Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

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Anonymous User
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Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jun 25, 2015 5:13 pm

This is not to complain about my job because I am grateful for it and privileged to have it, but I am miserable and want some advice (from older/wiser lawyers) if there is soemthing better out therethan my current practice or if practicing law is just shitty no matter where you work or what kind of work you do.
Context: I do general practice (commercial litigation and privately-held transactional) in a smaller market (think smaller than ATL or Texas cities, but bigger than Omaha, NE) at a very small law firm where I am the only associate. I've been practicing for less than a year and I hate my job. In the first months of practice I was happy overall because I don't think I am direspected or mistreated and I do get to handle a variety of cases and do hearings and trials. But, in the last 6 months, the majority of the time I am like "I wish I did not hav this job." I have yet to deal with opposing counsel who are really unnecessary rude and bullying (maybe this is a function of litigation), except for small claims matters of when interacting with government attorneys. And I don't really like my clients or the cases much; it just always seems like entitled business owners fighting over petty, greedy shit they could resolve by just being decent people instead of taking up the court and jury's time. Obviously I benefit from their pettiness and enable it so that feels shitty too. I've also been really disheartened by the judiciary; maybe it's because I practice in state court alot and our judges are elected with help from bigger law firms; but I've found that, whenever it's bigger law firm/bigger donor v. smaller law firm/not donor, the decision goes to bigger law firm (without a legal basis). Basically I'm just disenchanted with the civil litigation system, my firm, and my clients and am worried I will turn into an asshole if I keep doing it long enough and/or become as stressed out as my bosses. Apparently I have shown promise in litigation, but it's not something I wanna do if it makes me unhappy everyday or brings out my nastier character traits.
My first incliation is that my dissatisfaction is particular to civil lit/my firm. I assume litigators are known to be miserable assholes for a reason. But my firm also has major morale problems and staff turnover/issues so I'm not sure if I just have this feeling of general malaise because that it what is permeating the office or if it's because litigation/law in general (even if its not in BigLAw or NYC) is miserable. My bosses are constantly stressed and take it out on me and the staff by blaming us for their screw ups.
The alternatives are transactional, which doesn't seem much better/more from my experience with it or the accounts of people who only do transactional. People who work for the government seem alot happier, despite the lower pay and the potential politics of it (gotta love the no billables and job security). I also feel like in-house or other kinds of regulatory/advising law is less adversarial. But these jobs are hard to get; that was what I was aiming for throughout law school and ended up at a firm because I coudldn't get a govt gig. Also, from the govt and in-hosue lawyers I've spoken with, to lateral to a good govt job you have to gut it out in civil lit for awhile to even be considered.
I like the intellectual aspects of the law; reading texts and figuring out answers and solving problems for people, but there's just so many negative things obscuring it right now and I am not sure it will be better in a different job. Anyone made a transfer from civil lit to another area (or from a small firm to a big firm/in-house/govt/non-profit) and been like "whew, much better!"? I can hate my job for now, but, if the exit strategy will be just as shitty there doesn't seem to be a point.

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AreJay711
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Re: Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby AreJay711 » Thu Jun 25, 2015 6:05 pm

Yeah, you don't seem to be the kind of person who thrives in litigation. Being kind is for pikers.

depth charge
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Re: Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby depth charge » Thu Jun 25, 2015 10:06 pm

i hear you, brother/sister. i was in a similar situation...but it gets better.

stick with it for another year. it's too early to jump ship, and it/s too early to know what you're talking about. the grass is always greener on the other side.

make yourself indispensable at your current firm to increase your leverage. build up another 6-12 months of experience. then start applying to other litigation firms. you want your 2nd move to be the right move, so do your due diligence; don't jump from the frying pan into the fire.

in mean time, spend a significant time amount of time tweaking your resume with your most impressive work accomplishments. seek practical experience, e.g., attending status conferences, writing case evaluation briefs, etc. make it a goal to file an excellent brief over the next year--to use as your writing sample.

consider that while you probably work at a very difficult firm at which few people would be happy, young lawyers often have to crawl through the mud before they get clean. i know i did (and i still ain't zest-fully-clean)

i have a very good friend who nearly left litigation altogether because he hated his first firm. i counseled him to try moving to a smaller litigation firm before quitting completely. he did so, and he loves it.

you invested X years and Y dollars to practice law. your substantive experience is in litigation. i would stick with it for a little longer before switching practices. besides, even if you later switch, it will benefit you to know some litigation and to experience a baptism by fire by dealing with prick opposing counsel. embrace the pain

fxb3
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Re: Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby fxb3 » Thu Jun 25, 2015 11:21 pm

I agree with what depth charge said. I think that's good advice.

I'll focus on your title question. I come at it from the opposite side of the spectrum from you. I work at a huge firm in a big city, and I do litigation. I really think that my firm is pretty good (for biglaw) in giving me substantive opportunities, and I've learned a lot in 5+ years here and had some great experiences as a litigator. (As an aside for the point that the grass is greener, I laughed at your comment about judges siding with big firms. I feel like tons of judges go against our big firm whenever they can because they like to see us fail, and hold us to an impossible standard of perfection and efficiency because we're big.)

