Really Want Partnership?

I am a 7th year associate at a local Massachusetts law firm, and I’m coming up for partner soon. I’ve worked hard the last seven years – late hours, long weekends, and many missed family vacation, and I feel as though I missed seeing my kids in preschool. While I’ve looked forward for a long time to partnership, expecting that it would bring increased freedom, a reduced schedule, and more family time, the young partners that I observe and talk to seem to be working even harder than ever. I’m afraid maybe I don’t want this after all. I feel that my wife would be devastated if she knew of my misgivings, but she also has not enjoyed my absence from home life. And maybe I’m wrong—maybe it’s not so bad. What should I do?

First, know that you are not alone–You face a reality that many lawyers face, often to their surprise. Many lawyers think that once they attain partner status, things will slow down and get easier. However, as you have observed, the realities of law practice today mean that partners frequently work as hard as associates —or even harder. As partner, you would typically face added pressures, compounding the familiar demands to bring in clients and generate billable hours. After years of grueling hours dedicated to the goal of attaining the status and rewards of partnership, many lawyers realize that perhaps what they thought they wanted is out of synch with who they really are and what they really value.

Do not be alarmed. You are doing the right thing by examining your priorities. Among the people to whom we sometimes send our clients are career coaches, who sometimes administer exercises designed to take a fresh look at one’s genuine values, talents, and sources of fulfillment. While some lawyers are surprised to find that their current jobs actually fit these individualized needs well (but they may have lost sight of that fact because of extraneous factors), others realize that they may have left their personal missions far behind. Often, a coach will seek to reconnect the client with their original motivations to pursue a career in the law. From the moment one enters law school and the culture of lawyers, it is easy (and in some ways useful) to board the career train that goes in a certain direction, including the aspiration of partnership in a big firm. But that train may, in fact, be taking you down a track to a destination never consciously considered and chosen.

If, in fact, you decide that partnership is not for you, you may consider yourself lucky. Many of us spend too many years working too hard at a pursuit for which we have no passion. Given the increasing options available in the legal profession today, including part time, contract and even of counsel positions, you may well find something that better suits your needs. The trade-off, and it is certainly a very difficult one, is that the alternative road may be much less remunerative. But the fact is (backed up by some scientific studies) that wealth is at best weakly correlated with happiness, and that, aside from those living in poverty, there may be no difference in life satisfaction between the wealthy and the rest of us.

If LCL can be of service to you and/or your wife (to help think these issues through, make a referral to a career coach, etc.), give us a call.

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