Question & Answer
Sweet and Sour Work
January 16, 2013
I am an associate working in a small general practice firm. I have been engaged in the practice of law for just over a year now. I am free to make my own hours and do not feel overworked. I have had the opportunity to work on many different types of cases. The only complaints that I have about my position is that I do not get enough guidance from my superiors.
The problem that I am having is that I do not enjoy the work that I am doing. For the past few months I have had the feeling that the practice of law is not for me. I am seriously considering changing careers. My question is: How long should I continue to practice law before I can be certain that it is not for me? Is it too soon, or should I just bite the bullet and move on?
Dear Moving On:
So, it sounds as if you have a pretty nice situation going on there -- you can make your own hours, do not feel overworked and are given the opportunity to work on all types of cases.
Unfortunately, if seems as if there are two problems lurking there: one being that you are not getting much supervision or guidance from the people working over you and the second one being is that you don't like what you are doing.
I would have to say that no matter how nice your situation is at this firm, what good does it do you if you aren't learning anything and, most critical of all, you are not happy with what you are doing there? This just doesn't make any sense at all to me.
You have now been at this firm for over a year which leads me to believe you have given it enough time to really determine that you are not happy. But instead of jumping the gun after only one year at just one small general practice firm, did it ever occur to you that it might not be the practice of law itself but rather, where you are doing that practice?
I am only saying this because I hate to see you having spent three long and hard years in law school and then this past year practicing only to throw it all away without trying to figure out if it is the environment or the actual career path.
It does sound to me that even though this firm offers a very casual environment, it is lacking several of the most critical factors for a junior associate and those are supervision and mentoring. How in the world are you supposed to learn the practice of law without a senior associate and/or a partner there to guide you? It is no wonder that you are not enjoying what you are doing -- it must be very frustrating and difficult to start practicing law without anyone there to instruct, supervise or help you.
Before you give it all up to find a new career path, let me suggest that you try to find some solutions to your dilemma. If none of these work, perhaps the practice of law is not for you, as you have suggested. However, I do think it is far too early to throw in the towel.
First, before you begin a job search, have you spoken with a senior associate or partner at the firm regarding your concerns that you have not had any supervision over the work you are doing? As a junior associate, this is a very reasonable request. Explain to the senior associate and/or partner that you are delighted with the environment at the firm and the varied work you have been given but as a junior attorney you would appreciate the opportunity to have a senior attorney helping to guide you along as you develop your practice.
If this is not a possibility at your current firm then you have no choice but to begin a job search for a firm where being mentored is part of the job description. However, please be careful to keep your intentions of moving on as confidential and quiet as possible. You absolutely do not want your current employer to get wind of your job search and possibly terminate your employment. The last thing you want to have happen is to be unemployed in a tough job market.
I do believe it is too early for you to be certain that the practice of law is not for you. You need to find out if it is the career of the environment that is making you unhappy and from what you have told us, I suspect that the problem lies with the environment. Try to get your current environment to make some changes and work for you and if not, move on as soon as you can to a firm that will offer you the guidance, supervision and mentoring that you so need and deserve. Best wishes!
Ann M. Israel