That said, I think that litigators can be kind or happy but not both. I know plenty of kind lawyers who are miserable, and a fair number of happy litigators who are just assholes. I don't just mean competitive -- I'm a competitive person, extremely so, which is what drew me to litigation. But the happiest litigators I know seem so un-self aware, and are capable of laughing off the fact that they are being unnecessarily unreasonable to opposing counsel, and don't mind whose toes they stomp on (secretaries, paralegals, associates, adversaries) to get their way. The kind ones, on the other hand, get beat down by that kind of behavior. It's not that they don't stick it out, they do, but they just seem not to like it.

I don't necessarily know why this is. But I think it's because litigation is a grind. There are so many opportunities for unpoliced one-upsmanship, that you can be a jerk who doesn't care about being a jerk, or a kind person who every day has to deal with jerks. It just doesn't always make for a happy life. The best thing you can do is find people who you like working with and who, above all, are supportive of you. If they're jerks, at least you're on their side (note: you are not always "on their side" if you work for them, there needs to be more support than just an employment relationship), and if they're nice but miserable, but still likeable, you have someone to commiserate with and who will commiserate with you. It's just tough to find.

dixiecupdrinking
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Re: Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Fri Jun 26, 2015 8:18 am

I do litigation at a big firm. Just about everyone I work with is kind. They aren't happy because working in biglaw does not make you happy. But they do like litigation. I think it's completely possible to be a scrupulous and considerate person and still be a successful litigator. Most of the petty shit that people act like assholes over strikes me as penny wise pound foolish.

smallfirmassociate
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Re: Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby smallfirmassociate » Fri Jun 26, 2015 9:18 am

It seems like the main issues are with, in order:

1. Your firm, which has morale issues
2. Your local bar, which seems to lack collegiality

...

3. Your practice area

The good news is that you can change those things by moving to a different firm/market. The bad news is that some of your other feelings will probably always be there. Especially that feeling that your clients are unreasonable asshats who could resolve their issues easily if they had the sense to do so.

Anonymous User
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Re: Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jun 26, 2015 9:57 am

OP here: thank you for all the advice; it's really what I needed to hear.
It seems like the main issues are with, in order:
1. Your firm, which has morale issues
2. Your local bar, which seems to lack collegiality

Actually my local bar is fantastic; it's known to be the best in the state and I have really wonderful relationships with some people on it, which is why I am so shocked by opposing counsel (who are members of the same bar organizations as I am) acting outrageously on the other side of the case.

That said, I think that litigators can be kind or happy but not both.

You got to the crux of the issue right here and it's what scares me the most. In 10 years I don't wanna be the successful litigator who treats opposing counsel or associates the way I've been treated. Even though I am competitive and love a good argument as much as the litigator, I find myself becoming more on edge and snappy with people each day.

in mean time, spend a significant time amount of time tweaking your resume with your most impressive work accomplishments. seek practical experience, e.g., attending status conferences, writing case evaluation briefs, etc. make it a goal to file an excellent brief over the next year--to use as your writing sample.

That is exactly what all me mentors/career counselor said. Already got that all lined up and ready to go. I guess, if nothing else, my job did get me some killer writing samples (motions for summary judgment, applications for appeal, motions in limine, jury instructions etc) and some great client/courtroom experience which makes me feel guilty about wanting to leave so badly. What do you think about clerkships as a stepping stone to another firm?

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Other25BeforeYou
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Re: Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby Other25BeforeYou » Sat Jun 27, 2015 3:22 pm

Yeah, I went the other way (miserable at a big firm to really insanely happy at a small firm while staying in civil litigation), and my best advice would be that if you do find opposing counsel or other lawyers who are respectful and seem like good people, work hard to impress the hell out of them. Then once you've built up a relationship, ask if they have any openings. Lateraling to a firm you already have a good relationship with and respect could solve your problems.

Anonymous User
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Re: Are kind, happy lawyers an oxymoron?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Jun 27, 2015 6:43 pm

I voluntarily took a massive paycut (Like 40%) to go from transactional/banking law type work to government. The money has been tight, but there is not a single day where I regret it. I hated every moment of my job when I was at a firm, I hated the billable hours, I hated the late nights, I hated the work itself, etc. The government job is 9-5, there are no billables, the benefits are awesome, there is no competition cause no one is gunning for partner, the vacation time is amazing, and I absolutely love the work. I highly highly advise people to think about why they went to law school and what type of environment would make them happy and make the switch, even if you're losing massive money. I have crazy student loan debt, and maybe financially it wasn't smart to leave my former job, but I am honestly happy every single day at work and like what I do. Its hard to put a price on that. Also hard to put a price on being home by 5:15 every day.




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