Small Law Firms

Size Matters: I’ll Have What She’s Having

Maybe it is because I have been reading the comments or my reviews, but lately, I have reevaluated my work history. Five years after graduating from law school, I could be “associate general counsel” at some company, or maybe even “income partner” or “junior partner” at a small law firm. Or, if I worked hard enough and dreamed big enough, I could be a Public Information Director. I, however, am none of those things.

Why not? I have followed most of the generic tips out there. I “do good work.” After a few missteps, I now “dress for the job I want, not the job I have.” I got “five passports, I’m never going to jail.” Oops, maybe that last one was not a career tip. Moving on…

So why am I in career purgatory and my colleague from law school, Jimmy NoBalls, is a partner? (Note: his name has been changed for my amusement). I found the answer in a very well-crafted article on Corporette, Battling Burnout. Tip No. 6 reads as follows:

Whatever you do, at least the very least, fake interest in your current job (as the Men’s Health article also advised). Arrive on time. Be sociable. Look as professional as possible. Smile.

This tip explained everything. The difference between Jimmy and me is not talent, skill, experience, or anything else substantive. No, Jimmy was faking it. I, on the other hand, wear my disdain like a t-shirt (which coincidentally reads, “I work at your cr**py small firm, and all I got was this crummy t-shirt”).

If you want to do well at your job, fake it….

Fake that you find the work interesting; fake that you want to work late; fake that you want to review thousands of emails; fake that you find the partner giving you the assignment, who just told you “alls” he knew, is a man you admire. Fake it all.

This is where it gets tricky. I do not know how to fake it. So, I asked a bunch of lawyers to share with me their tips.

(1) Have a Mantra

Fake it — do whatever is asked with a smile on your face and a skip in your step — while repeating the following mantra in your head: it is only temporary. Visualize your exit strategy.

(2) Make it a Game

Be a little ridiculous. Push your enthusiasm as far as you believably can. For example, one friend told me this story:

At my review, I had to promise that I was committed to the firm and wanted to be partner. One of the partners during my review said, “I need to know you are 100% committed to the firm.” I looked at him and said, “I am not just 100% committed, I am 110% percent committed.” It was funny to me because even though I was being ridiculous, he was eating it up.

(3) Have an Exit Strategy

Good luck with that. It will help, however, when you have to feign excitement over the prospect of researching the statute of limitations in all 50 states on some issue relating to title.

(4) Use Jazz Hands

For reasons that are beyond my comprehension, every partner that I have ever met wants his or her associates to be “enthusiastic” at work. Apparently, working at a law firm (big and small) is very similar to cheer camp. So, do your best acting, and act enthusiastic. Smile, say that you are “right on it,” and explain how excited you are about the task. And, like any good actress knows, make the performance your own. Maybe you can incorporate the thumbs up gesture? Use words like boss, captain, or big guy? Be creative.

(5) Ladies, Fine Tune Your Faking

The general consensus among respondents was that it may be more important for women to fake enthusiasm/job satisfaction/interest/happiness than men. Women, however, need to be careful when doing their rendition of “enthusiastic female associate” because sometimes “pervy partner” may mistake said enthusiasm for flirting. Isn’t it just fitting that women should have to work harder at faking it than men? Oh yes, I did go there.

To test my theory that lawyers need to fake it to make it, I will be utilizing the above tips (and any more you may have for me) for the next month, and will report back on my progress. No doubt I will be on the fast track to success (or identity crisis). Oh, and for those of you reading this who claim that your enthusiasm and happiness at work are genuine, email me your thoughts me so we can discuss what your “genuine” enthusiasm looks like, so I can perfect my performance for the month. And, of course, so I can perform routine tests to assess your mental health (because you must be crazy). Or, more likely, your faking skills are just so good that you have deceived yourself.

Battling Burnout [Corporette]

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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