Dear Amicus Agony,
When I first started practice, I had joined this law firm where I felt miserable the whole time. The boss would deliberately call the office at 5-6pm on Friday evenings to give us “urgent research” to be done over the weekend. He would later say he is “training us for litigation practice”. We were not able to plan our holidays in advance because “we are in litigation; you never know what might crop up”. I had to cancel a trip because he decided to book his trip at the exact same period as mine even though I had booked the trip even before getting called to the bar.
No surprises, both associates quit. I was there for only three months.
My current firm, on the other hand, puts me in an ethical dilemma. I was once told to start drafting a statement of claim so that we can start billing. This was despite the fact that we had little facts and we were waiting for the client’s supporting evidence which he said he was collating for us (he just needed some time because of his busy schedule). Nonetheless, I was forced to draft it (with assumed facts) because the boss wanted to increase billings. After reviewing the documents given by the client after drafting the SOC, it would turn out that the evidence does not support the client’s case and we had to scrap the entire SOC. Often, I would also feel that the client’s “instructions” were not “informed instructions”. Certain material questions which should have been asked in order to assess the merits of the case were not asked so that the clients would be inclined to commence an action. I know it is business, but we should still be guided by ethical standards.
These incidents affect me greatly as I feel that it goes beyond the ethical boundaries. I am looking to change firm and I was told that changing firms too many times would make my CV look bad. What should I do?
I do understand your concern that changing too many firms in your early days of practice may be frowned upon.
One question to ask yourself is whether you are learning the right things in your current firm. If you feel that you are put in an ethical dilemma and that it is affecting you mentally, it would seem like a good reason to leave the firm. Often, junior lawyers are put in a difficult situation which may be wrong (or in the grey area) but they have no choice but to follow instructions. It is frustrating.
While I cannot speak for all employers, there are good employers out there who understand or bother to find out the reasons why you quit your previous jobs. Most importantly, through the interviews, you can have an idea as to whether the potential employer and you are on the same page. Do not feel defeated if they do not hire you. It may be that you and the potential employer are not on the same page or your values are not aligned; it’s probably for the better. I know job hunting is not easy, but you do not want to change from one bad place to another bad place.
Be patient, because the employer who hires you after listening to your predicament would more likely be on the same page as you and appreciate the principles you hold as a lawyer.
Legal practice is not easy, but trust me, a good office culture helps. There are good employers out there. Don’t give up!
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am now a Senior Associate after having been in my firm and practising for two years only. I am very excited about the promotion, but I am also very daunted about the duties that follow. My firm is on the smaller side, and I am told that Associates get promoted very fast and early even though they may not be very experienced or ready for the job. I have also been asked to do business development and bring in clients, apart from being given very high billable targets, which I feel is not feasible because I have to spend time to procure more clients. Isn’t this more of a Partner’s job?
Help! What do I do?
Overwhelmed Senior Associate
Dear Overwhelmed Senior Associate,
Let me start by congratulating you on your promotion!
I think that you should embrace the promotion, as well as the challenges that come with it. This is a great opportunity for you to learn and grow in your legal career.
Traditionally, business development is indeed more of a Partner’s job. However, you can look at this from the perspective that you would be getting a head start in learning a new skill that is quite integral for any law firm to continue as a going concern. As long as it is not your individual responsibility to bring in new clients for the firm but more of working with your Partners to achieve that, do think of it as a learning opportunity for yourself and as far as possible, take it in your stride. If things get out of hand and you find that you cannot handle both your work and business development, you should perhaps have a conversation with your Partner to better manage the firm’s expectations, and yours.
We hope the above helps, and all the best!