There are some career-busting mistakes most attorneys make and prematurely end their legal careers. In this fast-paced and high-stress world, it is increasingly hard to become a successful lawyer and stay that way for decades. The reasons are numerous, but there are a handful of fatal mistakes that usually get you jobless in no time at large law firms.
Unemployment is much tougher on attorneys. Unless he or she can go in-house, become a solo practitioner, or find work with the government, an unemployed lawyer will find it nearly impossible to land a job with an equally prestigious law firm after being laid off.
The default bias of most legal recruiters when it comes to lawyers who lost their well-paying jobs is that they were not good enough, might be slackers, or might be difficult people to work with. Unless the job loss is tied to a major life-altering event, law firms are not very lenient with jobless attorneys.
Here are the most common career-killing mistakes an attorney can make without even realizing.
1. You don’t have enough billable hours.
Large law firms operate just like businesses: they need many billable hours to boost profits. They also use the number of hours to assess an attorney’s performance. In most firms, associates are expected to work at least 80 hours per week in their first few years. Not enough billable hours are also the number one reason attorneys are laid off when business is less than stellar.
It is true that some practice areas come with more hours than others. For instance, major cases such as a mesothelioma class action may bring in over 2,500 hours for a mesothelioma attorney over many years. But your performance will be constantly compared to that of your colleagues working on the same case or in the same practice area.
The reasons why billable hours can stay low are very varied. But law firms see low hours as a lack of commitment, or your unwillingness to go all in (more on that in a bit). All attorneys are expected to work and generate work for the law firm.
2. You Don’t Know How to Generate Work
Low billable hours are directly linked to an inability to find work. Especially associates expect work to be given to them, and if the work dries up, they do nothing about it. Partners do create the bulk of the work in a law firm, but their ability to create work was not developed overnight. They too put themselves out there, looked for new clients, negotiated, and networked with the right people in their beginnings.
If you expect work to come to you even if you are very talented, you are short-lived in a highly competitive law firm. Attorneys at the senior level that give you work may get sick, retire, die, or switch law firms and leave you behind. If you do not know how to bring in work yourself, when that happens, you will likely end up fired.
3. You Are Not Fully Committed
If you’ve tied the knot with a major law firm, you will be requested to stay fully committed to the cause. Forget about that rare unicorn named “work-life balance,” getting weekends off, being there for junior at that school sporting event, and so on.
Attorneys are expected to operate just like paramedics and be there for their clients whenever urgent work arises. If your client has a major legal issue that requires your immediate presence in the courtroom, you can not afford to take time off or leave at 6:00 p.m. to make it in time for family dinner.
Law practice in a high-profile law firm requires your 100% commitment to every small detail because a tiny mistake can snowball into a full-blown disaster further down the road.
So, if you want a legal career, you must be fully committed to the law firm’s values and culture, to its clients, and to law practice. Practicing law at a high level has become almost impossible without profound commitment.