The job of practicing law is rife with highs and lows that can leave you feeling defeated, miserable and burned out. Even before the onset of COVID-19, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than people in other professions. Typical complaints are the long and unpredictable hours, stressful responsibilities, difficult clients and the constant conflict. Many attorneys are unhappy at work and don’t know how to change course. Instead of building a path forward, lawyers are at risk of falling into a cycle of discontent if they don’t watch out for these five common mistakes.
Have a negative attitude.
Of course, it’s hard to stay motivated if you’ve lost your sense of purpose. Even if you’re eyeing the door, you need to maintain a positive attitude for both yourself and your coworkers. Negative energy is toxic in any workplace. Continue to meet deadlines, work with clients and maintain your productivity. Managers can easily spot an attorney who is reluctant to take on responsibilities, collaborate with others or share ideas. Do your best to focus on your work and keep moving forward until you have a path out.
Jump ship without a plan.
Don’t apply to any and every competing firm. One of the biggest mistakes lawyers often make is to jump ship to another law practice, thinking it will make them happier. If you haven’t done the work to figure out what you really want and what you’re good at doing, you run the risk of taking a position that isn’t a good fit … again. Before you start sending out your résumé, hone in on what you hate about your current job. Make a list of what you love about your position. Identify your strengths and start researching careers that meet that criteria.
Remember, the legal community is a pretty small world. Don’t badmouth your current employer, manager or colleagues to a prospective employer, or even friends at the bar. If you’ve landed a new job, don’t intentionally or actively sabotage your prior work; failing to inform others of impending deadlines or failing to delegate the work before you leave is poor form. Word travels fast and your reputation matters. Take the high road.
Check out early.
Avoid “short-timer’s syndrome” after you’ve submitted your two-week (or more) notice. Don’t compromise your work ethic and slack off because you have one foot out the door. Stay engaged and help with the onboarding of your replacement. Pass along pertinent information like passwords and documents. If there’s no replacement yet, try to wrap up all loose ends on projects under your guidance before you bolt.
Poach from the firm.
Even if you’re not the only unhappy employee at the firm, you can’t always take your team or your unhappy friends with you. Poaching co-workers, partners, work friends or stakeholders from your previous employer can be poor form, and poaching former clients or employees, while it can be legal, should be done with care and grace. Remember that just because you left doesn’t mean that everyone should leave. Stay in your own lane!
By recognizing the behaviors to avoid, you can instead focus on discovering what brings you job satisfaction. By assessing your skills, values, and interests you are on the path towards pivoting to a new career that will provide a more fulfilling work life.