Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
This is not what you signed up for. All you’re doing is pushing paper, making filings, doing due diligence, and working on attachments to exhibits to schedules to ancillary documents. And the real kicker, why oh why are you working for the paralegals? After all, you are the one who graduated from law school, right? So when does an associate get to stop being a paralegal’s paper-pusher and be a “real” lawyer? First, ask yourself a few questions. Question No. 1: Are you overreacting? Face it. You’re new. Right now, the paralegals know more than you do. The amount of responsibility paralegals have varies from firm to firm. Of course, non-attorneys don’t practice law, but a paralegal’s duties often overlap with the work of a new attorney. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that you are actually doing what falls into the paralegal job description at your firm. If you’re a first-year associate, suck it up. You should be working for paralegals on any given deal or case. Yes, you’ve passed the bar, and that’s important. However, in the real world, it’s not as important as actually knowing what needs to be done on a deal or case. Question No. 2: Do you have unrealistic expectations? Before you started, what were your expectations? What is “real attorney work” anyway? Hopefully it won’t come as a shock that an attorney’s work isn’t all glamour and excitement. If no one’s explained this before (and someone should have), due diligence (a.k.a. document review) is an integral, albeit sometimes boring, part of practicing law. Question No. 3: If you can’t do it, how can you supervise someone who is? You have to learn the business. File this under “working your way up.” After all, shouldn’t you be obligated to know what you’re asking people to do, so that you’ll know how long a task should take, what to look for when you review someone’s work, etc.? Think of it this way: If you start at the top, you have absolutely no other place to go. Question No. 4: Are you flying solo or with the flock? To practice law at a firm, you need to be a team player. On any given deal or case, there may come a time when you are the only person available to do a particular job, and, even if the job isn’t fun, it’s still necessary and your job. You’re needed, you’re available, so tag — you’re it. Pitch in and smile while you’re doing it. Question No. 5: Can you trust us for a second? While you may hear stories about how your buddies at other firms are in the courtroom or negotiating high-power deals all the time, they aren’t — trust us. Sure some lawyers do get to advance to more important tasks sooner than others, but usually all of you end up in the same place after a few years. Nine times out of 10, the responsibilities you’re entrusted with are inversely proportional to the amount of money at stake. The bigger the case, the less responsibility a young lawyer will have, and the more drudgery there will be. OVERREACTING? OK. The workload isn’t what it should be. How do you know when you aren’t overreacting? Here are some pointers that may indicate things aren’t as they should be: � You’re now a second- or third-year and you can no longer spell “substantive.” OK, you should be a team player and learn how to do everything, but you also should be learning the law and practicing what you went to law school to learn. � God forbid, you’re a fifth-year corporate attorney and doing document review 10 hours a day. � You’re the only person in your class and practice area who spends most of your time doing document review or making filings or what-have-you. � You have lost every lawyer skill you ever had. You are sure you were a better lawyer the day you got out of law school than you are now. If you identify with any of the above, you aren’t overreacting. Here’s what to do. � Find a mentor. If your firm doesn’t have a mentoring program, suggest it start one. Go to lunch with someone whose position and attitude you admire and ask, “How do you do it?” Ask that person what you can do to learn more, do more and contribute more. � Farm yourself out. If there’s no formal assignment system in your firm (or even if there is and it’s just not working for you), go door-to-door and see how you can help. If you have time to help, let people know. A word to the wise: You may need to do this on your own time. In other words, you may make your supervisor mad if you are doing some other partner’s work instead of his, so do it after you complete the work you are supposed to handle and/or on your own time. Yes, that means before work, during lunch, after work, late at night and on the weekends. � Reach beyond the firm. Look into taking on a pro bono case or handling a case for a friend. If your firm is amenable, try to pick up a smaller client or two of your own. � Stay plugged in. Talk to people and find out what they are, and will be, working on. Make sure people know you’re available. Figure out who the partners or clients are that you will get better work from and work your way, slowly but methodically, into their groups. Take more of the better work and hand down other work to younger associates until the newer-than-you newbie is fully incorporated into your job and you are in a better position. � Assess whether it’s an economic issue. Count yourself lucky that you’re at a firm that’s making an effort to keep you on the payroll — even if it means doing mundane work. � Request a review. If asking for work doesn’t seem to help and it’s not an economic issue, consider asking your supervising partners for