I quit a $200,000 Silicon Valley law job because it wasn’t worth the toll on my mental health. Here’s why I have no regrets.

  • Julian Sarafian, a young graduate of UC Berkley and Harvard Law School, was an ideal law candidate.
  • He said he’d ignored symptoms of worsening mental health during his studies and focused on success.
  • After three years at a Silicon Valley law firm, Sarafian quit and became a mental health advocate.

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I have what many people might consider a perfect résumé. I was a high-school valedictorian, received my undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley in just three years, and graduated from Harvard Law School at 24.

By my mid-20s I was a corporate lawyer making over $250,000 a year.

Behind all my success, I’d been struggling with my mental health for the majority of my young-adult life

In high school, I had stomachaches induced by stress. I started an economics degree at UC Berkley in 2012. In college, I experienced very severe social anxiety, panic attacks, and gagging.

When I got into Harvard Law School in 2015, these symptoms persisted. I didn’t take my mental health seriously because I was so focused on being successful.

Coming out of law school, I wasn’t passionate about anything in particular.

I graduated from Harvard in 2018. Getting a job at a corporate law firm seemed to be the most appealing next step for financial reasons and potential career opportunities. I also wanted to return to California, so I took a position at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a top technology law firm with headquarters in Palo Alto.

I knew very early on that I would not last at the firm. In Big Law, you’re tied to your phone all the time. I was routinely working 10 to 13 hours a day, on top of working weekends. My life became work.

This was the norm at any big law firm. Partners don’t treat junior staff or associates with respect. You go from one deal to the next to the next. There’s no time to soak in the victory.

The pandemic made an already bad situation worse

I’d been at WSGR for less than two years when the pandemic hit. Morale tanked significantly in the entire legal industry, but especially in Big Law. Not seeing any human beings for nine months was incredibly challenging. I found the isolation paired with my work environment horrendous.

Work got even busier than usual during the pandemic. Clients wanted to feel a sense of control, so their requests became even more unreasonable, and we had no choice but to meet clients’ needs because that’s the nature of Big Law — always giving the client what they want. I had even less time for myself.

People at my company and throughout the industry were openly miserable all the time, and no one took action to prevent burnout.

I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and mild depression in 2020 and experienced suicidal thoughts. For the first time in my life, the entire world felt gray, and I stopped feeling much.

I finally quit to focus on my mental health

I left WSGR in July 2021. Losing the financial stability I had from my job felt daunting and scary, but the more important factor was knowing something needed to change. If my life had stayed on the path it was on, I would have just continued being miserable.

Despite the risk to my career of jumping into the unknown, I knew there was more out there for me that I just hadn’t explored yet. Big Law is one tiny part of the world, and there are so many other potential options.

I left on good terms with people in my firm and the industry. My colleagues showed a lot of compassion. My fiancée, parents, and friends were supportive of my decision. I’d saved enough to keep me afloat.

Although some people were surprised I was quitting without another opportunity lined up, they were proud of me for putting my mental health first.

Law firms have now started taking mental health more seriously. Using meditation apps, talking about work-life balance, and protecting weekends have become more common, but it’s far from perfect.

After quitting, I took to social media to share my story, and my content went viral

This made me realize that so many people were going through similar struggles but there was so much stigma around mental health.

I cultivated an online community through platforms such as TikTok and LinkedIn by talking openly about my mental health and criticizing the toxicity of big corporate law firms.

As I became more established in the creator world, I realized that creators need protection from brand deals that take advantage of them. I decided to start my law firm — For Creators, By Creators PC — in May 2022 and represent content creators and influencers. I’m also writing a book about my experience.

People often look at money as a metric for success, but I don’t

I had to redefine what success looks like to me and chose to prioritize my mental health over everything else.

Your career can change so much in a short period when you start exploring something you never thought about trying.

My path to content creation was accidental, but it led me to reignite my passion for law by helping people who I thought needed more advocacy, which was why I went to law school in the first place.

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insider@insider.com Nada Shalash