When should you quit your career? How do you know when you’ve chosen the wrong one? How long should you give yourself before you quit — and how many jobs should you try in that career? Reader F has SUCH a great question about this:
Question for you: how do you know if you hate your particular JOB or hate your whole CAREER? I’m a first year associate in (the biggest of) big law, and I know it was supposed to be hard — I knew I was going to bill 200 hours a month coming into this! — but I think my position might be particularly hard because of people I work for. How do I know the difference between a challenging environment (and maybe should switch jobs) or a terrible career choice (and maybe should switch careers)? At what point do you throw in the towel and say, “It’s not them, it’s me”?
I can’t wait to hear what readers say here because I think this is something a LOT of people — particularly entry-level BigLaw lawyers — struggle with. We’ve talked about changing careers before (the pros and cons of different careers, as well as my own experience in career changes. While I had yet to find my fit in the law before I decided to focus on this blog, many of our readers are happy lawyers, and hopefully they’ll have some great advice for Reader F. For what it’s worth, though, here’s my take:
Reader F is less than one year in. She’s just spent three years of her life getting this degree — and unless she was fantastically lucky to get a ton of scholarships, significant money has undoubtedly been spent. Considering the investment of money and time, I would suggest she owes it to herself to spend at least as many years being a lawyer. I remember years ago a reader shared her “two year rule” for new jobs:
My theory on job satisfaction is that anyone can do any job for 2 years. The first 6 months you are still learning the job and meeting everyone. The next 6 months you are getting the hang of it so you’re actually starting to get into a comfort zone and enjoy it. The third 6 months is when you start to realize, hey this job kind of sucks. Then in the last 6 months you are able to power through because you’ve already started planning and taking actions to get to your next job. After 2 years, unless you can honestly say you’re fully engaged and loving your job, then you better start making a move before you totally burn out without an exit plan.
(Maddeningly, I can’t find it on the site right now, only in my personal OneNote.) Anyhow: I hadn’t heard it put like that before, but I agree with it, and I think two years is long enough to avoid the appearance of job hopping. So I would say, Reader F, power through in your BigLaw job. Definitely try to get work with other people (since that sounds like it’s a main component of your current discontent), and possibly try other paths in your job, such as doing both litigation and corporate. You could talk with HR about getting more flexible hours, or job sharing. You could even try to change offices within your BigLaw job, and move to a different city where the vibe is different. After you’ve been there about 1.5 years, start looking for a new job. (Unless you want to clerk, in which case, start now!) At that point, I’d suggest connecting with a good recruiter (or a career coach) and explore what might be a good next move in the law: another BigLaw job, perhaps in a different city? A smaller law firm? A non-profit job? Government work? A clerkship? There are different pros and cons to each — but I think you can definitely get another 2 years out of your next move. After those two years are up, you should have even more options in the law (such as working in house), outside the law (such as finding a job where having a JD is a benefit but not required — at least in my experience those are usually more senior positions), or in a law-related field (such as my friend who became a law librarian). After four years, you could also make a total career change. Keep in mind that at this point, you may or may not have a family to consider, also, which tends to change things — you may need flexibility, a certain income, a different city, whatever.
The one caveat, I would say, would be if Reader F was really curious about another field that is a better fit for an energetic, unattached 20-something (if that indeed describes Reader F). For example, when I was around 30 I considered switching to a consulting career; it sounded fun to me. My friends who had done it strongly, strongly encouraged me to ignore that avenue, noting that the work and travel requirements are not conducive to someone who was, at that point, looking for a change from BigLaw hours. A friend who got her MBA in her late ’20s was strongly encouraged away from investment banking for similar reasons. Similarly, you may want to consider a bigger adventure, such as working abroad — it’s certainly not impossible with a family, but logistically it’s a lot easier if it’s just you.
Ladies, what are your thoughts — when should you throw in the towel with your career? What factors would make you switch?
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