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Characteristics of Attorneys Who Remain in One Law Firm Long-Term

published July 30, 2021

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In today's world, we see many attorneys always chasing the next best thing. They are ambitious and want to progress to more successful firms, better positions, bigger clients, more money, and a better legal career. However, some stay in one firm for decades and even their whole careers. In every well-established company that has been around for a long time, several lawyers have been there since they have graduated from law school and helped the company grow.
 

Although we often imagine successful lawyers like those from the first example who advance their career by switching to bigger and more competitive firms and better clients, I have found that lawyers who practice law in a single company often have the best and most stable long-term successful careers and are often much happier in their life.


This comes from my experience as a legal recruiter but also as an employer. From the many people I have hired in the past, employees who have worked with their previous employers for years were the best ones because they always find a way to make things work. They do not give up when something goes wrong; they can take constructive criticism, grow from it and become successful lawyers.

Lawyers who stick with their firms for years are the same. They see tens of lawyers come and go for years but decide to stay and improve themselves through talent development and the firm in their position despite problems that inevitably every firm has at one point or another.

I do not want to imply that every attorney should automatically "stick it out" and stay in an office that has obvious problems, mistreats its lawyers, or cannot offer a secure future. There are situations in which it is better to move on. However, before doing so, you should look at the situation from all sides and consider all of your options because staying in one firm for a long time has many advantages for you and the firm.
 

Common Characteristics of Lawyers Who Stay at One Firm


As a legal recruiter who helped many lawyers and law firms in the hiring process, I have noticed that certain common characteristics connect those who stay in law firms for decades. These characteristics are:
 
  1. They are devoted to their job.
  2. They ignore gossip in the office.
  3. They do not seek attention and recognition for what they are doing
  4. They do consistently good work and do not try to be extraordinary
  5. They take on the 'ingroup' and 'outgroup' outlook


Attorneys Who Are Employed in One Law Firm Long-Term Are Devoted to Their Job and Their Employer


Whenever you start a new job, a certain level of loyalty to the employer is automatically assumed. If the conditions in the firm are not downright bad, you should stick it out and stay where you are.

However, people who remain in the same firm for decades are typically the types that are extremely committed to their jobs. They would never switch law firms just out of finding something better or being offered more money. If they choose to change their employer, they usually have no other choice, such as their original firm going under or something horrific that prevents them from working there. And even if something like that happens and they have to look for a new workplace, they do not feel good about it and grieve this separation.

I sometimes like to compare it to going through a divorce because it really is like one for some of these lawyers. The relationship these lawyers have created with their firm is like a marriage. It is based on mutual trust, respect, commitment, need for each other, focus on fixing problems, not running away from them. So, when they are forced to separate after years of co-living in this relationship, it can be a big hit to the attorney, and they grieve from the loss or disconnection.

Lawyers such as these do not care about money, prestige, credit, or how far they can get in life. Instead, they care about good relationships in their lives, including relationships with the firm and people working there. Trust and commitment are at the forefront of what they consider important, and that isn't something that can be bought with a higher salary or bigger bonuses.
 

Lawyers Who Stay in Most Law Firms for Decades Do Not Focus on Negatives and Gossip


Not every employee is an ideal one. There are always those who do not complete the work assigned to them or are required to do so. As a result, they are slacking, not focusing on what is important. When these things happen, most law firms are forced to address them with the people in question, and some take it better than others.

Those who do not take it well often start to resent their employer and work really hard to paint them in a negative light. They often start spreading rumors in the workplace and, if they are forced to switch firms as a result of their bad behavior, they often spread these negative opinions in the new firm. Sometimes, the employees start rumors about the firm or other lawyers without a serious reason for it (not being reprimanded is a valid reason). Whatever the reason (or lack thereof), these employees like to spread their negative feelings.

Most firms deal with such employees who try to instill doubts into the minds of other legal practitioners about the firm, state of its affairs, or the security of the future with this company. However, lawyers who love their firm and are committed to it long-term never participate in spreading these rumors or even hearing them out. When someone comes to them to share gossip, they find a way out of the situation and focus on doing their job. They do not need to become a part of this behavior because they value their relationship and personal experiences with the firm more than some angry attorney wants to spread out of spite. They look at the positives and look at how the firm with them on board can become more successful than it is today. It gives them the time, energy, and opportunity to focus on the good sides of things and helps them become happier and more successful legal practitioners.
 

