Achieving Career Satisfaction: Make the Investment, But Choose Your Investments Carefully |

Achieving Career Satisfaction: Make the Investment, But Choose Your Investments Carefully


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Jim was a litigation associate at a major Boston law firm. Soon after he started as a first year associate, he realized that he did not like the adversarial nature of litigation nor the length of time that it took for a case to move through the system. Nine months into his tenure, Jim noticed that his workload was beginning to ease up. At the same time, he was hearing stories that the associates in the corporate department were burning the midnight oil. Jim approached his supervisor and asked if he could take on some projects in the corporate department while continuing to manage his litigation caseload. Within two months, he was working full-time in the corporate department. A year later, he made a lateral move to another firm which had better corporate work.
Achieving Career Satisfaction: Make the Investment, But Choose Your Investments Carefully

For over 10 years, Danielle worked in the in-house legal department of a prominent hi-tech company. When the downsizing first occurred, she survived a wave of layoffs; but the second time, she was not so lucky. Danielle began networking around the Route 128 belt and even responded to some ads she saw; but after three months, she still had not received any offers. She did, however, identify a number of companies who were willing to hire her on a project basis. Danielle took a closer look at the track record of these companies. She then approached the two with the best performance histories and agreed to come on board in a temporary part-time capacity. After six months, the first company asked her to stay with the firm on a permanent part-time basis. Two months later, the second company followed suit. With the two part-time incomes, Danielle is earning a very nice full-time salary (one that exceeds her former full-time salary.).

Jim and Danielle's stories are not unique, but they are also not the norm. For many attorneys, career planning is a much more reactive process. The fallacious belief is that hard work will lead to better opportunity (either within an organization or in another organization). While this may still be true for some, the workplace has changed and now more than ever, attorneys must take responsibility for their own career development.

Both anecdotes illustrate how taking a proactive approach can help build a career. In each case, the attorneys had to settle for less in the short run in order to achieve a longterm objective. In Jim's case, he was willing to add to an already significant workload in order to gain the experience he lacked. In Danielle's case, she was able to make the shift from looking for a permanent full-time job to working for two separate employers on a part-time basis.

There are other examples of creative ways that attorneys have gotten job offers and increased their work satisfaction. There is the Canadian lawyer who worked for a firm on a volunteer basis for one month just to get his foot in the door (He was fortunate to have the resources to be able to do this but in truth, it might have taken him much longer had he only been willing to settle for a paying legal job.) There is the example of the New York associate who had his sights set on a particular Massachusetts state agency. He made a deal with his New York firm to work three days a week for his pro rata salary. He then came to Massachusetts 2 days a week and volunteered his time for the agency. After a long and difficult year, he finally received an offer of full-time employment with the agency in Massachusetts.

Making an investment in yourself can come in many forms. Sometimes the end product is enhanced career satisfaction from within (e.g. by achieving partnership or by switching to another practice area). Sometimes the end product is a more fulfilling job elsewhere. Whatever the investment that you make, the investment should be driven by your ultimate goal whether it is making partner, establishing your own practice, going in-house, or getting a quasi-legal job in industry or in the non-profit sector. While there may be many choices which can help move you toward your goal, the important thing is to have a goal. Here are some do's and don't to help you along the way.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for the work you really want. Don't be afraid to remind the partners of your interest (they are very busy and may forget).
  • Do take on pro bono work that gives you the experience you lack. Pro bono work can be on behalf of individuals or institutions.
  • Don't leave your job just because you hate it. Sticking it out for a couple of years may position you for the job you really want.
  • Don't stick with a job that is leading nowhere. If you need the income, try to negotiate reduced hours so that you can pursue your interests more effectively.
  • Do spend time attending Bar Association meetings and make a point of introducing yourself to people. Do get involved in volunteer activities with the bar to increase your professional contacts.
  • Do attend CLE programs to enhance your skills
  • Do get involved in law firm committees
  • In general, take the time to network: follow this link for an overview of networking
  • Don't neglect your work.
  • Don't interview at other firms just to gain leverage at your existing firm (this can really backfire)
Finding career satisfaction is a lifelong process that you should revisit periodically (even after achieving your "ultimate goal"). The point is not to do everything that has been suggested. If you are already working long hours, you may not have the time. Rather, the point is to always be thinking about doing an excellent job and always be thinking about getting involved in some other activity (or activities) that are moving you toward your next career step.

Please see this article to find out if litigation is right for you: Why Most Attorneys Have No Business Being Litigators: Fifteen Reasons Why You Should Not Be a Litigator

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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