Dead End Job, or Dead End Lawyer?


Dead End Job? Try Greener PasturesRecently I enquired why “lawyers hate their jobs”, and I set out some reasons why I couldn’t really understand it very well.

As a follow on from that article, I wanted to write about something that seems to be a common theme amongst lawyers – the 7 year itch.

Except it’s not a 7 year itch – it has a tendency to arise after a much shorter time, from 12 months to 5 years is pretty common.

What is it?  It’s the feeling that you are stuck in a rut, that you are not advancing or learning, and that your employers are starting to take your contributions for granted.

What series of events have occurred to result in this apparent need to leave?  And once they have, how should you go about making wise decisions?

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Remember your first day at your new job (or if you haven’t had a legal job yet – just use your imagination).  There is excitement, nerves, interest, forgiveness with people’s idiosyncrasies.

Over time, things change.  The senior partner who, at first, seemed eccentric now just seems like a sociopath.

The slightly anti-social colleagues who at first you could just avoid have become unavoidable.

The work, which at first seemed interesting and exciting, has become humdrum at best, and painful tedium at worst.

And of course the money.  You started the job with a nice bump in salary from what you had before, but now they seem to be taking you for granted.  After all, a friend you met at some place on Friday night told you that a person they knew was earning far more than you were – but why, when you were more experienced than they?

And so you start to wonder just how green that grass is on the other side….

Greener Pastures

As I write this, there are simply not a lot of green pastures out there.  Sure there are jobs around, but at the moment they are highly competitive.  As a result you need to be pretty sure that you want to leave before making the decision to go.

The other thing that falls under the heading “stating the obvious” is that your familiarity with the firm (and theirs with you) actually works in positive ways as well.  Do you come in 30 minutes later than everyone else but work longer?  Your existing firm might be forgiving of that by now, but will the new one?  Are you now able to write in ways that will get letters out the door rather than covered in red ink?  Excellent.  But don’t expect the same at a new firm with new styles, new people and new ways of communicating.

What about your friends?  Yes you can keep in touch, but the people you have just spent 10 hours a day with for the last few consecutive months or years have probably grown to know you pretty well, and you will have a number of close friends amongst them.

The phrase “better the devil you know” sums up this situation fairly nicely.  It doesn’t always hold true, but at least in your current location you know the players, understand the systems, and can perform work efficiently and effectively.  In a new firm, you will have no such luxury.

Woe is Me

Have you become one of THOSE people?  You know – the ones who will find a way to turn any situation into an opportunity to complain about something?  Well snap out of it.

I’m not just telling you that because those people are irritating.  I’m telling you that because such a viewpoint will negatively affect your decision making.  Your own mindset here will be affecting your perception of everything, and if you want an honest and relatively objective appraisal of the quality of your situation, then you need to get into the right frame of mind.

So – stay positive, or at least neutral.  Positivity will help you make better decisions here (and everywhere).  If you’re having trouble getting into a positive mindset, then check out the TED talk by Shaun Achor to get you started

An Unbiased Perception

Once you have put yourself into a better mindset, then is the opportunity to review your situation and the other alternatives around.

Firstly – your situation might not be as bad as you thought.  If the issue is approachable, have you tried actually discussing it with somebody senior that you trust?  If you have just been stewing on it for a few years and are at breaking point, then perhaps you need to try a different approach.  It might not help, but if it’s only one or two issues that are causing you to think about going then it’s certainly worth a shot.  The worst case is that nothing happens and you still look at leaving.

Next – have you considered that you are actually the problem?  Your own perceptions, views, approach, manner, emotions and issues will impact on you here.  Again, some sound advice from somebody you trust will help.  Maybe you will feel this way at every place your work (and I’ve certainly seen this many times).  If this is the second or third time that you’ve found yourself in this position, then perhaps you need to consider some internal work before you change jobs again.

Finally – are there actually other viable options?  Work is scarce these days, and if for any reason you don’t make it through probation at the new place, then you’re in trouble.  Risks versus benefits start to weigh in here, which is another reason to consider your options carefully before pulling the trigger.

Don’t leave before you leave

If you’ve checked out mentally and emotionally, then you are being a rubbish lawyer.

Keep working – do it properly, and don’t slack off on your job.  You’re there to perform a service, and you’ve got to do it properly.  The way you conduct yourself in the period before you go is indicative of your character, and can earn you either respect or contempt from the colleagues you are (or will be) leaving behind.

Once you leave – do it cleanly, politely, and don’t go for the “out in a blaze of glory” approach and burn all of your existing bridges – chances are you’ll need them some day.

Good Luck

If you do choose to start something new in the present environment, then I wish you the best of luck.  Take your time, remove the emotion if you can, and try and get an impartial, unbiased and trusted friend involved along the way.  Make sure you’re in the right frame of mind to be making these kinds of decisions, because being stuck in the negative won’t help you here.  These things will help you make better decisions all up, but in particular will assist you in your decision to leave, or not, your existing employer.

Happy lawyering!