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Law firm culture is often not very pleasant.
Many lawyers live in fear that they may be fired over a lack of work or something petty.
Other attorneys continually face rejection, criticism, and are marginalized and lied to.
This makes the attorney feel insecure and cast out.
The problem is that this remains the law firm culture, and it is more negative than nearly every other career.
Summary: Being a law firm attorney means that you will face a lot more rejection, criticism, and other negative burdens than you would in almost any other career.
It is anyone’s guess why attorneys enter the legal profession. Unlike many other professions—where professionals are welcomed with open arms—the legal profession constantly rejects its members, undermines their confidence and employment prospects, plays mind games with them, and periodically fires them after only hiring them for a short while. Many never make it into this evil cesspool, some last a year or two, and some make a career out of it—if they can. This is not a game for the timid.
I have been speaking with a lot of attorneys who have been on the ground and fought wars in the Middle East and subjected to a lot of stress: Without exception, every single one of them states that the law firm world is more stressful than working in combat conditions. Many are so stressed out they leave the profession. One former fighter pilot from my law school class concluded he could not handle it and committed suicide.
It does not take long for attorneys who want to work inside of law firms to realize that their lifelong plight will be to suffer rejection, criticism, and the feeling of never being enough. They will be undermined, lied to, perpetually insecure, and ultimately cast out. It does not matter who you are or what level you are at:
I am working with an attorney with $15-million in portable business at the moment who is getting rejected from several more prestigious law firms than the one he is at. He feels humiliated and cannot believe he is being rejected.
I have several candidates from Yale Law School who are used to doors opening for them. Several of them are astonished to learn that firms they could have gotten jobs with while they were in law school now have no interest in them.
I have one candidate who has no business and is paid more than he should be as a partner in his law firm. His law firm consistently criticizes his hours and tells him he is not doing well enough and better improve because no one is going to pay him as much as they are.
I have several partner candidates who had been promised a certain income from their law firms when they lateraled. Instead of honoring these promises, the law firms did not honor them after a few years—this is very common. Law firms promise one thing to induce attorneys to come over and then do not honor this promise later.
It is very common for associates, counsel, and partners to feel insecure in their positions. They receive reviews in which they are told they are not enough and the firm agrees that they will check in with them in a few months and see how things are going. In the interim, the attorney will feel insecure.
Almost all attorneys are fired at some point in their careers—often more than once. They are often cast out of their firms with a high degree of hostility on top of it. When an attorney is fired, he or she is often made to feel like a black sheep and shown a high degree of disapproval by the firm—much more so than in other professions.
Reviews inside of law firms for all attorneys are exercises in making their recipients feel that they are not enough. Reviews are forums for criticizing attorneys and making them feel insecure about their prospects. The only times an attorney feels somewhat secure about his or her future are during a few “sweet spots” in the attorney’s career: When the attorney is a summer associate and possibly between the attorney’s third and sixth year of practice. When an attorney is a summer associate, things are fun and the law firm is nice to the summer associate. When the attorney is in their third to sixth year, the law firm is profiting off of him or her a great deal and the law firm wants the attorney to work and not leave. The rest of the attorney’s career is defined by feeling rejected, criticized, undermined, lied to, and insecure.
This article discusses the seven plights of a law firm attorney. You will face each of these plights if you choose to work in a law firm.
Rejection: All Attorneys Experience Constant Rejection from the Beginning of Their Careers Until the End
The rejection that attorneys experience is constant. The door to entering most law firms is quite high. The best law firms require law students to have grades, schools, personal characteristics, and other qualifications that most attorneys simply do not have. If a future attorney does not have one or more of these, the future attorney may experience rejection from literally every single employer he or she applies to.
When attorneys start their careers as law students, they apply to a variety of law firms expecting the doors will open for them and employers will be impressed with their law school grades and undergraduate achievements. None of this could be further from the truth. Even if an attorney was at the top of his or her class from a top law school, the attorney will still experience rejection. Firm after firm will give the attorney the cold shoulder. The attorney will often be rejected at the application stage and not know why.
