressful, competitive career path, having very little impact. There is of course no guarantee that  I will be a top barrister, or that I will be able to get these impactful roles even if I am a top barrister. The majority of lawyers don't; they simply earn money until they retire. Most importantly, I feel that there is much more immediately impactful work that I could be doing - as a lawyer with a first-rate undergraduate science and philosophy background, I could make a good AI ethicist. Or I could campaign as an advocate for human and environmental rights. Or I could enter politics, either by working for the UK civil service or by trying for an elected position. But of course, there is no guarantee that I would be any good in those roles, that I would have any significant impact later on in my career, or that I would enjoy them. And, at 27, I feel I'm slightly too old to be entering a completely new field afresh.

I hope that provides some food for thought. Any advice and thoughts are most welcome.