Young Lawyer Feels Isolated at Big Firm

I am a young lawyer at a large multi-national firm in Boston, and I am feeling incredibly isolated. Although there were over 30 people in my “class” of associates, I rarely have time to socialize with them, even at firm events or for short lunches during the week. My friends in solo practice say they feel isolated too, and that makes sense to me. But I work at a big firm and am surrounded by people every day, yet I still feel alone and miss contact with others. Why do I feel so alone, and how can I overcome these feelings?

It is not uncommon for new lawyers in all types of practice to feel isolated, particularly in today’s legal environment, where every 6 or 12 minute increment spent visiting with a colleague or at lunch with a friend is defined as time not billed. Lawyers are trained in law school to be focused, driven, and emotionally detached. As a result, they face a risk of generalized detachment — professionally from clients, peers, and colleagues; and, in personal life, from everyone else –sometimes including themselves.

As a new lawyer, you probably also feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of your work, much of it done alone in the library or at the computer. Of the skills you mastered in law school, research and writing are most readily transferable to your duties for the firm. Your ability to work as a team member and collaborate on sophisticated legal issues will develop over time. During that process, be sure to speak up with your supervisors, requesting a variety of types of projects, including those that require working with other lawyers. Some of your time on these assignments may ultimately be written off, but you will benefit in the long run.

It is also important to establish healthy patterns and boundaries early in your career at the firm. Make plans with your coworkers or friends outside of the firm for lunch, walks, and after-work events, and include them in your daily calendar. Then, treat them as you would a client or partner appointment – keep them. Although there will be times when this is truly impossible, your general rule should be to respect your time as much as the firm’s. That approach will allow you to build and maintain connections, reducing isolation and ultimately making you a happier and better employee.

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