Career Health Values Wellness

How toxic is too toxic?

Written by Allison Wolf


I wish some law firms could come with a warning label. Here is an example of what I am implying…

John worked at a firm with two partners who controlled every moment of his day. A six-day in the office workweek was enforced. On a daily basis, he had to listen to demeaning comments made about his performance heard through the paper-thin office walls. On the outside, the partners were respected, acknowledged as exemplary mentors, and admired. Inside the firm they were cruel, demanding, and controlling.

This is not an isolated incident. The worst offenders often take great pains to manage their professional reputations. They win awards. They are on important boards and committees. They cloak themselves in recognitions to safeguard themselves against being found out.

Who would believe a junior associate when they are so esteemed?

Sadly, I wish I was exaggerating but I am not. While less serious but equally problematic is when the partner hands off work to very junior associates and provide no supervision.

How do you know if you are dealing with a toxic partner?

Read more in my SLAW article where I outline behaviours that point towards this and coaching questions to guide you in thinking through your next steps. If you can’t survive one more week then a counsellor or a coach can help you make a plan for a swift exit. Feel free to reach out to me or seek the free counselling service active in your jurisdiction. They will be able to connect you with resources. In the meantime, consult this list of services available in all Canadian Provinces courtesy of the Canadian Bar Association:



About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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