Thinking About Leaving Your Legal Position?

There may be times in your career when you wonder if your best option is leave your current position. When that happens, what should you consider? 

How Long Should a New Lawyer Wait to Leave the Firm if He/She is Unhappy?

Q: As a new associate at a large law firm that is unhappy about his current situation (been here about 6 months), what are his options to switching to a different law firm? Must he wait at least of year and are there any jobs out there for such recent grads?

A: First try and analyze why you are unhappy. Is it the work, the firm, the people you work with? Before you can leave you have to figure out the source of your unhappiness or else you might end up in the same situation at another firm. See if there is anything you can do to make your current situation more tolerable. If not, start looking -- there's no reason to be miserable if you can figure out what you want to do next. Chances are, if you start looking now, you will have been there for close to a year anyway.

In terms of your marketability, it is better to wait until you have reached the one year mark. But if you have a particular skill or background that is in demand, your chances are better. If not, try and take continuing legal education courses or join bar association committees in your area of interest to beef up your credentials.

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. It's a very successful transactional tax practice, and I am constantly challenged. But I've also seen this guy refer projects to associates who have no prayer of understanding them. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm in that category, but not smart enough to realize it. That is, I'm getting projects that are way over my head, and I'm working through them, but not learning. Should I leave, like the others?

A: You don't say how long you've 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 you're not learning anything if you're 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. It's 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 you will face as you handle more and more transactions and the issues begin to repeat themselves. At that time, you'll 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.

There's 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 can't create better job security than that!

Should I Leave a Government Position to Work at a Law Firm?

Q: I am a 33-year-old night law student at a good school and a full-time manager with a strong history of advancement at the Environmental Protection Agency. What kinds of options are there for a student like me at traditional firms? Are firms open to bringing in a slightly older new lawyer as an associate and is that a wise career choice? Does the fact that I am a night student make a difference in my marketability?

A: I suppose I might ask a different set of questions. First, since you have a strong history of advancement in the EPA, why not try to move into the legal group at the EPA, or leverage your JD to advance further in the EPA? Secondly, do you really want to be an attorney, or do you just want to leave the EPA? If you just want to leave the EPA, that part of the business sector that interfaces with the EPA could be a great place for you. Finally, if you are convinced that a legal career is for you, then figure out how you can add value to a firm. I don't think your age is a barrier to joining a firm, however, you must be able to show your prospective legal employer that you bring something to the table. More specifically, can you help them with environmental law issues and can you bring them environmental issue business? If you can show them you can do both, your transition should go well. However, if you feel you cannot, you might want to reconsider the business/government sector.