Dear Amicus Agony,
I openly tell my friends that I love practising law, but the only downside is that I have to deal with clients. Perhaps I am not a people-person and prefer the comfort of my office desk. While I am resigned to the fact that it is not feasible for me to avoid clients, I especially hate it when I am asked by my boss to “entertain” the clients when they invite members of the firm to a dinner or for drinks.
Further, I treasure my scarce personal time away from the office and do not like mixing with clients outside of work. How do I get out of such client events in a way that does not tell the clients I would rather not spend more time in their company?
Dear Unfriendly Associate,
When it comes to interacting with clients outside of work, this is a sticky subject that is dependent on the area of law you practise and what interaction is contemplated.
Assuming that what you are referring to is simply an innocent time out such as a client dinner, there are a few considerations when you are thinking of whether you should attend or pull out an excuse to skip an event. First off, it is likely that the client is the party who would arrange this event. What is the reason for the event? Would it be a thank-you dinner for a job well done, or is the client hoping that you would be able to discuss his case with him more out of office hours? Also, would the client be expecting your attendance in particular, or would it be satisfactory as long as your boss attends? If the client is organising an event to show appreciation to you or your team, the least you could do would be to turn up at the event and stay for a while before making your escape with some polite (and believable) excuse.
If you are concerned that your time spent at these events could be better used elsewhere, then you could see if another member of your team could go in your place. Alternatively, you could always provide other reasons for being absent but keep in mind that some clients do prefer lawyers that they can build a personal connection with.
Of course, if you are concerned about spending time with clients because there is some other issue at play, or if you feel uncomfortable with some clients, then you should approach your boss to sound things out upfront. At the very least, if there is discomfort with attending such events but you are still asked to go, then attend with another member of your team or ask your boss to be present as well. As an associate, your main job is to do your work well and there is (usually) no obligation on you to entertain your clients socially outside of work.
Dear Amicus Agony,
As background, my firm operates on “team”-system separated based on the areas of law that we practise. However, because my firm is not large, some associates are shared between teams or departments. When I applied for my associate position, I had informed the firm that I wanted to practise in a certain area. But more and more I find that the partners are giving me work to do in areas of law that I did not sign up for.
While I understand that more exposure may be beneficial to me in growing my experience in law, I simply am averse to doing work in certain areas because I do not like what the work requires me to do. Although all the cells in my body call out to me to reject other work, out of fear for my job I am not sure how to go about doing this. Please teach me, sensei.
I see your cry for help. While many may have sounded out the same cries for help in their time as associates, each of us would have faced this problem differently depending on the culture of the firm we are at.
What you have not revealed in your question is whether the culture of your firm allows you to openly air such grievances to the partners in your firm. If so, then your problem may be solved by doing the very same. Before you do so, you need to consider whether this would affect their view of your value as an associate and (on the practical side) your billing targets.
Are the partners assigning you other work because there simply isn’t that much work year-round in the area of law you prefer? Or do they feel that you produce work of such good quality that they are inclined to develop you further in other areas? Depending on your firm culture, having an open chat with the partners about this may help in your situation.
If you feel that the circumstances do not allow you to convey your concerns to those above you, then you may want to consider a change. Definitely go through the pros and cons of leaving your present role before making any decision, since the pastures may not always be greener on the other side. If it is important for you that you only focus on that preferred area of law, then you should try to make this want of yours clear to any future employers.
Young lawyers, the solutions to your problems are now just an e-mail away! If you are having difficulties coping with the pressures of practice, need career advice or would like some perspective on personal matters in the workplace, the Young Lawyers Committee’s Amicus Agony is here for you. E-mail your problems to [email protected].
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