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The harsh reality is that sometimes a job just doesn’t work out. This can happen to anyone � it often does. Recognizing the signs early on and being prepared for change are key elements necessary for a rapid recovery. There are two entities that can determine whether one has landed in a dead-end job. The first is the firm that will not promote an associate � for whatever reason. The second is the associate who is unhappy � also for whatever reason. In either case, it is in the associate’s best interest to be prepared for the possibility of seeking new opportunities. It is never too early to plan for leaving a position. Now would be a good time to start the process. Until it becomes necessary, it is nothing but a plan. If it becomes necessary, the plan will be in place and will smooth the transition to a better situation. People who maintain a responsible approach to managing their own careers are quick to establish guidelines that they can use to evaluate their current situations and to assess whether they are on the right course to meeting their short- and long-term goals. The same guidelines can be used to assess the potential of new positions offered. The following are some of the factors to consider: • Job satisfaction. An associate should begin by developing a list of guidelines to measure his or her job satisfaction This list should include both the professional and personal elements that represent the aspects of an associate’s career that he or she considers to be important. It is good practice to include in the guidelines negatives one wishes to avoid. One word of caution � the elements one considers in writing career guidelines often represent emotionally charged issues. To achieve their purpose, it is critical that guidelines be established in an objective, concise and to-the-point manner. Associates should then proceed to define the nature of their practice. They should identify the specializations they prefer to focus on and define the percentage of work that should fall into these specializations. Do they want to work at a firm that only specializes in their preferred practice areas? Does it make sense to work at a firm with varied specializations? Which type of firm would be most conducive to feeding their business � or is this important to them? Next, associates should consider the individual matters they want to work on. On the broadest scale, they might begin with the importance of the matters. How do they want to measure this? Will they consider monetary value? The resulting effects on others of decisions in their favor? Or is the complexity of the matters important to them? Also, do they currently work on a sufficient number of these matters? Will the positions they are in and the firms they are at provide them with an increasing opportunity to work on the types of matters they prefer? How much control will they have over the matters they work on? How important is it for them to have control over these matters? • Operations and practice management. Associates should ask themselves whether they want to control the work flow in their practice. Would they prefer to have others do this for them? Is their style very structured? Or do they prefer a laid-back approach to running the business of their practice? What about deciding which matters they will take on? Is this an important issue for them? Depending on the nature of their practices, associates may wish to consider establishing guidelines as to how they will do business. Of course, these guidelines will be considerably different for an associate at a large firm than for a solo practitioner � just as they would be for anyone with any other type of working entity relationship. • Available resources. Resources come in many varieties � from the human type, to equipment, to primary and secondary research libraries, to memberships and even to access to networking opportunities. Associates may require any number of these resources for the type of matters they work on as well as for the development of their practices. It is important to evaluate how any positions associates consider will enable them to access the resources they need. • The firm’s culture. How much emphasis do associates place on developing relationships with their peers, the partners at their firms and the support staff? The atmosphere at some firms is more collegial than at others. Do associates have preferences as to the atmosphere in which they work � the pulse of the place, as well as its look and feel? • Lifestyle issues. Firms have different requirements regarding hours, workload and expectations. What do associates find to be acceptable? Compensation is another area that is closely tied into work expectations � especially at the beginning stages of a career. Sometimes larger firms pay more than smaller or midsize firms. Sometimes smaller or midsize firms place fewer demands on their associates. There is often a direct relationship between lifestyle and compensation, and, as might be expected, this is very much marketplace-driven. There are feel-good issues that must be considered as well. Some people only want to own their own businesses. They would not be happy at firms where they are not in control. Others enjoy the prestige they perceive that working at large firms offers them. • Negative issues. Sometimes there are issues that associates find unacceptable. It doesn’t matter what they are, but if they exist, they will make any situation difficult. It is important for associates to identify them and include them in a section of their guidelines so that they consider them when exploring possibilities. Reviewing their current situations using the guidelines they establish will help associates to evaluate objectively whether they should explore new opportunities. If they find, after their assessment, that even though there are some issues they are not happy about, what seemed to be dead-end jobs, do have potential, they should develop plans to address those issues. If associates find that they are truly unhappy with their current situation, they can immediately take steps to uncover opportunities more to their liking. It may be to some associates’ advantage to explore the possibility of change even though they are happy, because they see signs that their firms may not be happy with them. Associates should look for signs that indicate where they stand with their current firms. Associates should also take careful note of their written reviews. They should make sure that they clearly understand them and treat criticism as an opportunity to improve themselves. Further, they should discuss their reviews with trusted mentors. Associates should also assess their professional and social interactions with law firm members. Are they comfortable with their peers? Do they get along well with the partners? Do they objectively believe that the partners get along with them? It is important that they remain observant and aware of what is going on around them and how they seem to fit into the scheme of things. Associates should likewise look for positive signs. Are they receiving repeat business from partners in their firms? Are they getting business from many different partners? Are their mentors supportive or uncommitted? Are they being given increasing responsibility for their projects? Are their billable hours growing? Are their number of hours higher than the average at their firms? Have they received bonuses or promotions? Sometimes associates receive mixed messages. For example, there are times when associates are passed over for partnership, but are told they will be reevaluated in a year or two. Some people are satisfied with this and remain with their firms, taking steps to improve their chances for promotion during their next round. Others see this as a sure sign they need to begin searching for another position. Preparatory steps It is never too early to build one’s credentials in preparation for promotion or job change. Associates should begin preparing themselves to seek new positions early on � even if they don’t want to change jobs right away. They will find that the best things they can do to prepare for new positions are the very same things that will help them make their present positions more secure. These include: • Developing business and personal relationships. Networking is one of the best ways to learn of new opportunities. The people lawyers meet and stay in touch with � whether as personal friends or business associates � are the core of their networks. Associates should work at these relationships by communicating and getting involved. They should become the individuals these people can count on. Not only will this prove to be worthwhile throughout their careers, but it will also bring them a lot of personal satisfaction. • Obtaining skills early. The sooner associates develop specialized skills, the sooner they will increase their value to their firms or any other organizations they may join. Associates will be more in demand to service clients’ businesses, and they will be in a better position to build their practice. They need to claim their space, become the go-to people when someone needs specialized expertise. There is no downside to this. • Building one’s r�sum�. Associates should consider how they spend their time. They can focus their efforts on doing things they enjoy and still add to their credentials. For example, they can find the time to teach a course; give a seminar; offer a workshop; become a mentor; or train younger associates. Activities like these exponentially improve the impression their r�sum�s will make on anyone considering them for an open position. • Participating in pro bono efforts. This is another area that brings a great deal of satisfaction. Everyone loves a person who donates his or her time and effort. Depending upon the pro bono client, the gratitude can be more rewarding than any amount an associate might have been paid for his or her efforts. • Writing articles. When associates have ideas or expertise to share, people take note. The associates will develop reputations as experts in their fields. Clients and co-workers see these efforts as well. Associates will enhance their image. They will also help others. Associates who have not put in place each of these building blocks should do themselves a favor and begin immediately. By doing so, they can make themselves eligible for promotion or new opportunities. They are the ones who will benefit. Associates may find themselves in dead-end jobs. This does not mean they have to accept it. It does mean they need to be active in correcting the situation � whether at their present firms or in new positions that offer them the opportunities they want. Carrie Printz, an attorney, is the founder and managing director of David Carrie LLC, a full-service legal search firm specializing in career counseling and the placement of attorneys in the United States and throughout the world. She can be reached at [email protected].

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