an assessment so you can learn what your weak (and strong) areas are. A review also is a good time to, in a positive fashion, broach the issue that you would like to contribute more. � Face facts. If it’s glamour you seek, this may not be the profession for you. The vast majority of attorneys (and other mere mortals) do have to attend to the mundane and boring for at least part of any given day. Expecting your work life to be a neverending series of exciting days is probably unrealistic in almost any profession. Grow up. You should like your job, but you should examine whether your expectations are unrealistic before you give up on the legal profession. You wouldn’t want to spend another bazillion dollars on higher education to move on to another job and then find out that your new profession isn’t what you expected either. � Keep it positive. You don’t have to pretend to love your job as it stands, but do try to look at the glass as half full: You have a job, and you have choices. Do an attitude check from time to time and keep in mind that no one will want to work with someone who constantly gripes about work. As they say, life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans (or, in this case, trying to get interesting work). Go out to lunch, call a friend, find joy in doing whatever tasks you are given, and let it go — at least for a few hours each day. � Your review was terrific, and yet you’re still the only person in your class year and practice area who isn’t getting good work. Now what? We don’t want to sound paranoid and only suggest this might be the case if you have absolutely exhausted the other alternatives, but maybe there’s something else going on. Although this may come as a shock, there are still places where the people making decisions harbor prejudices against members of particular demographic groups. Let’s break it down. If you have, say, purple hair and a partner in your firm thinks people with purple hair aren’t capable of good work or just doesn’t feel, on some level, that you’re part of the team because of your hair, then you have a problem. (So does the partner, but your problems are the ones we care about.) The partners may not be conscious of their aversion for you or they may seem to like you, but just not see you as an attorney. � Go all “Norma Rae” on them. If you run up against prejudices, you may try to be a hero and face it head on, assertively calling out the partner’s skewed and faulty perspective (preferably not by standing on a desk holding a sign over your head). More power to you if you choose this route, but don’t expect the partner in question to have a burst of recognition and grab your hand and sing a few verses of “Kumbaya.” So, try to be gracious, and, above all, make sure you have all the facts committed to memory. � Sue. If it is a particularly egregious circumstance and you are in a protected class, you could sue your employer. Now, this, of course, is a matter to take up with an employment lawyer (which we are not). However, truthfully, any discrimination (and we are talking about lawyers in a law firm) is subtle and virtually impossible to prove. But, don’t let us rain on your lawsuit parade. Chances are the first attorney you consult will do that for us. � Give up. Who needs ‘em, anyway? You may capitulate and quit, move on to a kinder, gentler environment. If so, be sure to ask other firms you interview with what they do to help train and mentor young lawyers. Then go with the firm that best suits your skill set and whose culture you fit in with. Keep in mind that it is a tough market out there, so do not make a hasty decision. On the other hand, you don’t want to stay so long that you have no appreciable skills — which you must have to be attractive to another firm. Really, what is a lawyer to do if all she has is 10 years of document review under her belt but not one iota of deal or trial experience? The answer in this economy is “not much.” � Find a middle ground. Are there partners who also have purple hair? Seek them out, and get work from them. � Prove yourself by doing perfect work. Eventually the partners will have to admit the purple hair isn’t a handicap, right? Chances are if you’re a junior attorney, you are actually just doing junior attorney work. If you take the time and energy to be proactive and do a good job, it will, in most cases, all work out in the end. Eventually, you will get the substantive, meaningful work you seek. Then you can move on from these worries to entirely new ones: nightmares about being fired or sued for malpractice and other crises of confidence. If you take the time and energy to be proactive and do a good job, it will, in most cases, all work out in the end; eventually, you will get the substantive, meaningful work you seek. Tish Hinojosa Elliott is a legal search consultant in the Austin office of Prescott Legal Search, where she specializes in permanent lateral attorney placement. Prior to becoming a legal recruiter, she was a litigator in the products liability section of Clark, Thomas & Winters in Austin. She received her B.A. from the University of Texas in 1991 and her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center in 1996. Amy L. Perry is an attorney who works for Valero Energy Corp. She received her B.A. and M.A. in sociology from the University of Missouri-Columbia and her J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1998. Prior to joining Valero, she worked as a corporate associate for prominent New York and California law firms.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.