Even if you dreamed about landing this legal job, it might be time to move on. If you’re feeling like it might be time to leave your law firm, read on.
The fear of quitting is understandable. Leaving your firm is not a decision to be taken lightly, especially when you’re still building your career and your reputation.
At the same time, it’s unwise to stay in a position where you’re unhappy, unfulfilled, or experiencing problems that affect your mental health. To help you make the right decision, look for the signs in this article that you should start looking for a different position.
What happens when you stay at the wrong firm?
Staying in the wrong job can be harmful to your health and your long-term career prospects.
Legal jobs are stressful, but there’s a big difference between workplace stress and dangerous burnout. If your working environment is unhealthy and you don’t take steps to change it, you are exposing yourself to major risks to your physical and mental health.
What if you are willing to temporarily prioritize your career growth over your personal wellness in order to get ahead?
That often backfires when you’re in a toxic workplace.
First, consider whether you can realistically do your best work when you’re struggling with frequent illness, unhealthy stress levels, and burnout. Poor quality work isn’t great for your reputation.
More importantly, though, unhealthy law firm cultures are often full of behaviors that will stunt your career growth.
If you’re in a cutthroat environment, for example, there’s a good chance that your teammates are willing to undermine your good work to make themselves look better.
A culture that thrives on the idea that you’re not dedicated unless you work at all hours and achieve impossible goals is also a culture that fails to recognize your regular achievements.
What about a firm that has an acceptable work culture, but questionable policies regarding things like billing and client management? Any firm that condones less-than-ethical behaviors might not be a great reference for future positions.
Not every situation is this dire. Sometimes, you’re just not a good fit for the law firm that employed you, and that’s okay. Consider your situation to determine whether it’s worth sticking it out to look for an ideal career move, or if you really do need to cut ties quickly to avoid long-term consequences.
When is it time to change jobs? Look for these warning signs
If the issues you have at work can be resolved, go ahead and work on fixing them. Even if you ultimately leave for a more fitting firm, your longer tenure and problem-solving experience will serve you well in your career search.
However, if it’s time to leave, it’s okay to do that. Here are some of the signs that it might be time to change jobs.
#1. You can’t grow
Once you realize that you’re not making any progress either personally or professionally, it’s time to reevaluate.
Ask yourself: are you stagnating because you aren’t motivated to try, or are you stuck because there is no opportunity for growth in your current position?
If there are opportunities available that you’re not motivated to take, that could still be a sign that your work environment isn’t the right fit for you. Do some soul-searching to decide if you need to find your passion again or if you need a change of environment.
At firms where there really is no chance to grow internally, your only option to advance your career is to seek opportunity elsewhere.
#2. You hate going to work
Realistically, if you dread going to work every day, you should make a change right away. You spend a huge portion of your time at work. It’s not okay to be miserable.
Will changing firms make a difference?
Only you can answer that. It depends on whether you’re unhappy at your firm or burnt out in your legal career.
If you used to be excited about your legal career, but now it feels like the spark is gone, try the tips in this free eBook from InfoTrack on How to fall back in love with your legal career. Click the link to get more details, or download your free copy here.
#3. Your attitude has changed outside of work
When your job starts to affect your life outside of work, that’s a warning sign that you shouldn’t ignore. You may be experiencing burnout, situational depression, or other stress-related illnesses.
Loss of energy, reduced interest in your hobbies, and shorter temper are all indicators that your job is affecting your mental health.
Sometimes, these changes occur gradually. You may want to ask your loved ones if they’ve noticed anything about your attitude or behavior that they find concerning. These kinds of comments can be hard to hear, but their perspective and concern for your wellbeing can help immensely.
#4. The firm’s values don’t align with yours
Core values are the things you find most important in life. For example, if your family is your highest priority and you would never disappoint them to pursue a career goal, then being a dedicated family member is probably one of your core values.
Your law firm has core values, too. The firm might prioritize community service, excellence in litigation, or impressive work ethic. These values will be part of the firm’s culture and work style.
For the most part, core values aren’t right or wrong. Problems mainly arise when the firm’s values and yours don’t match.
In other words, if your firm focuses strongly on aggressively representing clients, but you strongly value compassion and cooperation, there could be a problem. Neither approach is wrong. The issue is the mismatch, not the values themselves.
Having matching values is important for your long-term health and happiness.
It’s okay to stick around and do your best while you look for a better fit, but don’t plan to stay for years at a firm where you feel like you have to compromise your morals.
#5. There are ethical or legal violations
Speaking of compromising your morals, you may find yourself at a firm where you have major ethical concerns.
More than a values mismatch, a firm that violates ethics may be doing something that violates ABA rules or even breaks the law. This is a much more serious issue.
Misconduct occurs when a legal professional violates (or attempts to violate) the Rules of Professional Conduct, when they knowingly help someone do so, or when they order an employee to break those rules.
There is also a rule (ABA Model Rule 8.3 Reporting Professional Misconduct) that states:
A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority.
If you have witnessed people at your firm breaking the Rules or the law, the first step is to speak to the firm’s leadership. You can also consider reporting to the appropriate authorities if you judge it necessary.
However, if the unethical or illegal behavior is coming from firm leadership, you may have no internal avenue to report your concerns. In these cases, you should refuse to take any actions yourself that break the law or violate the Rules. Report misconduct appropriately.
Seek employment at a new firm, but be mindful that your job search may need to be discrete.
As you interview, talking about your situation may come across as badmouthing your current firm. Some interviewers will be turned off by that. Focus on your strengths and the things you want in your next position instead.
#6. You are underpaid
The whole reason you work at a job is to make money, right? If you’re struggling to pay your bills and you’re paid well below market rates for your job, it might be time to seek a new position.
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to an acceptable salary.
Small, independent firms usually pay employees less than big firms with deeper pockets. Firms that can’t afford top-tier salaries might offer more flexibility, better culture, and other perks instead. In areas where the cost of living is lower, paychecks tend to be lower, too.
Jumping from firm to firm in pursuit of small salary increases can make it look like you’re an unreliable employee, hurting your chances of landing a competitive position later.
At the same time, economic pressures are real, and you must consider your own financial needs in the immediate future.
If you’re being paid less than market rates in your area for similar positions, you aren’t receiving other benefits that make it worth the lower pay, and you’ve tried to negotiate a higher pay rate without success, shopping for a new employer is the next logical step.
#7. You can no longer perform your responsibilities
Even if you’re working for the world’s best law firm, there are still circumstances that make it impractical for you to stay on staff.
Lifestyle changes, health concerns, or evolutions in the nature of your industry can make it difficult or impossible for you to continue performing your job responsibilities. If you can’t do your job anymore, consider your options.
In some cases, you can request reasonable accommodations to allow you to continue working in your position. A disability may be addressed with an added piece of technology or change in work environment, for example.
It’s not always possible or practical to adjust, though. If you can’t do your job anymore, you might need to think about a new firm, position, or career goal.
Whether you decide to stay at your current firm or move on to a new opportunity, remember that you aren’t stuck anywhere. You have the power to choose the right path for you, and there are lots of resources available to help you achieve your long-term goals.
Stay positive and focus on what you ultimately want to accomplish. Jobs are important, but they’re just one piece of your life. You can and will find the right place for you.