Attorneys who are rejected by top law firms when they are students often spend the remainder of their careers trying to put themselves in a position where they are not rejected and find acceptance. They get the right experience, and at a more senior level, will do their best to build books of business so that they can get into larger law firms. They then start applying to law firms again hoping to find acceptance and almost never get it: They once again experience rejection after rejection after rejection.
It is a miracle anyone ever gets a job in a law firm at all.
I was reviewing resumes this morning. One was of an attorney who was a graduate of Columbia Law School and currently clerking for a federal judge. He wrote something like the following in his cover letter to me: “I’ve downloaded all the lists of top firms I can find and applied to at least 250 law firms and have yet to secure an interview.” This is common. Most attorneys apply to a ton of law firms and experience no luck.
It is not easy to get a position inside of a law firm. Here are some of the sorts of people who experience the most rejection when looking for positions:
Law Students Not from Top Law Schools with Top Grades - For these students, applying to any law firm paying more than a full-time job working as a restaurant manager is an exercise in humility. Almost every law firm will reject them without explanation. You would have a better chance getting in the door of these law firms if you did not go to law school and stuck with applying after high school or college.
Attorneys with Five+ Years of Experience and No Business - After years of working their tails off in major law firms, attorneys find their experience actually counts against them if they do not have any business. The law firm is like a bug light at a Texas barbeque: It will repel them with such speed it is hard to quantify. Even not very good law firms want nothing to do with them.
The Attorney Not Currently Working - You might as well put “convicted felon” on the front of your resume. Almost all major law firms will want nothing whatsoever to do with you. Even less prestigious law firms will want nothing to do with you.
Attorneys Who Are Coming from In-House, the Government, or Another Practice Setting - Law firms also want nothing to do with these sorts of attorneys. They will reject them out-of-hand and not look further once they see they are in another practice setting. The law firm will simply move on to other candidates.
Any Attorney during a Legal Recession - Legal recessions hit all the time. During a legal recession, attorneys will have a next to impossible time getting a position. Corporate attorneys are so badly hit in recessions that they often pursue completely different careers altogether. From coast to coast, no one wants anything to do with them.
Attorneys Who Do Not Interview Well - An attorney may not interview well for a variety of reasons. The attorney may not connect well with interviewers, the attorney may have issues with his or her appearance, the attorney may act as if the employer should cater to the attorney, the attorney may expect respect due to his or her past accomplishments (the law school the attorney attended or the firm the attorney worked at), the attorney may lack self-confidence, or the attorney may simply act like he or she does not want to work inside of a law firm. Regardless of the reason, I have seen some attorneys get rejected by 20+ law firms and either give up looking, drop out of the practice of law, or end up getting a position.
Attorneys take rejection extremely seriously. All attorneys experience rejection. If an attorney tells you something differently, then he or she is not telling you the truth. The market is too demanding and random for you not to experience rejection. Any attorney should be comforted in the following facts about rejection:
Most Law Firms Receive a Ton of Applications for Each Position
If a law firm has an opening, the firm may receive 100 to 200 applicants for each position. Some major law firms may receive even more than that. If there is someone better than you whom the firm believes is a better fit, the firm is going to bring in that person over you.
More Attorneys Are Rejected Than Not Rejected
If a law firm is interviewing 10 people for an open position, this means that your odds of getting the position are about 10%. Who cares if you get rejected? The odds are against all attorneys when they interview for positions.
All It Takes Is One Law Firm to Hire You
You just need one person to like you and hire you. All it takes is one. This is the one you need to wait for.
The Only Way to Fail Is to Give Up
If you are frustrated by so much rejection, keep in mind the only way you will fail is if you give up. Attorneys who give up are the only ones who fail. Giving up is more common than you think. Rather than taking the constant onslaught to their egos, many attorneys simply give up.
