Job Satisfaction and Law: Questions and Answers

Finding satisfaction in the law can be challenging, for a variety of reasons. Here is a discussion of two issues that often arise for lawyers: vacation time and changing jobs multiple times.

Vacation Time for Lawyers

Q: I'm a college freshman interested in pursuing law (not civil), and I was just wondering, on average, how many weeks of vacation a starting out lawyer would receive. Also, is it easy to take time off in the law field, or do you have to plan your vacations around your work?

A: Vacation time for lawyers is a chronic problem. The demands of many law practices are extremely intense, and vacations are often sacrificed to client needs and litigation schedules. Many lawyers with a good sense of balance in life make a conscientious effort to set aside vacation time, as well as evening and weekend time, for themselves and their families. However, these efforts often face serious pressure. Many lawyers have a highly developed sense of duty, and business pressures in private practice often make it difficult to tell an anxious client to 'wait.' Many personal and family relationships of lawyers suffer harm as a result, and many lawyers themselves feel profound distress that their lives have fallen seriously 'out of balance.'

If you are significantly motivated by a desire for regular and generous vacations, you may wish to consider another field -- for example, teaching, which may offer holiday and summer vacations. If law remains of interest, you may wish to consider law practice with the government, which will often promise a less hectic schedule and more predictable (though not particularly long) vacations. However, as a college freshman, you have plenty of time to think about this -- and many other things -- before you decide. I encourage you to focus on your studies and life interests for the next couple of years, and think again about graduate school in your junior year. If you are interested in time off, a great time to do this is after college. Why not take a year or two, and see the world? There is no rush. You have the rest of your life to "work," if you choose. Take the time now to live a little.

Unsatisfied with Job, But Does It Look Bad to Change Jobs Again?

Question: I am a senior transactional associate at a premier Chicago "biglaw" firm. I made a lateral move here from another "biglaw" firm 2 years ago. Prior to that, I practiced in the litigation area for about a year. Pure and simple, I am not happy at my current position. There is too much politics, back stabbing and finger pointing occurring at my firm that has made my practice unpleasant to put it mildly. I don't have any portable business and I am up for partner next year. Honestly, I don't think they will make me partner next year (for a host of political reasons). My questions are: Does it look bad that I have moved 3 times in 6 years? How do I explain the political games at "biglaw" firms? Shall I go in-house? Shall I switch geographical locations (move to California) to improve my job prospects? One final note: I want to make my current salary which is around 200K. Thank you in advance for any advice related to the foregoing.

Answer: First of all, know that you are not alone in your discontent with big law firm life. A high percentage of law firm associates have similar discontent. Though some of your concerns may be specific to your firm, you have enough private law firm experience to make a well-reasoned decision whether or not to stay in private practice (for example, as "of counsel" or non-equity partner in a smaller firm). Your income requirements (to earn 200K), however, will constrain your options. If these requirements are inflexible, you may have no option but to remain in the private sector, most likely as in-house counsel. Until you have fully explored in-house counsel positions in Chicago, I see no reason to move to California to expand your options, unless you are drawn to move West for some other reason. Finally, I do not believe your professional mobility to date will serve as a liability; in fact, it may be an asset. In the New Economy, flexibility and adaptability are valued qualities for professionals, including lawyers. I have served on several law firm and government hiring teams, and I have never experienced a bias against lawyers who shift positions every two years or so. To the contrary, I believe job mobility often reflects an attorney's eagerness to learn new skills in new environments, and to take risks. I hope your next steps work out well.