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?