Attorneys need to have very tough egos to survive in the practice of law. In addition to being rejected when they are applying to work inside of law firms, they face constant rejection from judges, clients, colleagues, and others. Rejection surrounds them and is something that never goes away. They will be rejected throughout their careers and on a daily basis.
One of the more disheartening forms of rejection that attorneys experience is when attorneys in their own firms reject and shun them. This is very common. Whether it is an assignment done in a way that does not meet a senior attorney’s expectations, or a conflict with a fellow partner, attorneys are rejected time and time again on the job. In most instances, this rejection falls to juvenile levels where the attorney doing the rejecting refuses to work with the rejected attorney anymore, stops speaking to the rejected attorney, or simply fires the rejected attorney. This sort of thing makes the rejected attorney feel extremely isolated and can often wreak psychological turmoil and self-doubt in the rejected attorney. Most attorneys go through this at least once in their careers and all say something to the effect of “nothing like this has ever happened to me.” The only thing you need to understand is that you are not alone. This happens to most attorneys and none of them felt any better about it than you do.
I often try and remind my attorney clients that rejection has nothing to do with them. Rejection is for business (or other) reasons that they have no control over. You have no control over whether you are rejected or not. There is no sense getting upset over something you cannot control. The best you can do is work on yourself, do the best you can, and maintain perspective. You also are not alone. Every attorney gets rejected. Reading articles like this is a step in the right direction and will give you perspective.
Since attorneys are so competitive with one another, they often do not discuss rejection with each other. Rest assured that all of your colleagues are experiencing a great deal of rejection as well. This is part of the law firm world. If you play in the law firm world you will experience it. The only thing you can do in response to all of this rejection is to pick yourself up and keep going. You need to stay in the game and keep playing. You need to get right back up and keep playing and not walk away. You need to keep applying to firms, keep your chin up, and keep pushing forward in the firm you are in and not give up. Over time everything works out (it always does) when you stay in the game.
Criticism: All Attorneys Are Constantly Criticized during Their Careers from the Beginning Until the End
A law firm attorney is criticized from the beginning of his or her career until the end. The criticism can take many forms, but it is pretty much incessant. Each new criticism is often a surprise and something that the recipient never saw coming. Attorneys are critiqued by clients, judges, opposing counsel, colleagues, superiors, and more.
Clients Constantly Criticize Most Attorneys
In order to get clients to begin with, most attorneys have to offer the prospect of better representation and a better result than the potential client could get from another attorney. This almost never works. The attorney often finds that he or she cannot get the result the client wants. Moreover, the client is always there to find fault with everything the attorney does and will bring up what the attorney is doing wrong every chance the client gets. This means that the attorney needs to be ready for criticism from the attorney’s clients about (1) quality of work, (2) results, and (3) bills. Some clients are more critical than others. Everything the attorney does for a client is subject to constant review and criticism. I have heard clients call their attorneys obscene names. Many attorneys are on constant alert that they could upset a client at any time.
If an Attorney Is a Litigator, the Attorney Will Be Criticized by Judges
Litigators are constantly criticized by judges. Litigators get used to getting dressed down by judges. This happens to most litigators. A judge can make even the most experienced attorney look like he or she has no idea what he or she is doing.
Opposing Counsel Constantly Criticize Attorneys
Part of the “game” of lawyering involves opposing counsel lobbying back and forth accusations about how the other side does not know what they are doing. Opposing counsel will criticize the other attorney in person, on the phone, in letters, in documents, and elsewhere. Attorneys on the opposite side of matters are “all over” each other with criticism. This is just part of the job.
Colleagues Constantly Criticize Most Attorneys
As if all of the above were not enough, attorneys often get criticized by colleagues as well. Your friends and people you thought you were on good terms with at work will happily criticize you in order to undermine you and build their own confidence. Some of the greatest critiques of an attorney’s work performance will come at the hands of the attorney’s own colleagues.
