When reviewing replies to our Career Satisfaction Survey , a recurring theme jumped out at me. In-house lawyers would like to have more control over their career paths. We had 55 write-in answers to the Question: “Other than money, what would make your job more satisfying?” Those were on top of the five options offered. Mike commented on the top two answers (“expanded responsibilities” and “promotion”) in his recent InsideCounsel column.
But I was really fascinated by a deep dive into the write-in answers, as many of you took the time and opportunity to vent about specific challenges you are facing. Here are half of the fourteen comments that started with the word “more”:
- “More control over work and output, the CEO is a control freak who needs to run everything.”
- “More involvement with the business teams on strategic development and rationale.”
- “More staffing and resources to be able to adequately support business strategies.”
- “More autonomy to make business and legal decisions for the Company.”
- “More control.”
- “More clarity about role.”
- “More lawyers.”
To be sure, overall job satisfaction in-house is high. Much of our survey focused
on what you love about your jobs, and we’ll be writing about that as well. But since this is a career advice column, I want to help the fourteen write-in respondents who want “more” and, no doubt, countless others who share similar frustrations.
At a law firm, for the most part you have virtually unlimited resources. You also know that if you do “X,” “Y” and “Z,” you will most likely be a successful partner and make lots of money. Those “to do” items include, of course, billing lots of hours, making rain, and occasionally suffering through soul crushing work.
For most of our readers, in-house positions are preferable. Working proactively for one company in a team environment with a strategic quasi-business role and no rainmaking expectations equates to a more satisfying professional life. And that is a summary that leaves out many other great positives about working in-house.
But lawyers generally crave control, and that can be harder to come by in-house. You are not in control of the success or failure of the corporate enterprise. Most significantly, you are not in control of how far you advance within your company. So, my first piece of advice is to learn how to stop worrying about things that are out of your control. I’m not saying that is easy to do, but it is a mindset shift that can ease stress.
Instead, focus on efforts to improve your work environment, especially if it is one that falls short of giving you a happy and rewarding daily professional life. This almost always comes down to internal working relationships and corporate politics. Work on continually improving relationships with bosses, colleagues and internal clients. Relationships are like living organisms in that they change and require almost constant maintenance. Forgive the cliché, but they are plants that need to be fed.
For the person who wrote “the CEO is a control freak,” adjust to his or her needs. Or start looking for a new job. For the person who wrote, “more involvement with the business teams,” do whatever it takes to spend more time with those non-lawyer clients. Offer your ideas and input, perhaps informally away from meeting rooms, and in-person when possible versus email strings. If you earn trust and respect, and if the decision-makers like you, good things will happen for you.
Read the full 2016 Evers Legal Career Satisfaction Report.