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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

December 10, 2019

I am a first year associate at a big law firm and I am miserable. Is it too soon to leave?

Julie Q. Brush

It depends. Generally speaking, one year (or less) isn’t long to be employed before moving on to the next position. And it will usually raise questions for future employers. Whether the time is “too short” really depends on the context and circumstances. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

If you are thinking about a move in house, you are currently too junior to be competitive for these positions. The most junior in house roles in the market today tend to be slotted at the 3rd or 4th year level. In addition, coming straight from a law firm puts you at an added disadvantage compared to other candidates with in house experience. Given their druthers, employers prefer candidates with in house experience as opposed to those coming straight from law firms.

If you want to move to another law firm, there may be opportunities depending on the demand at a particular snapshot in time. Your ability to move to another firm now will depend on the market conditions, your practice, your credentials, your grades and the quality of your present firm. In the current legal market, the need for junior associates is moderate depending on what part of the country you reside.

Given all these circumstances, it would ideally be best for you to stay put for at least another year. But if you have hit your wall and simply can’t bear it anymore, start developing a strategy that will provide a course for the future.

You’re very early in your career to walk the path of disillusionment (although I know you are not alone). So in order to make the wisest career choices and avoid falling into a checkered work history, I encourage you to go beyond your misery and dissect the following:

  • What makes you so unhappy in your current position?
  • What are the things you like about your job?
  • What is it about the work that you like? Don’t like?
  • Which lawyers in your current firm do you like to work with? Why?
  • What skills are your strengths? Weaknesses?
  • What does the “perfect” job look like to you?
  • What do you need to be happy and fulfilled in your career?

The important thing in this exercise is to be as specific as possible. And use these answers to help crystallize the profile of your next role and employer. If you don’t know who you are, what you want or what you need, you will not develop the right compass to navigate your career and achieve professional happiness.

Once you have clarity, try to be proactive in your current situation to get what you need – or as much of it as possible. Even if you are on the market, it will take time to find another position so why not try and make lemonade out of lemons while you are still in your current role? You have much to gain by doing so.

At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own careers and professional happiness – regardless of seniority. Nobody else will shoulder that task for us. And no matter what kind of unhappy career situation we find ourselves in, there is always a way out with a positive attitude, good strategy and execution. The beginning of your journey has started out a little bumpy but by getting your plan set now, you can quickly place yourself on a course of smoother sailing.

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