Superiors Constantly Criticize Most Attorneys
Throughout an attorney’s career, the attorney’s superiors will constantly be there to dish out criticism and will make attorneys physically sit down to endure half an hour or more of it at least once every six months and in several “impromptu” meetings in between. This criticism comes again and again and will range from the productive to the absurd. For example, I am working with a well-respected litigator at a major national firm who has won several high-profile cases in the news and generates tens of millions of dollars for his firm each year. In his review, he was told that he was “too confident”—something that you would think would be a good thing for a litigator.
It is a wonder that attorneys can keep it together with all of the criticism that they face on daily basis. Many attorneys do not keep it together and lose it completely. They flee the law firm world and try other things. The criticism that they face becomes far too much.
Something I see a great deal of is a high incidence of divorce among attorneys. When an attorney gets home from work, the attorney is typically looking for a respite from criticism and a place where he or she can withdraw (if only for a few hours) from all of the criticism and feel safe. Instead, attorneys often find that when they return home they are greeted by spouses who are angry they work so much, angry they are so stressed out, and angry that they do not have more to give. This more-often-than-not result is because the level of criticism that most attorneys can tolerate is only so much. They need a safe place where they can unwind and not feel criticized.
Other attorneys turn to substance abuse, antidepressants, and other drugs as a popular way to deal with criticism and numb the pain it causes. All of these are ways to numb the stressful feelings that come up from being criticized so much. Some attorneys get so desensitized by these sorts of things that they become practically unfeeling at criticism. They take it with a grain of salt as life as a sentient member of the human race slips further and further away.
The only way to deal with the constant criticism is to learn from it and realize that it is separate from who you are. An attorney is expected to adapt to the attorney’s environment and learn and improve from criticism. You are also not expected to take it too seriously. The more seriously you take criticism and internalize it, the more harmed you will often be. You need to learn from it.
If it is any consolation, you should always understand that the worst thing that can happen to any attorney is for the criticism to stop. When the criticism stops, people no longer feel you are worth criticizing. The second criticism stops, you should be worried. We criticize people who challenge us, or whom we believe show the potential to improve. If you are not threatening anyone, or do not show the potential to improve, something is generally very wrong.
Never Enough: No Matter Who an Attorney Is, or What an Attorney Does, They Are Made to Feel They Are Not Enough
Most attorneys feel as if they are not enough. They feel like they are not enough if they do not get the grades and honors others get in law school, or if they do not get into the best law school. They feel like they are not enough if they do not get a job with the best law firm. They feel like they are not enough if they do not get the best clerkship. They feel like they are not enough if they are not put on the best matters. Later in their careers, they feel like they are not enough if they do not have the largest clients, the most business, or if they do not get the best results from their clients. Everywhere an attorney turns, he or she is reminded on a daily basis that he or she is not enough in the legal market.
What other profession is there that constantly reminds its members that they are not enough? When I am working with attorneys and they are not getting positions and interviews with the best law firms, they are reminded they are not enough. Many partners I work with have millions of dollars in business and yet they are not enough for law firms with higher billing rates, or for firms that in some instances have grade point cutoffs for their partners. At every level of the profession—from law student to associate to partner—attorneys are reminded that they are not enough.
The problem with all of this is that attorneys are also people who naturally want to experience success and feel good about themselves—but their jobs will not let them.
Attorneys are constantly under pressure to bill as many hours as they possibly can. The pressure never lets up. I have one attorney who billed 2,700 hours last year. In his review, they told him it would “look good” if he could increase this the following year to “2,800 or more.” Any attorney is constantly pushed to bill more and more hours. The hours the attorney has are never enough. Law firms do not care. They will allow you to sit in your chair until you die from exhaustion. It is never enough.
Regardless of how much business an attorney has, it is never enough. The attorney with $2-million in business is encouraged to get to $3-million and the attorney with $3-million is encouraged to get to $5-million. Whatever the attorney does is never enough. What you have is never enough.
