Will they think about you on their deathbed?

Will they think about you on their deathbed? 

This question is dark and a little bit morbid for sure, but hear me out because it has given me some much needed clarity in my own career planning. Plus, fall and Halloween are on my mind as I sit in Starbucks writing this blog post – the pumpkin spice drinks are already back on the menu! (It’s still August!)

This was a question asked in an episode of The Happy Lawyer Project podcast. I have been listening to Okeoma Moronu’s podcast over the last few months and have found Okeoma and her guests’ insights incredibly valuable, mainly because it has put into words a lot of the concerns and questions about being a junior lawyer that have been swirling through my mind.

Everytime the idea of a career outside of my firm crosses my mind, I feel immediate guilt and anxiety. My internal voice says you can never leave the firm, you owe them so much. This is problematic on a few levels and I understand that. However, I still have not been able to stop this particular thought from popping into my mind and quelling any dreams of alternative career paths or even areas of speciality within my own practice group.

Why do I feel so indebted to my law firm? Well I think there are a few reasons, mainly that I have been working with the firm since I was a summer law student (I’m now a second year associate). So, my firm is the only place that I have worked as a professional since entering law school. Any time that I consider leaving, I think about the direct inconvenience that it will cause to the people that I have grown to know and respect over the past 5 years.

This guilt does not appear to be uncommon, especially for female lawyers. In a 2017 article by Stephanie Russell-Kraft on Bloomberg Law, Elena Deutsch, a professional career coach who assists women lawyers with career transitions from big law, explained that several of her clients have admitted to feeling guilty about leaving their firms.

BUT, the question of “will any of these people (the partners and senior associates at my law firm) think about me on their deathbed”, forced me to take pause and reflect on what I owe the firm. I feel that I owe the firm my best possible work while I am an employee and of course to act ethically as required by the rules of professional conduct. However, I do not owe them my entire career or a promise that I will never desire to change my practice area. At least as far as I can remember, those were not terms of my employment agreement.

Further, from my own experience with other associates leaving the firm, I can report that the partners and senior associates rarely mention them. This is not because these associates were disliked or poor lawyers, simply that the members of the firm have moved on and are not spending the rest of their working lives grieving or fuming over the departure of these lawyers.

So, if such thoughts are clouding thoughts or dreams about your future in the law too, let’s try to remember that these thoughts are not rational. We owe that to ourselves. I am trying to create a life in the law where I make a positive contribution to my workplace, but that will allow me to have other people, places and things to reminisce about on my own deathbed.

Do you have any feelings of guilt around considering career paths outside of your law firm? How do you manage these thoughts and worries?

-J

The leaving big law google

Have you ever googled “Leaving big law”? Lately, I have caught myself googling those words a lot. I have googled them in the morning while having breakfast, during a quick social media break at the office and even in bed at the end of a long day of work.

In these google searches, I have come across a lot of blogs, reddit posts and podcasts from law students considering futures in big law and lawyers, who have practiced for quite a while (5 + years), and who have successfully transitioned into careers outside of big law.

I am not a student nor a senior associate. I am only entering my second year as a lawyer, and have been left wondering, (1) where are the search results for me and (2) what exactly am I looking for?

So, where are the search results for me? Well, I cannot verify this, but I wonder if there is a lack of discussion online by more junior lawyers, because our questions are more open-ended. As a junior, we aren’t looking to find out how to land a job or how to leave our firm. Really, we are looking first to find out if we can survive and thrive in our firms and current positions. The search results may also be scarce, because perhaps we don’t want to admit that after all of the studying we’ve done and money we’ve spent, we might not be happy in law.

It is hard to admit that you are not happy, especially when you do not want to seem ungrateful. When speaking to my colleagues, I have found that we recognise the many positives to our current work situations and that we have much to be grateful for, including that:

  • We are financially independent, working on paying off our debt and beginning to save for our future after years of school.
  • We are learning at a breakneck speed, noticing how our research, writing and other lawyering skills are improving.
  • We are working with talented (though always demanding) senior associates and partners on interesting files.

Now, what am I looking for when I type the words “leaving big law” into the google search bar? I think that I am looking for permission to be unsure about my future at my firm. I am looking for advice on how to build a practice that is sustainable for me, after being a student at a firm where I said yes to everything and was happy to prove myself by being on call and putting the firm first whenever needed. I also wonder if other juniors like me look at the more senior associates or partners at their firms and wonder if their husbands/wives/significant others or children mind that they only take an hour or two off every evening from work and if they really are fulfilled by giving so much of themselves to the practice of law.

How about you? Have you ever looked for answers online about leaving big law? What were you looking for? Did you find an answer?

– J