Should I Leave When Projects Are Over My Head?

Q: I work for the rainmaker partner in our firm. He chews up so many associates that our practice has experienced 100 percent turnover in about a year. Its a very successful transactional tax practice, and I am constantly challenged. But Ive also seen this guy refer projects to associates who have no prayer of understanding them. Im beginning to wonder if Im in that category, but not smart enough to realize it. That is, Im getting projects that are way over my head, and Im working through them, but not learning. Should I leave, like the others?

A: You dont say how long youve been at the firm, but I have to assume its been less than a year. Because of that, and because you are getting great experience, I suggest that you stay a while longer. Its hard to believe that youre not learning anything if youre plowing through projects that are way over [your] head and not having your mistakes come back to bite you. And working successfully for someone with a reputation as a difficult employer makes you look good. Not only can you do the work, you can thrive in a less than ideal environment.

The orientation phase of your legal career is exacerbating your feelings of dismay. This is a time when every lawyer struggles to get used to the system and to understand the rules of the game. Its a difficult time for law school graduates, because you are used to thinking of yourself as highly able but suddenly you feel barely competent. The discomfort will face as you handle more and more transactions and the issues begin to repeat themselves. At that time, youll be better able to evaluate whether the environment this rainmaker has created is too difficult to perform at your peak, or whether you continue to the find the work and pace an appealing challenge.

Theres another possible advantage to making a long-term commitment: If you happen to team well with the rainmaker and he sees you as consistently rising to the challenges he throws at you, you could become his protegee and heir apparent. You cant create better job security than that!