Help me help him and myself.
September 18, 2008 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Please help me help my partner through his career crisis. And help me deal with it, too.

My partner and I have been together for ten years. He's a 36-year-old attorney who recently closed his solo practice after four struggling years. During this time I supported us both. The strain of this financial arrangement was bad for our relationship, especially during the past two years.

When it became obvious the solo practice wasn't going to work out, he explored moving into the assisted-living industry. He's always had an affinity with older people, and this seemed like a good fit for him personally and professionally. Unfortunately, everyone he spoke to saw him as a lawyer (and mistakenly, one making a lot of money) and couldn't understand why he wanted to make the switch. Though he got close to jobs a time or two, nothing came through.

Two months ago he found a position at a very small firm. The past couple of weeks he's been complaining about the workload, a sense of isolation, and his general dissatisfaction with the job and industry. This morning he mentioned solo practice again, which gave me chills.

He's a very good, intelligent guy, with a great work ethic. During his solo practice I watched with admiration as he did a lot of things far outside his comfort zone for the sake of his career. On the downside, he comes across as a bit passive and not always very "with it" in terms of popular culture or ways of the world.

I've tried recommending jobs outside the legal profession, helped by some of the questions here on the green, but nothing aside from his foray into the assisted-living industry seems to have created a spark.

Now, I'm at a loss. The worst part is that this is affecting the way I see him and the quality of our relationship. Lately, I look at him and see a person who can't fit in or take care of himself, and that scares the hell out of me. Even though I love him, I often wonder if I should (or can) spend the rest of my life in this situation.

If you read this far, thanks. If you have any advice, thanks a lot.
posted by Work to Live to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well this isn't exactly the best time to start looking for a new career. This week's financial turmoil could have a massive effect upon the legal market... or it could have a minor, temporary one. It's not clear yet.

Consider applying for city and state law jobs. The work is regular, you go home at 5:00-6:00, and they can't fire you.
posted by valkyryn at 9:05 AM on September 18, 2008

I'll come at this the other direction, I am a 36 year old Lawyer, who is looking for work due to dis-satisfaction in his job.

It is more than a bit soulcrushing to be looking for work, and to dislike what you are doing, and if he is like me the nagging "Was Law School a mistake" eats at the back of your skull.

It sound you, like my partner, are being wonderfully supportive. I implore you to not get frustrated with him, this is all very, very depressing. This too shall pass, soon hopefully.
posted by Ponderance at 9:15 AM on September 18, 2008

If it helps, I think it's unfair to view him differently because he's having trouble finding a job right now. Great people with great resumes are having trouble finding a job right now, and it doesn't say anything about your husband if he can't find one.

Also, I had a similar problem trying to get non-political jobs after spending four years in politics and realizing I didn't like it. All the interviewers would say things like, "Well, it's clear you would rather be working in politics," and would not be dissuaded no matter what I told them. I'm not at all surprised your husband is having trouble making interviewers understand that he no longer wants to work in law.

Plus I'm a little surprised that you look down on your husband as someone who "can't take care of himself." He had a solo practice. Sure it struggled and it ultimately didn't work out, but most people never get that far in life. It seems like you're focusing too heavily on things that go wrong, rather than looking at the situation more objectively. I can't entirely blame you, since financial difficulties cloud our judgments, but most women would be happy to have a husband as accomplished as yours.

I guess what I'm saying is I think you should have more sympathy for him. If things had gone differently it might be you in his situation right now, and you wouldn't appreciate it if your husband blamed you for things outside your control.
posted by Nattie at 9:29 AM on September 18, 2008

You don't mention what he did in the assisted living industry. I know someone who made his career out of prosecuting assisted living facilities for violations of state code. Some of the conditions at these places are horrific and this person made an actual, concrete difference in people's lives. My point is that maybe there's a way to combine the two career paths in a fulfilling way.

Lately, I look at him and see a person who can't fit in or take care of himself, and that scares the hell out of me.

If he had a job he was happy with, would you still feel so negatively? What reason do you have to think that this will go on forever? If he is not taking care of himself, who is? Is he taking out his career-related stress on you? What are you doing to support him? Is it possible he needs professional help? Maybe counseling for both of you?

