Does your legal career give you the fulfillment and satisfaction you want? According to CareerBliss, the answer for many attorneys is no. The unhappy attorney is a common sentiment. CareerBliss compiled a list of the happiest and unhappiest jobs in America. They listed the associate attorney as the unhappiest of all with a 2.89 out of 5 index score. Do law firm attorney roles have something to do with the ranking?
What’s the source of this unhappiness?
The unsatisfying answer is, it depends.
Law Crossing lists 25 reasons why many attorneys grow to dislike their jobs. There are lots of reasons but there’s something lurking at the bottom of each of the many problems listed, can you see it?
The hidden assumption that’s made is this: There’s something wrong with the job. The experience isn’t quite what many attorneys imagined coming in. Here’s a controversial idea.
What if it isn’t the job?
What if your job would be instantly more enjoyable with a simple switch? A change in your role or function that’s designed to align with who you are? I’m talking about finders, minders, binders and grinders.
They’re roles within a law firm.
These roles have a significant impact on the progress of your career, but they also have a significant impact on your firm’s performance.
Why position should align with personality
It shapes your income.
The research on this is clear. When an employee’s personality traits match the traits that are ideal for their job, they earn more. When there’s a personality/jobs mismatch, job motivation and performance suffers.
Personality-job fit theory states that your employee’s personality traits (i.e. the big five personality traits) determine their adaptability within your firm. This impacts your firm’s performance significantly, either positively or negatively over time.
What impact does this have on individual attorneys? Quite a bit actually. Many attorneys aren’t fulfilling the roles that best match their personality. Firms are struggling with a widespread problem.
A role mismatch.
Attorneys generally fall into four distinct roles.
- Finders are rainmakers. They bring new clients, business and revenue to a firm. Good finders are exceptionally rare which makes them incredibly valuable to a firm. When times are good, finders often make more. When times are bad, finders often make dramatically less money than their peers.
- Binders are connectors. These attorneys are sophisticated networkers, able to connect with, build and maintain deep relationships with important and powerful people. They receive and provide others with important introductions.
- Minders are managers or bureaucrats. Often times they’re on executive committees or they’re the managing partner responsible for administrative tasks. They manage attorneys, paralegals and support teams. In short, they run law firms. They’re efficient, precise and capable of managing a firm.
- Grinders are the workhorses of their firms. The majority of attorneys are hired to do one thing. Work on the matters given to them. These attorneys are expected to (a.) do as much (billable) work as possible (b.) produce high-quality work as quickly as possible. Grinders aren’t hired to be mentors, rainmakers or managers. They’re workhorses, nothing more, nothing less.
Here’s why this matters.
Attorney/firm dissatisfaction often comes from a confusion about an attorney’s expected role.
- New associates (10 years of experience or less) are often hired to be grinders; to complete the massive amount of work a firm needs done. However, these young (millennials) attorneys want to make an impact as a finder, binder or minder. Naturally, they’re dissatisfied.
- An attorney is made partner with the implicit and unspoken expectation that he behave as a finder. His firm expects him to bring in a significant amount of new business for the firm. However, this newly minted partner has the mindset of a grinder. He puts his head to the grindstone and gets to work, but is unexpectedly replaced due to poor performance.
- A young associate has been working hard for the last three years. She works 12 to 14 hour days, rarely sees her family and is in the office seven days a week. She’s struggling with burn out, depression and severe job dissatisfaction. She’s questioning whether she’d like to be an attorney at all anymore.
- A managing partner is expected to function as a finder, to bring in new business. She’s also expected to produce a large volume of billable work for the firm. She’s on several committees, handles a variety of administrative and business development tasks but is not compensated for these “extras.” She has been hired to be a minder but is expected to be a finder and a grinder.
See the roots of unhappiness?
The firm and its employees have conflicting expectations about what’s expected. The job isn’t necessarily the problem (though it still could be). Expectations are the problem.
These expectations are a widespread problem.
A widespread problem with no solution?
“Attorneys don’t choose the roles, firms do! What if you’re a solo attorney? You’re stuck dealing with all four roles!”
This is the job.
It’s easy enough to suggest that attorneys pursue the roles they desire, but that simply isn’t possible if you’re never selected for that role, am I right?
Not so much.
You’re in control. You have the power to choose your role, even if you’re placed in a less than desirable role. It certainly doesn’t seem that way, but it’s true.
How do you choose the role you want when you’re placed in the wrong role? There are lots of ways to go about this.
- Produce exceptional results for the role you want + the role you have. If you’re hired to be a grinder but you’d like to be a binder, start acting like one. Excel as a grinder, but find a safe avenue that enables you to build a strong reputation as a binder.
- Get some experience as a binder then, find an organization that will hire you as a binder.
- If they’re open to it, negotiate with firm management for a role change. Quantify the value you’ve provided to the firm as a binder, using metrics that matter to firm leadership (e.g. revenue saved, client relationships preserved, matters won, etc.). Do it with several alternate options lined up in case your firm rejects your proposal.
- Pursue your desired role in an alternate capacity (e.g. freelance, starting a new business or firm, etc.)
It isn’t easy.
And it certainly isn’t simple. But it is doable If you find a way. It’s something you can use to establish yourself in the role that you want. And it’s dependent on one simple concept.
Add value in your current role. Add more value in the role you’d like to transition to. Some firms (e.g. BigLaw) aren’t flexible in this area so you may have to make a decision. This makes negotiation (with firms, yours or another) a straightforward and quantifiable process.
Your law firm attorney role should align with your personality
It can align with your personality.
The research is clear. When an employee’s personality traits are matched to their law firm attorney role, everybody wins. Employees earn more money, firms get outstanding results and performance skyrockets.
Who are you?
Most attorneys don’t know. Most firms don’t know. You’re part of an exclusive minority. You understand the roles, the roles as they exist in your firm. You have the information you need to eliminate a major slice of career unhappiness.
It isn’t easy and it isn’t simple but it can be done.
Identify your current role. Identify your future role, the law firm attorney role that you want. With a clear idea of your current situation and a solid plan to follow, career happiness is right at your fingertips.