The number one question I get from senior associates in Big Law is this:
Truth be told, the hours suck and I don’t have enough time for hobbies, life or people I care about. Is it better to quit for a job with better work-life balance when I’m so close to making partner or stick it out?
I usually give the most annoying, yet lawyerly answer there is out there.
Hear me out. It’s important to make decisions that align with your professional AND personal goals. Because of that, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, as the decision ultimately depends on individual circumstances and priorities. In other words, it depends wholly on what YOU want.
Are you a “shoo-in” for partnership? Are you married with a family? Has partnership always been the goal or are you only reaching for it because people told you that you should?
In this article, we explore the pros and cons of each option to help you make a well-informed decision, as well as three questions you should be asking yourself. And even though this is told from the perspective of someone in the legal industry, the same process applies whether you’re looking at making it to C-suite in tech or elsewhere.
Pros and Cons of Sticking It Out Until Partnership
- High earning potential: As a partner, you can earn significantly more than as a senior associate, which can lead to greater financial security and freedom. There is a caveat on this pro, though. See cons below.
- Prestige and career growth: Achieving partnership is a major accomplishment, and it can provide a significant boost to your career trajectory, opening up opportunities for greater responsibility and leadership roles. Plus, it’s a coveted position to get in the legal field.
- Greater autonomy: You will have greater autonomy in decision-making and the ability to shape the direction of the firm and your practice area.
- Opportunity to work on complex and high-profile cases and deals: As a partner, you may have the opportunity to work on more complex and high-profile matters, which can be both intellectually stimulating and rewarding. Not to mention, it can also garner you a highly respectable reputation in your field.
- Long hours and high stress: The path to partnership can be demanding and stressful, with long hours and tight deadlines. Once you’ve “made it,” the grind doesn’t necessarily ease up, either. This can lead to burnout and a lack of work-life balance.
- Uncertainty: Partnership is not guaranteed, and the process can be competitive and unpredictable. This can create anxiety and stress for senior associates who are uncertain about their future prospects.
- Limited flexibility: As a partner, you may have less flexibility in terms of your schedule and work location, as your clients and responsibilities may require you to be available at all times.
- Limited focus on non-billable work: As a partner, you may have less time to focus on non-billable work, such as business development, mentoring, and pro bono work, which are often the most fulfilling and rewarding parts of the job.
- Uncertain earning potential: There are many structures for partner compensation, but none are as stable and as guaranteed as when you are an associate. This is because you have moved from “employee” to “partial owner.” Depending on how your firm is structured, your tax burden alone may cause you to earn LESS than you did as a senior associate. Additionally, depending on the firm’s performance in the year, part of your compensation may be unguaranteed and never realized, lowering your take-home pay. Meanwhile, the level of work required doesn’t let up.
Pros and Cons of Leaving For A Job With Better Work-Life Balance
- Improved work-life balance: Leaving a big law firm for a job with better work-life balance can lead to a more sustainable and fulfilling career, with greater time for personal pursuits and family.
- Increased flexibility: If you play your cards right, you may even have greater flexibility in terms of your schedule and work location, which can provide greater control over your work-life balance.
- Reduced stress: A job with better work-life balance can lead to reduced stress and burnout, which can improve your overall health and well-being.
- Diverse career opportunities: Leaving a big law firm can open up diverse career opportunities, such as in-house counsel, government, non-profit work, or even entrepreneurship, which can be personally and professionally rewarding, and in some instances, more lucrative.
- Lower earning potential: Leaving a big law firm may result in a lower salary or earning potential, which can limit financial security and freedom.
- Limited prestige: It may also mean giving up the prestige and reputation associated with working at a top law firm.
- Limited growth opportunities: Depending on the job, leaving a big law firm may limit your opportunities for career growth and leadership roles.
- Reduced complexity and challenge: You may also land a role with less complex and challenging legal matters, which may not be as intellectually stimulating.
As you can see, the decision to stay and aim for partnership or leave for a job with better work-life balance is a complex one that requires careful consideration. But don’t worry, I’m not just going to leave you hanging wondering “Okay, now what do I do with this information?”
There are three questions I have my clients ask themselves to help them find more clarity:
- What are my long-term career goals? It’s important to consider your long-term career goals and how each option aligns with those goals. If partnership is a critical career goal, you may need to weigh the sacrifices required to achieve it against the benefits of a job with better work-life balance.
- What are my personal priorities and values? It’s essential to consider your values and priorities, such as family, personal interests, and overall well-being. If having more time to spend with your family is essential to your personal priorities and values, it may be worth considering leaving the big law firm.
- What are the potential risks and benefits of each option? Performing a risk-benefit analysis is important to asses whether either option is truly worth it. Consider factors such as earning potential, career growth opportunities, job security, work-life balance, family obligations and family planning, personal and professional relationships, and overall job satisfaction.
By asking these questions, you can gain a better understanding of your priorities, values, and goals, and make an informed decision that aligns with both your long-term career aspirations and personal well-being. If you are stuck and would like help getting more clarity, book a career strategy call with me here.