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Career Center: How to Thrive in a Difficult Work Environment

You detest your boss. You can’t stand your coworkers. You want to die if you have to work another 100-hour week. If that sounds familiar, then you’re in good company with many other attorneys who hate their job. Unfortunately, you’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Maybe you’ve only been at your job for a year or less, or you have no other job prospects at the moment.

When you’re stuck at a job you loathe, what can you do to not only survive, but even thrive in it? Try these tips, provided to you by the experienced recruiters at Lateral Link….

1. Be proactive in a reactive work environment. Perhaps the long hours wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t so unpredictable. One minute you’re worried about when you’ll get your next assignment, and the next one, you’re drowning in work from all your cases. And why do the fire drills have to occur so frequently on Friday nights with Monday morning deadlines? The good news is that to some extent, you may be able to prevent, or at least minimize, these frenetic periods.

Rather than letting others dictate your schedule, make work more predictable for yourself by understanding and staying on top of the deadlines in your cases or deals. Every assignment or task won’t necessarily be spelled out on the task list or docket, so it’s up to you to think about the big picture and anticipate any next steps. If you’re unsure what those might be, ask someone with more experience, and then run it by the partner or senior associate in charge. Then take the initiative to volunteer for these tasks early on to help minimize unexpected emergencies.

2. Improve your work-life balance. Work-life balance at a law firm is usually a joke — like when you’re working around the clock prepping for trial, or at trial, or closing a deal. But after your trial is over or your deal has closed, you always have a choice to make room for the life part of the equation. Although many attorneys often forgo “life” because of the fear of being perceived as slacking off, the reality is that if you’re a hard worker, periodically taking a little time off from work isn’t going to be fatal to your career. In fact, you’re bound to end up less unhappy and more motivated, and can probably stay the course a bit longer.

There’s no formulaic approach to being balanced; it will invariably look different for each person. For example, it can mean leaving the office early so you can spend time with your kids before they go to bed, turning off your email while having dinner with friends, getting someone to cover for you while you go on vacation, or putting off work for one evening so you can catch up on reality TV. The point is, from time to time, get away from work and do whatever you need to do to stay sane and healthy. Sure, associates have made partner while billing an insane amount of hours, but associates have also died doing the same.

3. Find a good mentor. Don’t think you are only limited to getting advice from the mentor to whom you are already assigned. Take the time to find someone whom you trust and respect, both as a practitioner and as a human being, and who is willing to lend an ear. But be careful not to waste their time by complaining or bad mouthing others. Instead, ask what you can do to improve the situation. Chances are your mentor has been in your shoes before, so he or she can give you valuable and practical tips for managing certain issues and dealing with different types of people. And even if your mentor’s insight is nothing new or groundbreaking, at least he or she can give you hope that you will also survive the same difficulties that others have faced.

4. Focus on how your job can get you to where you want to go. Even if your current job sometimes makes you want to choose poverty over a six-figure paycheck, think of it as a layover en route to a better job. Want to work in-house? Take advantage of the various practice areas your firm has to offer so you can acquire the skills and experience you need to become more marketable later on. Want to lateral to a firm where the partnership prospects aren’t as grim? Work on developing relationships with your colleagues because some of them may prove to be valuable client contacts later on when they go in-house. Or are you just biding your time until you figure out where your career is heading? Remember that every assignment you complete and every meeting you make it through brings you one step closer to your parole date.

If you are ready to make a lateral move or go in-house, Lateral Link’s team of professional recruiters can help you find the right job. Additional career resources can be found at the Career Center, powered by Lateral Link.