More of This and That
Who knows? It could be attending more firm functions, spending more time mentoring, giving more talks … whatever. The law firm will constantly find reasons why you are not enough. You are constantly being told you are never enough.
Attorneys who want to work inside of law firms should realize that law firms will constantly push their members to contribute more and more and to give more and more of themselves to belong. Unless you are improving in the law firm world, you are dying. You need to constantly be improving.
Many attorneys find that never being enough is too much for them and find jobs with government agencies, in-house, or quit the law altogether. As long as you want to work in a law firm, though, you will never be enough and can never rest on your laurels. A law firm pushes constant and never ending improvement on its members and never lets up.
Marginalized: At Various Points in an Attorney’s Law Firm Career, the Attorney Will Feel Marginalized
Attorneys are subject to constant marginalization inside of law firms. They will be marginalized by their fellow attorneys (peers), courts, clients, superiors, and others. They will be marginalized when they do not have any business. They will be marginalized when they are young attorneys and when they are older attorneys. All throughout an attorney’s career, marginalization follows them.
Fellow Attorneys (Peers)
When an attorney looks around and sees his or her peers (either inside his or her own firm, or outside of it), the attorney often feels marginalized. Peers inside of a law firm are often the best at making an attorney feel marginalized. They will play all sorts of games (either alone or in groups) to marginalize their peers. The manifestations of this are so varied they could encompass a 24-volume book. Suffice it to say, at most points in an attorney’s career the attorney’s peers are able to make the attorney feel marginalized. Fellow attorneys (peers) are always quick to give their peers the impression they are poor attorneys.
Most litigators and others have been sanctioned, put down, and disrespected by the courts. In fact, this is often a way of life for litigators. Litigators need to have thick skin and get used to poor treatment by courts because this is par for the course. Judges and others in positions of power are great at making litigators feel like they are “less than.” Courts are always quick to tell attorneys why they do not know what they are doing.
Clients are very good at making the attorneys working for them feel marginalized. Clients will threaten to leave, complain about bills, results, and other aspects of what an attorney does. Clients will also fire attorneys. Most attorneys have been fired numerous times by clients. Clients will put down attorneys and make them feel small. Departing clients are always quick to tell their attorneys why they are poor attorneys.
Regardless of the stage of an attorney’s career, the attorney’s superiors will make the attorney feel marginalized. They will compare the attorney’s performance and business to other attorneys in the firm, or simply dress down the attorney to make the attorney feel like a blubbering fool. Most superiors are always standing ready to mete out a heavy dose of criticism for most attorneys about what they are doing wrong, what they could do better, and why they are poor attorneys.
If a Senior Attorney Does Not Have Business
If an attorney does not have business, the attorney should be prepared to be reduced to a groveling sycophant later in his or her career inside of a law firm. Every senior attorney without substantial business is marginalized inside of law firms. In the worst law firms, the senior attorney without business is sort of like the town fool (as harsh as this seems). Even younger attorneys quickly pick up on this weakness and make fun of them. An attorney without business is seriously marginalized inside most law firms.
When They Are Young
Young attorneys are marginalized in 1,000+ different ways. They may not be given work, or they may be put on undesirable assignments such as long-term document reviews and other sorts of work considered insignificant. They may simply be fired after a short or long stint with their law firm.
At every stage of their careers, law firm attorneys find themselves marginalized—and it never ends. The only way to cope with marginalization is to realize that everyone goes through it and experiences it. Marginalization is par for the course among law firm attorneys. You need to view the unhealthy pressure cooker environment in a way that ends up making you stronger.
Attorneys are lied to at all stages of their careers. The lying never stops. Most law firms lie to their attorneys. It is not just law firms that lie to the attorneys: They are also lied to by clients, opposing counsel, and peers at every stage of their careers. An attorney needs to become immune to being lied to.
Associates Are Lied to by Their Law Firms
Law firms love lying to their associates. Whether it is when they are interviewing on campus and told there are “lots of opportunities” at their firm, or after they get there. The lying never stops.
