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I Was Promised a Position in the Litigation Department But Now They Stuck Me in Corporate. What Should I Do? Can I Switch Practice Areas?

You finally found a position that you thought would be your "dream job."  The partners liked you and promised to put you right to work in litigation, an area in which you are desperate to gain experience.  However, it has been six months and you have yet to touch your first case.  Instead, they have you in the corporate department, spending your days up to your elbows in mind-numbing paperwork and boring meetings.

This scenario is not as uncommon as you might think.  The only way to "compel" a law firm to allow you to do the work you want to do is to have in hand a written contract specifying that you will be allowed to perform certain tasks, and most law firms are simply not going to give you this when you are hired.  Far more firms rely on a "gentlemen's" (or ladies') agreement and a handshake to specify your job duties.

Do you have any recourse when you find that your dream job is not what you thought it would be?  There is, of course, the possibility of quitting, but most lawyers these days are just glad they have found work and are reluctant to give up their jobs.  Should you suffer in silence?  Actually, there are ways you may change practice areas, but they require you to understand a few basic rules about working in a law firm.

  • Your skills are a commodity for which the partners are willing to pay.  The best way to change practice areas is to show that you are a valuable commodity in the area in which you want to work.  Of course, you cannot get trial experience if you are in corporate, but this may be a time when you can "volunteer" to do some of the "dirty work" for large cases in exchange for sitting in on some trials.  It is not litigation, but it is a foot in the door and will often attract the attention of the partners.
  • Talk to your boss.  The partner to whom you answer most may have some power to help you change practice areas, but it is unlikely that this will happen.  However, what you can do is to agree to do the work already assigned to you plus some extra assignments.  This shows the partners that you are willing to help where needed but do want to gain experience in other areas.  Your good attitude will go a long way to solving the problem.
  • Make no threats.  Lawyers, like most people, do not like threats.  The fastest way to be sure that you are denied what you want is to take a threatening stance, such as threatening to quit if you do not get your way.  Weigh the value of having a job against the value of doing what you want to do before you decide to resign.

While it is important to get experience in the areas in which you want to specialize, it is also important to maintain your integrity while job seeking.  If you do decide to leave, be sure to give plenty of notice and finish the cases to which you are assigned.

Rifkin Consulting can help you when the time comes to change jobs by finding the right law firm and position to match your skills and preferences.