One Step to Career Security

Lawyers care about free will. Just not their own.

Mens rea matters. Stunning securities suits are lost for want of scienter. What does the reasonable person think? Would an objective observer buy the stock after that earnings report? Who knew what when, and what did they choose to do with the understanding?

If it is good enough for your clients, it is good enough for you.

“But I do! I have all sorts of career plans.”

Bullshit. If you have made your plans solely on the basis of what you have heard from mentors, partners, senior associates, and other (authority) figures within your firm–and especially as part of the “annual review” process–then you don’t have a career plan by any sane definition.

That isn’t a plan, that’s an investment based on a tip you got through the fax machine. The reason is very simple, and you–any lawyer–should know better: you don’t have all of the relevant facts.

This isn’t rocket science, this is IRAC. How leveraged is your firm? What is the spread in partner compensation between the “haves” and the “have nots”? How many departing associates left under their own power, versus being pushed out? What percentage of associates in any given class make partner? Do you have a “sherpa” to go to bat for you? Do you really, or are you letting flattery and congeniality suffice as evidence?

Most of these facts, some of the most relevant to your future career, are things you will never find out or cannot know.

If you wrote an answer on the bar exam based on these facts, you would get a justifiable zero for the essay.

The easiest thing to do is not to care and to assume you already know what you need to know. It is so simple to push forward on the path defined for you. And believe me, your firm undoubtedly has a plan for you. (Do you know what it is? Does it coincide with what you think your plan is?) It is child’s play to avoid noticing the dangerously partial set of facts in front of you.

The one step you can take to improve your position is to educate yourself, so your next steps can be made deliberately, under your own power.

Do not assume you will be the “exception” to the rule that only 10% of an associate class makes it to partnership. Do not assume that everything will get better even if you do make partner. Do not assume your firm is telling you everything you need to know about its own health. Do not assume that gripe blogs or the beloved Above the Law understand the reasons that you got into law.

If you had a client making such blind assumptions, wouldn’t you be ethically bound to smack them (figuratively speaking)?

Whether you stay in a firm or not, the single step that will make the process worthwhile and valuable is to be able to make your decisions under your own power from a reasonably informed state. Get there, and anything that happens after that is cake.

What is the information you most wish you had about your situation? What facts do you need to know in order to answer this question fully? Let me know in the comments, and maybe we can think of a way to discover them.

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