Career Corner: Career considerations for a 30 something lawyer

Written by David E. Behrend

As a lawyer in their 30’s I am trying my best to consider options should I not wish to be ‘tied down’ working 60 hours a week at my firm. I am compensated well as an associate, might make partner, but asking the question, if this where I want to be in my 40’s and up? Working for the firm is enlightening and valued, and I have developed and refined a number of important skills that could be transferable and of value in the large ‘sanctuary’ of law, or maybe outside it. The problem is, I am not sure what to do, and don’t want to regret making an impulsive move without serious thought, discussion, and analysis!

The length of question your ask gets to the crux of whom you are, and what priorities you have at this stage of your life, both professionally and personally. As I like to tell clients ‘It’s Only Your Career We Are Talking About Over The Next 3 to 4 Decades!’

Law firms have at the top equity partners, executive committees, and managing partners who in actuality run the business, and ultimately decide your future with their firm. If you have been notified that you may be up for partnership soon, then continued long hours you spend working there may or may or not be worth it.

As a ‘partner’ at the firm you may then be asked to develop your own clients, even if to date your supervising lawyer, only has had you contact their clients, with permission.

At a smaller firms you may have already worked directly with clients and feel comfortable and confident about developing your own clientele.

With larger and some mid size firms, if not on a partnership track, you become in your 40’s a staff attorney, or as I call it a ‘service attorney’ who has employment at the blessing of a partner who may well have achieved equity stature due to their proven business development skills. After all, the practice of law is ultimately a business, even more so since the legal recession started. I have had clients whom before the recession started may have been on ”cruise control’ as dedicated ‘service partners’, and now are out of work.

In 2015 looking forward, you may have to wait a while to get your own clients at the firm, as many lawyers now in their late 50’s well into their 60’s are not retiring, and usually do not give up clients to their younger partners. There is a generational divide percolating beneath the surface at many firms, and you maybe observant of it at your firm! The question remains; Does the firm or practice area at your level of commitment make sense-when you are in your 40’s? Have you had a legitimate opportunity to carve out a practice for yourself and do you see yourself growing with it?

Some enlightened firms of all sizes have adopted polices like; paid parental leave, flexible hours, and modest amount of telecommuting. Others have encouraged an entrepreneur spirit, and a feeling for the lawyers that they are part of team. These firms realize that a majority of associates they bring in will not look at that their initial employment after law school as a permanent one, nor automatically, should you!

Ultimately, I suggest you to speak with close friends and advisors about what sort of life you want to create for yourself. What is important to you? Does being part of a large structure at the firm with all its benefits, provide you with both internal and external gratification?

Although firms are attempting to change the way they do business since the legal recession, with the model that has existed for decades, that may or may not be enough for your. Change is inevitable in life, both in ones professional and personal lives; ultimately either the firm will encourage you to continue to grow with them, or not, or you make the conscious decision to move on as your priorities and values of time may change.

Unlike corporations, most law firms, rarely ever ask you what quality of life looks like to you! It is important you ask that question yourself.

About the author

David E. Behrend

Director of Career Planning Service, I have been a consultant working with attorneys and other professionals for over 25 years. My focus is on career development, concentrating on meaningful or necessary job change or career transitions. I have authored many articles on the subject, and have appeared on numerous radio and television shows. My practice offers both office and telephone career consultations.

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