10 years is a huge investment into a relationship. I understand the effect a job - or lack thereof - can have on a relationship, but you two are a team, meant to tackle these issues together. It's not HIS problem to solve; it's both of yours. You can teach him popular culture and the ways of the world, provided he's open to learning and it's not done in a condescending way. Not everyone is born with charisma and sophistication. You can help give him self-confidence by being there for him when things are rough. IMO, this is what a partner is for.
posted by desjardins at 9:41 AM on September 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

He might be interested in doing (hourly) contract legal work. The market for contract work is probably not-too-bad (people contracting out work rather than hiring), and the postings would probably be on craigslist. Also, there are some entities now that focus on providing lawyers (especially burned out lawyers, lawyer-artists, lawyers with young children) with 9 to 5 (or less) contract work -- I think in San Francisco it might be called Black Letter Law. Hmmm ... can't find it. Here are some web sites of interest -- Building a Better Legal Profession and Flex-Time Lawyers.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:41 AM on September 18, 2008

Also -- I would let him know that the solo practice experience was terribly difficult for you (if you haven't already) and that you would like to look at different solutions. It sounds like you're really tired.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:43 AM on September 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Three thoughts:

1. I know you say the last two years of his solo practice were stressful financially, but is there any way you two could swing a career counselor for him? He might need someone to give him a little push to just keep plugging away at the job search thing (or the "finding his ideal profession" thing), because it's easy to get discouraged and just go back to a job that is easy to get but miserable. However, it's probably not good for your relationship if you're the one in the position of always pushing him--you end up being Ms. Naggy as you get frustrated watching him give up the job search rather than keep plugging away at it, and he ends up resenting you for not being supportive. Better for an outside person like a career coach to keep him on track, and let you play the role of supportive and loving partner.

2. What about elder law? I'm not a lawyer, but I know this is a huge and growing area of the law, particularly as the baby boom starts retiring. If he could transition to something like this, he might have a chance to work directly with older people and their families while still using his law degree. As a bonus, if he decided after a couple of years that he really wanted to shift away from law into assisted living industry (in what capacity, by the way? as an administrator?), he'd probably find it easier to make the switch because he could point to his extensive experience working with older people and their families. That make make assisted living facilities a little less puzzled by his interest, and less likely to toss his resume on the assumption that this was a mere dalliance into an unrelated field that he would soon tire of.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:44 AM on September 18, 2008

Uh, no third thought. Sorry!
posted by iminurmefi at 9:45 AM on September 18, 2008

A career counselor I worked with some time ago is Celia Paul, who specialized in career transitions for lawyers. No idea where you're located. Maybe her office can recommend someone for you. Good luck.

On preview, sorry about the messy link.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2008

Two months is nothing. It seems only fair (to himself) that he give this job a year or two at least, since he went through school and tried his own practice. When you're just starting out all jobs suck.

Get him to commit to giving it a year or two. However, don't expect the complaints to stop. Listening to those is a part of being a partner to anyone that has a job :-)
posted by xammerboy at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2008

I have a friend who hated practicing law. About two years ago, she got an adjunct position teaching legal writing at a local law school. That position has now turned into a full-time gig as a professor of legal writing. The money doesn't compare to what she made as a corporate litigator, but she doesn't come home from work every day wanting to kill herself.

Just another possibility to consider.
posted by chicainthecity at 11:21 AM on September 18, 2008

Lately, I look at him and see a person who can't fit in or take care of himself, and that scares the hell out of me.

Based on the fact that you've stuck it out for 4 years through a bad financial situation, I don't think you're being shallow and I don't think your partner's employment status is what's changing your perception of him. Instead, it sounds like he's depressed, especially the "can't take care of himself" part. Closing down your own business would cause anyone a lot of stress and sadness. I know it's a default AskMe answer, but some counseling -- for him or both of you -- could do wonders.

Also, seconding city and state law jobs.
posted by junkbox at 11:59 AM on September 18, 2008

It sounds as if he would be a good candidate for a more analytical type of position, one that involves working alone or in a small group.

He should look in your area for university think tanks or other public policy positions involving elder issues. Your profile says you're in Chicago. What about a legal writer/editor position with Walters-Kluwer (which must be some special company since they'd never hire me.) They almost always have open positions.

He might also look at teaching paralegal courses at one of the dozens of community or career colleges around while he tries to figure out the next step.

If you all were in the state capital, I would have recommended a legislative analyst position at one of the many state agencies ... It's an option if a move is in your future.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:18 PM on September 18, 2008

...who did he speak to? Because beyond the obvious - if you're interested they'll take you! It's an expanding industry...?? The only thing I can think of is that if he seemed sad about it they might have thought they were doing him a favor? So he might need to be like Yeah... look I have a pep squad and that's why I'm here. Because I want a job. But thanks for showing such a selfless concern for me. Now I know I'm speaking to the right person.

(Because just quietly what kind of person says No, you know what, as much as Jim wants to work here I think I'd much prefer he remained a lawyer - where he will hit me up a few hundred bucks just to listen to my woes. Pfft, if he worked here I'm sure we'd have the kind of relationship where I could just ask Jim if he has a few minutes to give me some advice... Yeah, screw that.)

Let alone the fact they seem to be screaming for staff, everywhere you look?? Keep at it :) Someone will be desperate enough to overlook the fact that apparently? he has better things he should be doing with his time :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:33 PM on September 18, 2008

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