When hiring, law firms lie about:
The amount of available work they have
The sort of work they have available
Billable hour requirements
When an associate starts work at the firm, the law firm will start lying about things like:
Employment security. There is no such thing as employment security in a law firm. Never has been and never will be.
Partnership potential. As long as you are profitable and fit in with their business model, firms are happy to tell you this. This is like a man telling a woman he just met he loves her so he can sleep with her: He will say whatever it takes, even if it means hurting someone horribly in the process.
They will often tell you that you are doing poorly (even when you are not). Then they keep you on because they need you.
They will tell you that you are doing well (even when you are not). Then they fire you.
The financial status of the firm. Law firms just days from closing their doors due to failure or insolvency will talk about their great financial status.
Law firms are great at lying. Most attorneys have been lied to by their law firms more times than they can count. Law firms seem almost constitutionally incapable of telling the truth. Lawyers are experts in lying and they do so with each other with an ease and abandon that, frankly, shocks the conscience.
Partners Are Lied to by Their Law Firms
Partners are lied to by their own law firms all the time.
Lateral and current partners are lied to about the following things by law firms:
Compensation. This is one of the more common “fibs” that law firms are guilty of with lateral and current attorneys. They typically will “commit” to a level of compensation for one or two years and then imply (but never put in writing) that the compensation will be raised after a few years provided certain goals are met—but even if the goals are met the firm will not raise the compensation. Instead, they often lower it. Nothing is a greater source of frustration for lateral partners than this. This game is played by most firms. It is something that is a constant source of work for me, because the only recourse these partners have is to look for a new firm.
Support. Lateral attorneys are often promised elaborate levels of support if they join the firm. While this sometimes comes to fruition and works out, it often does not. Sometimes staff and associates are paid so poorly that partners have a difficult time holding on to anyone.
Commitment. Current and lateral partners are often told the firm has a strong commitment to their practice area, or the branch office the attorney is joining. Nevertheless, this commitment can falter very quickly and the lateral partner often finds him or herself on the way out. Many insurance-related law firms have gone into corporate work lately but lacked the commitment to make it work. Many law firms went into patent prosecution over the past few decades, but now are exiting like flies because it is not profitable enough. Many law firms open branch offices, but when they find maintaining them too much hassle, or that there is not enough money to be made, end up closing them. Law firms say they are committed to whatever but revoke their so-called commitment just as quickly.
Politics. Law firms always tell their lateral hires that they are “different” and that there is no politics in their firm. Politics exists everywhere and it is often the firms that say the most about their lack of politics that actually have the most politics.
Attorneys Are Lied to by Opposing Counsel
This is a daily occurrence and something that does not merit much discussion because it is so widespread. Attorneys are lied to by opposing counsel all the time and with such frequency there is not much to say.
Attorneys Are Lied to by Peers
There is widespread gamesmanship inside of law firms. Every attorney can probably recount many episodes where the attorney confronted a peer with the peer’s lying and the peer said something like “I did not say that” or “it was a mistake” or “you misinterpreted what I said.” Attorneys literally cannot trust their friends and colleagues inside of their own law firms. Attorneys need to be paranoid that even their own peers cannot be trusted.
Attorneys Are Lied to By Clients
Attorneys are lied to by clients all the time. Clients lie because they think doing so will protect them, or make them get a better result. In fact, a great part of an attorney’s job is sorting through the lies of their clients and trying to separate fact from fiction. This occurs among transactional attorneys to the same degree it occurs with litigators. There are lies coming out of every corner.
Attorneys are lied to by virtually everyone they encounter and work with each day.
There is no attorney who is immune from feeling insecure. The amount of input that they receive that they are not enough, the constant criticism, the lying, and the marginalization that they experience would be enough to make anyone feel insecure. Attorneys are no different.
