Thursday, April 8, 2010


From a reader:

I am a litigating lawyer and have been with my current firm for almost 4 years (I joined them straight after college). About 3 years back I got married and took a transfer to a different location. I have really learnt a lot with the current firm and have been given a lot of opportunities. But I'm really bored here now. I feel like I'm being taken for granted and am not getting the full recognition from my bosses (my immediate boss and the one above him) though my clients now specifically ask for me to handle their matters (which is a big big deal when I'm barely 4 years into the profession and get to handle matters involving a ton of money). I can handle work pressure but the stress created by my boss is tough to handle. For instance, I have a junior who is supposed to be exclusively working with me but my boss gives him independent work and keeps him busy, which means I’m effectively on my own.

Anyway, I want to make a move to a company where the work & ambience will be very different from a litigation firm. I don't want to move to another firm because there is just too much stress and I really need a break. But I am scared to take the plunge - what if I can't adjust in a company since I am so used to a firm? As in I do a lot of my work independently and my bosses don't really interfere with the calls I make on my matters. I will have a strict hierarchy & reporting structure in a company.

I'm confused. Please help.

Well, I’m going to take your question in parts and answer them to the point.

First, at the current firm, you’re getting to do your own thing which means that the boss trusts your decisions completely. Now, that could also translate to the fact that he doesn’t have to spend time reviewing your work. It then brings us to the fact that your boredom isn’t really due to the lack of opportunities. It’s stemming from the fact that while you need to be given space to do your own thing, you are also asking for recognition for it. That may not be the way that your manager sees the situation. He might feel that the best recognition has been given in the form of letting you do your own thing! No? It’s going to be a matter of perspectives, until you sit down with your manager and share your views.

Getting opportunities of the kind that you’ve described are rare to come by at an early stage in one’s career. It looks very likely that the hidden reason for a job change is the working relationship with your manager. You may want to address that quickly. It could also be that your manager’s seeing the appreciation from clients and doesn’t really want to make changes in working styles that could backfire.

Stress which you feel is created by the manager (like giving work to your direct report) could be sorted out too. Talk it out to your manager. He needs to know that you aren’t comfortable with his approach and that you are responsible for the performance of your direct report. For all practical purposes, he might feel that your direct report is under utilized or the job allotted doesn’t fall under your activities. It’ll stay that way if you ignore the issue and wish it to go away! Start with having a discussion. Try and be candid.

Here’s a tip though, most often there’s a tendency to bring up an issue when it happens. For example, you may want to bring it up the next time you see your boss assigning work to your direct report. That could be plain bad timing! Since there could be urgency around getting that specific work done and you could look like delaying it. On the contrary, have the discussion once your direct report finishes the work and hands it over to your boss. You can then explain your stand when things are calm. Start with explaining that when works gets allotted without your knowledge, it becomes hard for you to plan your deliverables. It could also put the direct report under dilemma to prioritize his work, leading to delay in completion of projects. Your boss needs to know that his approach is hampering your work. The way I see it now is that you are delaying having that discussion with him sand you’re taking on the work that your direct report would have otherwise completed for you. Obviously, leading to a lot of frustration! Speak up.

If you like what you are doing and see a lot of opportunities, why would you choose to change jobs? Beats me. Often, the very idea for a job change crops up when the reason for the change could have been addressed in the first place. Makes sense? To be honest, you might get the same opportunities in a Company, but the number of people in there is going to be tough competition to beat. Not due to lack of competency. Not due to lack of knowledge. It’s a number game in a bigger Company and that’s going to take a while to beat. Also, there will be processes and procedures to follow. That might prove to be a challenge for someone who is used to working independently. It will work, provided you have the patience to ace the system.

The bottom line is that you have chance to sort out differences with your manager at the current firm. It might lead you to give up things that you would have liked if it was done your way. You’ll get things that you didn’t expect would come your way. That’s the way these discussions go. Once you are done having that discussion, you can then decide if it’s worth sticking with the firm. Your decision will then have more objective reasoning.

Good luck!