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Young Lawyers DivisionThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Young Lawyers Division

June 2010, vol. 54, no. 6

Cultural fit: One key to a young attorney’s happiness

If you are at all like me, you probably have acquaintances, friends, and even significant others whose happiness with their legal careers, and specifically their current law firms, ranges the entire spectrum from downright infatuation to utter abhorrence. Undoubtedly, there are a multitude of factors that influence every attorney’s contentment with his or her job. But one of the most important is the attorney’s fit within his or her firm’s culture.

Generally speaking, a firm’s culture implies its set of values. Such considerations as quality of life, management style, type and complexity of work, compensation structure, and the competitive versus collaborative environment, among others, play into a firm’s culture. Law firm cultures are often deeply rooted, long-standing and nearly impossible to change.

Chances are that your fellow attorneys that are happy (or even more than happy) with their current positions have personalities and values that align with their respective firms’ cultures. The converse is also likely true: your fellow attorneys that are unhappy with their current positions have personality traits and values contradictory to their respective firms. For example, if you are an attorney that prefers structure and order, a small firm with undefined management structure and inconsistent feedback could prove a difficult situation in which you struggle to find the structure and order you seek.

However simple this concept appears on its face, many young attorneys have difficulty grasping it and, as a result, have difficulty finding happiness at their firms. Unfortunately, as noted above, most firms have cultures that developed over long periods of time and are not going to change. That leaves a young attorney to either adjust his or her expectations of the firm, tweak his or her approach to the firm and its management, or find a new job.

Ultimately, you should find a firm whose culture is compatible with your personality and career outlook. This means that when you are at a job interview, remember that you are also interviewing that firm, and focus on the firm’s culture and determine if and how well you would fit in. Verify that associates experience a quality of life that is acceptable to you. Confirm that associates collaborate at a level with which you agree. And ensure that the complexity of work and compensation structure are sufficient. In sum, make sure you will fit in with the firm. Your legal happiness could depend on it. ■


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