Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a junior associate in a small firm with two partners.
The mentor whom I work with the most, specialises in family law disputes whereas the cases handled by the other partner are more commercial in nature.
When I first joined the firm as a trainee, I was intrigued and motivated by the idea of taking on cases that allowed me to reach out to others.
However, things slowly changed as I was pushed into handling more and more clients after becoming an associate.
I started feeling emotionally drained by the constant calls from anxious clients table requesting my immediate attention on their case at any hour of the day.
The constant exposure to the spiteful and vindictive actions by some of the parties involved in these cases towards their former spouses have caused me sleepless nights. In addition, I have resorted to stress-eating to manage my misery. Contrary to how I feel, my mentor seems to love every aspect of her work, including the aspect of client management.
I am starting to feel that family law is not for me and I have entertained thoughts of joining the “team” of the other partner in the firm. However, I am afraid that my mentor may perceive such a move on my part as an act of betrayal. What should I do?
Overwhelmed and Overweight Associate
Dear Overwhelmed and Overweight Associate,
Before you make the “leap of faith” by joining the other “team”, it is important to consider whether making the move is likely to make you happier.
On the other side of the fence, you may perceive commercial litigation work as uninteresting as compared to your family law work. Clients may be equally anxious and demanding in commercial disputes.
In my view, a good move would be to speak to your mentor about the burnout from your constant exposure to family law cases.
As a senior practitioner in the field, she would likely have gone through a similar situation and would be well-placed to advise you on how to cope with your present circumstances.
Even if your conversation with her does not provide you with a solution, at the very least, it will serve as an appropriate avenue for you to raise your hopes of taking on more files involving commercial disputes as opposed to family law matters. After such a conversation, your mentor would be more likely be able to understand your motivations for switching “teams” or taking on more commercial dispute matters.
Apart from having a frank conversation with your mentor, it may be helpful for your personal well-being, to set healthy boundaries between work and personal life. One way would be to manage your clients’ expectations by informing them clearly and ahead of time, of what to expect each step of the way so that you may allay their potential fears. You could also seize the opportunity to inform them of how they would expect to hear from you and when.
Whilst it is difficult, it may be equally important to maintain a “rigid cut-off” time when you disengage from all aspects of your work. Do consider working out as it has the benefit of not only making you physically healthier but also happier.
The reality is that, noble as the pursuit may be, family law practice may not be every lawyer’s cup of tea. However, it is equally important to consider if whether your desire to take on more commercial litigation files is motivated by a genuine interest to explore that area of practice or if whether it is a convenient escape towards an area of law that is unrelated to your current specialisation.