Dear Amicus Agony,
I am newly-called and was recently offered an associate position with the firm I trained at. It is a big firm and notwithstanding the long hours, I enjoy working with the people there. My only gripe is that the team I work with does an extremely specialised area of corporate work and I am not sure if I am interested in that area and I don’t know if I am suited for this job. Thus, I don’t know if this is the correct path to take. Should I accept the offer?
The dilemma you are currently facing is one that you will face repeatedly throughout your career. There will always be pros and cons of staying in your existing job versus moving. First and foremost, you should unpack what you feel about this conundrum. It may be that (1) your real misgiving is that you have reached the proverbial fork in your career “path” and will be crossing the Rubicon with this first step; or (2) you know your calling lies in some other area (or even outside the profession) but are afraid of change; (3) you are undecided on what you want.
If you relate to situation (1), it is a myth that you have to stick to your first area of specialisation in your career. In the grand scheme of things, this first step – while important – is not irreversible, even if you eventually decide to pursue something completely different. If that happens, learn to adapt your acquired skills and utilise your existing networks.
If you relate to situation (2), you will need to bite the bullet. On the bright side, it is great if you know what you want! Be willing and eager to learn. And if it does not work out, see preceding paragraph. At least you would know that you had given yourself that opportunity.
If you relate to situation (3), don’t move for the sake of moving. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Regardless of whether you have been training for six months or a year, it may well be that it was too short a duration for you to properly assess your interest and competence. Be patient with yourself.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I work in a small law firm where business is brisk and I have to work long hours despite earning less than my peers in larger law firms. I understand that the vagaries of practice can sometimes necessitate long hours during certain seasons, but I sometimes feel that with the same number of hours that I am putting in at work, I could be working in a larger outfit with better remuneration and (dare I suggest it) “sexier” matters. I am this close to hopping out of my firm. What should I do?
Dear Jaded Junior,
In this very gruelling practice, the grass can often seem greener on the other side. All things being equal, it certainly appears to make more sense to leave if you can earn more while putting in the same number of hours. Invariably, however, not all things will be equal. Juniors in large firms may have a heftier paycheck, but they may well envy the closer proximity you may enjoy with lead counsel in matters and the comparatively more substantial court experience you may end up having. Of course, if you feel that your firm’s treatment of you borders on exploitation, it may be time for either a chat with your firm’s partners regarding fair remuneration or fair expectations, or looking for greener pastures.
However, even if you do think it is time to leave, I would encourage you to think beyond just remuneration and hours when deciding where to jump to. Are there other factors which are important to you, such as working environment or a particular preference for generalisation/specialisation, just to name a couple? Don’t be too quick to jump out of a frying pan into the fire – it will only be counter-productive if you end up in a firm which you feel like leaving only two months in. Make sure to look before you leap.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am currently a legal executive (and a soon-to-be-associate at my firm) and feel that many of the document-reviewing and drafting processes at my firm can be improved through the use of technology. I am thinking of picking up programming as a hobby. Given that work occupies most of my time, what is the best way for someone like me who has no prior software engineering experience to develop my programming skills?
Congratulations for desiring to make your workplace more efficient and for wanting to pick up programming. Do you have any specific software tools in mind (such as text-analysis or document automation scripts) that you would like to develop? Please be sure to check whether your firm’s IT policies allow you to run such tools on your firm’s documents. Depending on how much time you can set aside to develop your programming skills, it may take a while for your efforts to bear fruit.
That being said, first-time programmers typically find Python to be a relatively easy programming language to pick up. A popular free online reference is Google’s Python Class at https://developers.google.com/edu/python/. You may also consider joining one of the local programming communities on meetup.com or reaching out to lawyers on LinkedIn who have programming or software engineering experience.
Good luck on your legal career and your programming journey!