Dear Amicus Agony,
I am unhappy about the uneven work distribution at my firm. I find it hard to accept that a senior (also a junior associate) who has two years more experience and who is earning more than me is receiving a lot less work and responsibility. To make matters worse, he always complains to others that he is very stressed and busy but I know he does not have that much work at all (and he consistently leaves the office earlier than me). Is this normal in practice? How do I cope with this?
Dear Joyless Junior,
To answer your first question, there is nothing normal in practice, unfortunately. While one tends to expect equal treatment in terms of work distribution, remuneration and recognition, the reality of practice makes these things hard to come by. What do we do when we feel unfairly treated then?
I believe there are a few issues at play here, and I hope the following points help you address your frustration.
First, things are often not as “unfair” as they seem. It is hard to have a true view of what goes on in a firm sometimes, when not everyone is involved in the same files. Generally, an associate with higher PQE is expected to delegate more and take on less work. This does not necessarily lessen their pressures at work though, as they are expected to take on more responsibility in the matters that they oversee. For example, your boss may be more likely to look to your senior, rather than you, when something goes wrong.
Second, there is always a silver lining to be found in every situation. In this case, it sounds like you handle a fair share of responsibility and work, perhaps more so than others in the firm. This could be a sign that your firm trusts your capability and potential. Treat this as an opportunity to learn and be thankful as others may not have the same. More importantly, focusing on the positive side of every situation helps you to keep your head up whenever the going gets tough.
Third, if it is seriously affecting your work performance and morale, consider giving feedback to the partner(s) delegating the work. Examine the reasons behind your frustration honestly. Does it stem from a feeling that you are underappreciated by your firm? Or are you exhausted from being overworked, and wishing that your senior would pull his/her weight in the team?
At the end of the day, you may not be able to do much to change the situation that you are caught in. Be honest with yourself to see if you need to manage your expectations. At the same time, keep in mind that effort does not go unrecognised by good bosses and team players. Do not be afraid to speak to the right people, or ask your senior to help you out if you are struggling.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a junior associate who loves my job despite its long hours. I am also thankful to have a wonderful and supportive family. However, due to the unpredictability of work sometimes, I have had to cancel plans with friends in order to deal with an urgent new matter or prepare last minute bundles for a hearing.
Some friends who are not in the profession think that I am just making excuses, or being too much of a workaholic. Out of concern for my well-being, they would warn me against placing too much time and importance on my work.
On the other hand, fellow practising lawyers who have been on the receiving end of similar remarks would commiserate. They tell me to just get used to the fact that non-lawyers will never understand the nature of our work, and the fact that we have to put in the hours to hone our craft. Thus, we should not heed their advice or expect too much of them in the emotional support department.
I am torn between the two camps. While it is unhealthy to be a workaholic, is it really so bad if it allows me to grow in competence as a lawyer? Or am I unintentionally caught in a rat race that my friends are trying to pull me out of?
Dear Myopic Minion,
It is heartening to know that despite the challenges of practice you love your job and are willing to work hard to excel. Unfortunately, given the nature of practice, some sacrifices are inevitable. You are not alone.
Take a step back. Ultimately it is up to you to decide how far to go or how hard to work before the sacrifices become too “costly”. It is true that hard work is necessary for junior lawyers to hone their craft, but is this consistently at the expense of other things that may be equally (if not more) important? Are you taking good care of your mental health and emotional well-being; do you have regular meals and exercise to keep fit; are you dedicating enough time and attention to the people that matter to you? Remind yourself: who or what are you working for? Life is definitely about more than your work. If you one day decide for yourself that you are making too many sacrifices, consider what other options you have, especially if you intend to stay in practice for the long-term.
As for the remarks passed, I believe that your friends mean well. You have also acknowledged that these comments were made out of concern for your well-being. Count yourself blessed. Take this as a show of their support and as a reminder that there are people looking out for you, instead of focusing on the notion that they may “never understand” the nature of your work.
Practice does not get easier, but you will certainly get better — both in terms of your technical skills and your ability to manage your commitments. Keep going and all the best!