Knowing when to leave your firm

By John Allison 

As a lawyer it is important for you to take personal responsibility for managing your professional career. Your law firm or other employer cannot be expected to manage your legal career as well as you can manage it yourself. 

Whether you are a partner or an associate in a law firm, or an in-house lawyer practicing in the legal department of a company or nonprofit organization, you may find yourself feeling dissatisfied with your current situation. 

That feeling will not simply go away. Acknowledge your dissatisfaction and take some time to identify its source and to determine whether you have the ability to make the situation better. 

If boredom or burnout is the source of your dissatisfaction, you might be able to regain your enthusiasm for the practice of law by moving into a different practice area within your law firm or by changing your in-house assignment. If your dissatisfaction is due to a difficult working relationship with one of your colleagues, a candid conversation with your colleague may improve the working relationship. 

Sometimes, however, feelings of dissatisfaction are a signal that it is time to start thinking about leaving your firm and finding somewhere else to practice law. If you do not feel valued in your current firm it is time to make a change. 

You may be an associate in a law firm who is told that you will not be invited to become a partner, or an in-house lawyer who is passed over for a promotion. Or, you might be dissatisfied with your compensation and feel that your contributions to the firm are not being recognized and fairly rewarded.

Also, the culture of an organization can change. You might find that your practice area is no longer valued and supported by your law firm. New corporate management can change the values and priorities of an in-house legal department. 

You may start feeling marginalized and realize that your current place of employment will no longer give you the opportunity to fully develop your law practice and have the professional life you want. 

You might also discover that, for whatever reason, the culture of the organization is no longer aligned with your personal, professional and ethical values. When issues like these are the source of your dissatisfaction it is probably time to start looking for somewhere else to practice law.   

John Allison is a professional career coach backed by years of experience as a successful lawyer. He is the founder of The Coach for Lawyers and author of "The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers."