About Me

Optimistic, realistic, candid. You'll find here a personal perspective. Even so, you'll come to appreciate that I'm around. Trust me, I'm a lawyer. Find me on www.twitter.com/Little_Lawyer

19 September 2011

To the depths...

...and the law firm which pushed me there.

I took a job in March, not a solicitor role, but a job which I thought would be a good way of getting me used to conventional private practice after being out for a while. Also it was a City firm, not at the top, but well known enough to potentially mean something on my now rather dishevelled looking CV, so it would be good experience generally.

It meant a slight pay cut, but when I worked out my contracted hours/pay, what I'd gain in travel and free time, and the fact that my practising certificate and CPD (including SRA management stage 1 course) would be looked after while I was there, I thought made the job a good stop gap whilst I continued to look for work elsewhere. There was also in the depths of my mind the potential could be there for a NQ position.

I remember the interview. I knew I would get the job, why wouldn't I? I was over qualified for it. I remember being asked about how I'd deal with being over burdened with work, and recall responding how I was not afraid of hard work, but also that I also knew what reasonable looked like, so I wouldn't be taken advantage of. So then came contract negotiations. On a one year fixed term contract they tried to get me to sign up to a three month notice period. Whittled it down to what I thought was a good compromise at one month. I asked about overtime and was told that it wasn't paid, but also that it wasn't usual for there to be a requirement to work long hours in the department. Great. I need a work life balance, I've got a proper job to look for.

So I start my job. Its not too long in when I realise that I am doing the same job as a solicitor at a considerably lower pay, and the volume of work I had been given required me to work considerably longer hours than I had been expecting. But I enjoyed the responsibility. I enjoyed the work. And I enjoyed the fact that I was
performing, in the most difficult of situations (poorly organised contract, lack of direction, support and training, and over allocation of work to name a couple). I was achieving.
"I know what reasonable looks like" ran around my head, and I took a step back to recognise that a 50+ hour week did not resemble reasonable.
So I contact HR. I say that I suspect she wasn't aware of how busy the department was when negotiating my contract, and filled her in. Could something be done? She'll talk to the department head the following day. A week passed. I didn't want to be a pest. Two passed and I got restless. I got in touch and she was on holiday, she'll sort it out when she gets back. Basically I got the run around for 6 weeks before it was "addressed". And only after I realised that I'd been fobbed off for all of that time, was it that I realised that I was getting used to being in to work at 7am and leaving after 7, 8, 9, 10pm each night. What happened to my job hunt?

I contact HR again, and the following day, department head pops by and informs me that the last thing he wanted was an unmotivated workforce, who felt unappreciated. These are words which I'd never uttered. He knew his department morale was at an all time low. We'd talk.

My supervisor contacts me, and informs me that an in principal increase has been agreed for an additional role I had agreed to carry out, but nothing formal had been done. So cash for the additional role, but what about all of the additional hours? I write to my supervisor, and the department head suggests I arrange a meeting with him. Of course, he goes away for two weeks and by this time four months has passed.

Its d-day and I'm called in to the den. I wasn't feeling nervous, and was quite optimistic that someone who had reached such heights and appeared so understanding when we had first spoken, was a reasonable person and understood what made people tick.
So tell me @little_lawyer, where do you live? What do your parents do? Why did they come to the UK? What university did you go to?
I had clearly read this all wrong...

He expected all of his team to work hard, so the additional hours worked were neither here nor there, and anyway, its about the quality and quantity of output not how long it takes to do something. I had a few weeks previously received a dazzling review...I suggested that if I wasn't working at the required competency level, it was a bit late to start suggesting I was not performing.

I was not "visible" in the team and every time he saw me I was sat at my desk working. What. The. Fruck. He must have skimmed the bit about my work load. Also, I had a great relationship with qualified and non qualified colleagues (they're a good bunch), he was never in, what did he know!

He couldn't see how I "added value" to the team. Obviously he missed the emails and training sessions I had organised for his qualified and non qualified team without which the department was flailing under the pressure of workload and lack of training.

And anyway, and more importantly, he had the cash to pay me more if he wanted to, but what made me think I was worth more when he had the cream of the crop from Cambridge and Oxford working for him?

I assumed my usual (and recognisable) position at my desk.

That was two months ago. Ever since, my constant IJ sounds, "
I'm going to resign today" but all of my friends and family keep telling me that I'm better in a job than out, and the news keeps telling me the recession is deepening so I should be grateful to have this job. There have been sleepless nights. My heart is constantly palpitating. For a time I was in excruciating pain in my back and face due to tension. And more importantly, I think its time to take the work "resilient" from my CV. In that brief 15 minutes, every stereotype about city law was confirmed, and almost every ounce of self belief and esteem had been verbally beaten out of me.

Optimistic. Scrub that.
Realistic. I know my place and others are only too pleased to keep me in it. I've not yet worked with anyone I have thought impressive and would wish to emulate but background counts.
Candid. It has taken me nearly two months to pluck up the courage to write this. I'm embarrassed by my career. I believed that hard work and half a brain would get me the career I thought I deserved. I am battered and bruised, beaten and defeated.

8 comments:

  1. LL, I am sorry to hear this. Hopefully, it will give you some comfort that you are not alone.

    Back in the day, I got a job at a peachy firm on Aldersgate Street. I had bombed out of the LPC at that stage but I did have previous City experience and I knew how to exchange and complete property sales.

    While I had more in common with the NQs, I was put with the legal secretaries made good. (I try not to speculate as to the real reasons for their promotions).

    Unlike you, my contract did say I'd get overtime. When I asked HR why I hadn't been paid for the 20 hours OT per week I'd worked, I was refered to one of my partners who looked at me as if I was a crack addict asking for a tip.

    I was given a closet full of files that had sat there festering for some time. My job was to effectively clean the ex-legal secs toilet.

    I did also work on a biggish deal for a developer. I had to get all the little plot sales to complete to deadline. When I made the deadline, the developer's sales team was overjoyed. The next day, I was stunned to receive a delivery of flowers - which one of the ex-legal secs was convinced was from her adoring husband. She looked like one of those bints from Muriel's Wedding when she read the card.

    I was asked by another partner to take the flowers home as they were, "Divisive". Not the people, the flowers.

    I started getting iced out big stylee. Nobody spoke to me except to laugh at something I'd done or said. I started to get questioned by their partner about why I hadn't done this or that.

    By some unknown stroke of short term luck, I got moved from their room to one I shared with an associate. she was kind and straight up told me it was because I was getting bullied.

    I worked my arse off to keep that job and I started having wee panics. But they weren't as bad as what others were going through. I'd go down for a smoke and see some of the NQs there. All of them were marking time to their one year so they could quit.

    One guy told me he had just been to see his partner and was having a full blown panic attack while he was standing in front of the partner.

    The entire place was a disfunctional mess. partners never saw their own families and delighted in humilating junior staff.

    I eventually got called in for a meeting with HR and one of the partners. I hadn't passed probation and was asked to immediately leave.

    while I was stunned at the time (and so was the associate I shared a room with) I have to say it was the best thing that could have happened.

    These people are morons. Well paid morons. But if you tot up the hours they put in, they're getting minimum wage.

    The City is all theirs.

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  2. Hugs. You're being taken advantage of, you know it, and the workplace is abusive. I've been there, and it's REALLY hard to walk away without anything else lined up. It's hard not to feel defeated. But someday, you will be able to walk away, and undo the damage this place is doing to your self-esteem. (I know from experience!)

    I hope things start looking up soon.

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  3. Kris, the biggest thing for me has been that there are so many stories like mine - yours sounds horrendous too. I hate to think that I am in a worse position than anyone else, but I suspect that being a little older than most, does put me on a different footing. It makes my failure greater, and starting on an entirely new career and potentially spending more £000's on further education is a risk I am no longer prepared to take. I just can't afford it. I hope you are right and that this experience counts towards something greater than this which is waiting for me, but actually, 2 years of rather difficult workplaces/managers has moderated my optimism. Since training, things have never been so tough, financially and personally having to put up with some of the most awful personalities for the sake of a job I thought would take me places. I cannot say right now that any of it has been worth it, apart from the friends I've met along the way.

    Atty at Large, thank you - I know that I was being taken advantage of, and this has stopped somewhat now that I've moderated the hours I'm prepared to work. Thank you for your positivity. Just writing this piece has helped, and the palpatations have almost subsided. I should have written this sooner!

    Best to both of you.

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  4. I am very upset to hear about this, but I'm glad you blogged about this LL, as trainee lawyers/ law students, or just people who want to enter the legal world (like me) need to get the whole picture. I needed to know about pros and cons, and this has definitely opened my eyes to the real bitterness of law careers. I am sure there is still hope that you will end up in a well paid and satisfying job in the legal world, so please don't give up.

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  5. And people become lawyers why? Many friends have worked for city firms and almost all of them have left. Some of them are not even lawyers, they're in support roles but the expectations within the industry are ridiculous. Well done for blogging this!

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    1. Thank you for your comment Richard. Needless to say, things are a lot different from when I first posted this, but you are right. If I had my time again, would I have gone to university? Maybe - especially as it was free for me. Would I have studied to become a solicitor? No way. I'd be in a much better place financially/lifestyle wise now had I not; but decisions were made and these obstacles are being high vaulted over. Thank goodness!

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  6. An all too common and salutory tale, important to look at other options, the legal career is definitely not what it was.

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    1. Sorry to hear this too - and sounds like there's a story to be told there...I wonder whether I could trouble you for a guest blog piece about it?

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