Keep making progress in a shrinking field, or switch gears?
February 24, 2013 7:14 PM Subscribe
Lawyer getting great experience in a shrinking subspecialty. Work environment has flaws. Have the opportunity to move. Worried about grass being greener, frying pan/fire, etc. Special details inside.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I work for a large firm on the west coast. When I began practicing, my workload was split about 50/50 between one partner who is a nationally recognized expert in a subspecialty, and the other partners in my group, who have a more generalized practice. That ratio has become more lopsided due to several recent departures, a few of which were the result of the subspecialized partner's difficult working style. As a result, I have gotten an unusual amount of experience. Within this subspecialty, I am probably one of the 10 most knowledgeable attorneys under 40 in my state. This isn't necessarily a huge accomplishment--there just aren't that many of us.
So what's not to like? First, I am worried that I am developing skills in one small area at the cost of a broader skill set. A good analogy would be a corporate lawyer who can handle a few rarified transactions very well but can't draw up a general partnership agreement. This worry is compounded by the fact that fewer than 5% of companies in our state, and 7% nationally, will ever need this kind of work. This number has been on a downward slide from a high of about 35% 30 years ago. This area is unlikely to grow, and could conceivably shrink to the point that it only supports a relative handful of lawyers.
Second, I am not the best I can be working for this person. He is inefficient, and interrupts me at least hourly to talk at length about matters that are already resolved. I typically rush to get as much done as I can before he arrives, because I know that my day will be at least 60% devoted to unproductive time when he arrives. That leaves late nights and weekends to avoid missing deadlines. As a result, my work is not as good as it could be, and others have become reluctant to staff me on matters where I would get broader experience, which makes me less equipped to handle broader work, and the cycle continues. I know that in a lot of situations the answer is to ask to be moved to other matters, which I have done. But this partner resents this other work, and does not accommodate it. Also, no one else is willing to take on any of his work, so there is no one available to help out if I work on other things.
I am young enough to change trajectories. I have the opportunity to jump to another firm that is nationally recognized as a leader in our area, and to work with a partner who is widely regarded as a rising star. I would also be working on matters that would develop a broader skill set. Pay is probably the same, maybe a slight increase.
What's the catch? First, I would be leaving my current firm's HQ, and the relationships and capital I've built there, to become literally one of thousands in another organization's branch offices. My chances for partnership would be significantly reduced (although it's far from a sure thing now). Second, the new firm has a reputation for being pretty demanding, and my quality of life outside the office, such as it is, is unlikely to improve and could become significantly worse (think going from staying to 10 a few nights a week to staying to midnight-2 am on a regular basis). I would rather stay late because the work demands it rather than because I spent 3-4 hours on unnecessary meetings, however. Third, I would stop developing my subspecialized knowledge, which is kind of a double edged sword.
I'm inclined to make the jump, but I'm worried that my desire to get out of a bad situation could put me in a worse one. I'd appreciate any thoughts on what I might be overlooking or overemphasizing, or any advice from people who have faced a similar choice.