Dear Amicus Agony,
I have been in practice as a disputes lawyer since I was called to the Bar in 2018. I used to like litigation but recently I am beginning to have some doubts. The work is tedious and not what I had envisioned when I first started practice. While I do not mind putting in the hours per se, I am not sure if I am picking up the right skills or learning the right things when the work that I have been doing just seem so laborious and mundane most of the time.
I am feeling increasingly disheartened and I find myself wondering when will be a good time/PQE to leave practice?
Dear Disheartened Associate,
I think many of us ask ourselves if it is a good time to leave practice throughout the different stages of our career and it is normal for you to find yourself asking that question as well. In order to answer this question, we first have to figure out, if possible, why we are thinking of leaving practice in the first place. Whatever your motivation(s) are for leaving practice, you should consider whether your decision to leave practice is merely a stopgap measure or is it to address a long-term issue.
Of course, we all know that the practice of law can be very hard, especially in the early years, but it can also be very rewarding. It would be a waste if you were to give up on your chance for a rewarding career in the years to come because you are unable to see past the mind-numbing discovery/proofreading/ research that you are doing today. Don’t forget, every senior lawyer you see in court today was once a junior lawyer doing the most tedious work that you might be doing now.
While you might not feel like you are learning much from going through boxes and boxes of documents or trawling through LawNet for that “slam dunk” case for the umpteenth time, these tasks will put you in good stead when you are given more responsibilities in the future. I am sure you have come across many cases where the decision turned on a crucial piece of evidence, on a particular point of law, or a combination of both. This would not have been possible if the lawyer(s) conducting the case did not go through hours of discovery and research that helped to secure the win. It is true that many aspects of our job as lawyers are tedious and time-consuming, but it is through this training that we learn to be thorough and meticulous.
Do not be disheartened if you feel like you are not learning much from the work that you are doing from day to day. You can try speaking to your seniors/bosses to ask them for feedback on your work or to ask them how you can better assist them so that you know that you are on the right track. Take some time to reflect on your own progress since your days as a trainee and celebrate the milestones and little victories that you have achieved. If you get the chance to work with or to mentor a junior, share your learning experience with him/her and talk about the mistakes you have made and how to avoid making them. Such sharing not only helps your junior to learn, it is also a good exercise to take stock of your own progress. In short, look up, look inward and look back so that you can have a clearer vision on how to move forward.
That being said, if you have already decided that staying in practice is not what you want to do, then you should take some time to seriously consider what you want to do when you leave practice. Do you want to leave practice but continue doing work that is law-related or do you want to do something entirely different?
Generally speaking, if you are sure that you want to move to an entirely different industry, then you might want to start gaining experience in that industry sooner rather than later. However, if you are considering leaving practice but want to do something that is still law-related then you might want to consider what type of skills and experience you need to have/pick up for such a role. Speak to people who are working in that particular area to find out more about how you can prepare yourself for such a move.
Instead of asking when is a good time to leave practice, it might be better to first ask yourself why do you want to leave practice, then try to find out what would you rather be doing, and how do you prepare yourself for that move. I hope that after all that, you will end up where you really want to be, whether it is in practice or not.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a young lawyer in a small-sized law firm. Contrary to most of my learned friends, I really enjoy practice at my firm, the camaraderie with my colleagues and I do intend to stay in practice for the long run. However, I often feel pressured to hit my billing targets and the partner I am working under would constantly pressure me to churn out invoices, bill my clients and contact them to make payment. This has really affected my morale and my enthusiasm for practising law. What should I do?
Unwilling Debt Collector
Dear Unwilling Debt Collector,
It is heartening to hear that a young lawyer like yourself has plans to stay in the industry in the long run!
The sad reality is that law firms are not just places for lawyers to hone their craft but they are firms running a business. Apart from ensuring that their staff salaries are being paid, the firm also has to pay many hidden cost such as rental of the office space, supplies for the office, practising certificate fees etc. After paying the basic running costs of the firm, the firm would also have to profit from running the business too. As such, the firm management’s billing targets are often projected by the firm to take into account all expenses and also profits for the firm which would translate as bonuses for the staff too.
However, perhaps as a young lawyer you are of the view that honing your craft should take precedent. While it is not wrong to take that view, you would nonetheless have to be mindful of the cost you are incurring the firm if you do not add financial value to them. Sadly, this would affect your KPI and long term prospects with your firm. Maybe you can consider sitting down with the partner you are working under and express your concerns and propose some workable suggestions for him to consider. For example, collecting a higher deposit when the new case file is opened or getting the accounts department of the firm to contact clients who have not paid their bills to remind them.
Lastly, as you intend to stay in the industry in the long run, do take note that as you become more senior, your billing targets will increase accordingly. Do keep that in mind as your future in the industry may be different from what you have envisioned. Nevertheless, it is still heartening to hear that a young lawyer like yourself enjoys practice and I hope that being an unwilling debt collector will not deter you from being in the industry in the long run.