Matching Who You Are With Career Success

Unhappy lawyers (and others) feel trapped

I am watching a movie from a decade ago – Changing Lanes – that resonated with me because it highlighted my experience with big law firms.  Sam Jackson plays a down on his luck guy who gets entangled with Ben Affleck’s character, a morally questionable attorney who starts wondering whether he can stomach the ethics of his large law firm’s partners.  I remember the feeling well.

But this post is not designed to provide a self-congratulatory note on my misgivings about the ethics of big law but rather to highlight how avoidable my bad experience was with large firms.  I should have career counseled myself away from a miserable experience.

I’ll use one of the personality tests that I give to clients of Career Counseling Connecticut to illustrate my blunder. I am an ENFJ in Myers-Briggs terminology.  NFs are big picture idealists (iNtuitive Feelers).   Law firm associates are detail oriented, pragmatists (STs).

I was well matched to be a criminal prosecutor (my first job).  Criminal prosecutions do involve detail but the big picture is more dominant (the “story” of the crime, the motives, witness relationships) and the end result (justice) fit me well enough.  (Not as well as helping others but well enough!).

In the private sector, I had that intuitive ability that Ns tend to have in predicting how a case would go. Even the arrogant partners would note my ability to see how the case would play out in the long run. But that was not my job.  My job was to do all the detail oriented work to move the case along.  The ethical dilemma I always had was doing what I thought was needless billable work – “why can’t the parties just see that the case will play out as I do and settle, thereby saving everyone hundreds of thousands of dollars?” but the firm thought otherwise for obvious reasons!

In this instance, don’t blame the law firm for my foolishness in joining the law firm.  I joined their world.  If I was going to play in their world, then I would need to change.  I chose to leave the law instead. But had I provided career counseling to my 27 year old self, I would have told him to avoid the world in the first place.  Career mismatches never end well.

Our biggest successes at Career Counseling Connecticut have come from saving others from such career mismatches by providing effective career guidance.