The only time an attorney is not insecure is when he or she is a summer associate, or in his or her first legal job with a major law firm. In the first year or so of this experience, if the summer associate managed to get a job with a major law firm, he or she may be lucky enough to have been coddled and made to feel special. I get calls from these attorneys all the time. Their level of security in their futures shocks my conscience. They are under the belief that they will be able to conquer the world and that doors will easily open for them wherever they are interested in working or going.
By the time a new attorney gets into his or her second year or so of practice, this is gone. Their work starts getting harsh reviews and the confidence the attorney formerly had very quickly goes away. The confidence does not stand in the face of long hours, being shown the attorney does not know what he or she is doing, and as the attorney watches colleagues leaving the firm, or losing their jobs. Attorneys in this position start to realize how difficult their world is. Many gain weight, start abusing substances, get panicked, and call me. They begin to realize they are not invincible and that the place that formerly seemed very welcoming is a far more brutal world than they ever could have imagined. It is a confidence and soul crushing world that could care less about their clerkship or Ivy League school.
The reaction of the strong is to fight back and fit in with this environment and do what it takes to succeed there. The reaction of most attorneys is to leave, or attempt to find a boutique or in-house job that will build them up again and commend them for having the ability to get good grades, do well on the LSATs, and go to a good law school. This ignores the real problem, though, and that is allowing an environment to dictate how you feel about yourself. Many attorneys who need a boost of self-esteem do things like go volunteer in foreign countries, or take jobs far beneath their pay grades where they can be the big man or woman on campus and where everyone will look up to them.
As an attorney gets more senior, the sense of insecurity never ends. Even the most successful partners out there want to hear approval and that others like them and approve of them. They want this sort of thing because they are human beings and need it. We all do. No one is more insecure than the law firm partner who is constantly aware that he or she should have more business, should be doing a better job with his or her clients, and should be at a better law firm. Law firm partners feel more insecure than anyone. What separates them from associates and others is that they feel even more isolated and often have a difficult time sharing their insecurity with other partners. Partners are supposed to be in control and not have the sorts of insecurity that others have. Partners are expected to portray confidence and not be insecure.
The pressure and conditions of a law firm are such that, like it or not, most attorneys are cast out of this cauldron of hell at various times in their careers. Associates may be let go because there is not enough work, due to their performance, or other reasons. As attorneys get more senior, they will be cast out if they do not have enough business. Partners who do not maintain enough business are cast out. Attorneys can be cast out of their law firms very quickly—and they often are. Most attorneys will be cast out of a law firm one or more times in their careers.
Not only are attorneys cast out of law firms, but they often are cast out for inconsequential reasons. They may be fired because they made a flippant remark, fired because someone likes one person over another—who knows? Attorneys are fired all the time. Because attorneys see other attorneys losing their jobs with such regularity, they become paranoid they will lose their jobs as well. This fuels a cycle of suspicion and paranoia.
Once an attorney is cast out, of course, it can be exceedingly difficult for that attorney to find a new position and re-enter the legal profession. Many never do.
Being a law firm attorney is an incredibly demanding thing. There is no rhyme or reason to why anyone chooses the legal profession inside of a law firm. The money is not worth it compared to other professions that require less education. The prestige is not worth it compared to the contempt with which many attorneys are held by others. The camaraderie among fellow attorneys is not worth it because there is very little, if any, of it. The advancement potential is not worth it because there often is no advancement potential. The security is not worth it because there is no security. The good feelings it gives you are not worth it because most of the other feelings you get from it often outweigh the good ones.
But attorneys continue to do it. Being a law firm attorney is something that the best ones can explain they have to do. It simply gives them something. You either have it or you do not. The one thing that every attorney has to have is persistence. This is because it takes a long time to see whether you have made it. Even when you get to the top of the heap you never will fully know you have arrived. Law firm attorneys only know they are successful when they compare themselves to their prior selves, see what has happened to their peers, and listen to the few voices out there that are willing to tell them they have done a good job.
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