Attorneys Working in One Firm for a Long Time Do Not Seek Attention and Recognition for What They Are Doing


A successful legal practitioner who stays with a single firm for years is usually there to do the work they are supposed to do and do it well. Therefore, they do not need extensive recognition for everything they do, attention and praise from others, nor fast advancement into the top positions.

They believe that doing their best work, being loyal and trustworthy to their firm, and not wanting to be the center of attention constantly will help them progress successfully through their legal career and that eventually, they will get ahead; the company will recognize their accomplishments and professional development and will promote them.

Those who are always trying to attract attention to what they are doing, want to be recognized and successful very quickly, often make the mistake of focusing more on the theatrics around the work than the work itself. But, unfortunately, they are also playing games, undermining others in the firm, and do other scheming to help them get on the top, even though that can often be detrimental to their career.

They may often switch firms when they feel like they can get better opportunities, bigger clients, a better compensation system, and faster progress in the legal profession; someplace else in a large company that might not always look the best on their resume. Also, because they have a lot of self-confidence, sometimes they might take on more than they can handle and are also very vocal about what they are doing, which can backfire and put them in an unfavorable situation. This is also the best way to make enemies of another great lawyer. Even the best and most promising legal practitioners sometimes make this mistake and end their career prematurely just because they wanted quick recognition and a fast track to success.

In the meantime, those who lay low with a great work ethic and focus on doing the best work can slowly work toward success and often get ahead of those who started aggressively but made crucial errors that prevented them from fulfilling their career goals. Being a good lawyer long-term is a marathon, not a sprint, so it is better to focus on doing good work and pace yourself, not try to steal the limelight from the beginning.
 

Lawyers Who Have Been in One Firm for a Long Time Do Consistently Good Work and Do Not Try To Be Extraordinary


This point is about pacing yourself in your career. You have to do your job well, yes, that is true. But pacing yourself - coming to the office every day, and doing consistently good work - is much better than starting as an extraordinary talent in the legal community only to end up stressed and burned out five years later. An attorney working until midnight every day, not utilizing weekends as time away from the office, or enjoying holidays with the family is on the fast track to burnout. Not allowing yourself a minute to breathe and regain energy from the moment you start your legal education in law schools just to be considered the best in their practice area, company, or market is the fastest way to health problems and burnout syndrome.

Some of the best legal practitioners I know got far because they knew how to pace themselves. But, of course, they were still working a lot of hours. Still, they were not afraid to take off earlier on a Friday afternoon to do something toward their personal goals, and they would spend Saturday evenings with their families without stressing about work. They would still work on the weekends, but they would make sure to have at least two evenings off to do what they loved with their closest ones. They wouldn't stay in the office until midnight every day, and they would make sure not to allow the stress to get to them too much.

Showing up and working hard consistently is much more important in many firms than trying to be the best and the smartest person ever to get a law degree. In other words, in the end, the most important thing is doing the job that needs to be done, and that is done by constant good work day by day.
 

Lawyers Who Stay in One Law Firm Long-Term Take On the 'Ingroup' and 'Outgroup' Outlook


When a few individual legal practitioners work together in one law office for 10, 20, or 30 years, they create a special bond. They obviously have similar values and goals that keep them working in one firm for so many years, and working in the firm gives them a common goal - being committed to the firm and doing the best job they can. They are the core group devoted to the company that will not abandon it, despite many lawyers coming and going within a few years.

The other legal practitioners, who do not stick with them in the firm, become part of the outgroup or consider outsiders because they have not demonstrated enough devotion. There is also, of course, some internal competition between the 'insiders' and 'outsiders' in that the bond of the insiders is extreme, extremely willing to stand behind one another and the firm in defense of any threat, real or perceived.

This relationship between the people who stick with the company grows stronger the more time they spend working together, which can really push the firm forward. In many firms, this core group of lawyers helped them with client satisfaction, improved their firm's culture, and got them higher in their market.
 

Conclusions


It's been a long time since I have been a practicing attorney. Now that I am a legal recruiter and earning money by finding new firms for legal practitioners and law students, it certainly seems weird to talk positively about lawyers who stay in one company their whole lives. However, I have noticed that lawyers who stay in one firm for a long time are often happier and more positive. They do not try to find the negatives with their situation; they focus on being a good lawyer and doing good work for their clients. Their firms provide them with security in return, and they create the long-term mutually advantageous relationships they can build on for years. It is beneficial for them, for their clients, and everyone around.

Of course, if the firm is not functioning well or is not treating you correctly, it is completely okay to make the informed decision to go somewhere else. But if a firm has been working well for decades in its specialized expertise, they probably know what they are doing.

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