Is it normal to be threatened to be fired after making mistakes that you had no idea were mistakes in the first place?
I’m a junior litigation associate at a small firm, and the managing partner says things like “you aren’t providing value to the firm” or “you’re being paid to avoid mistakes like these” when I make mistakes due to, what I believe, to be a lack of guidance and instruction. As in, they could be easily avoided with a “please keep in mind X” or something like that. Thoughts?

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I’ve fired more people than I can count or remember. I’ve never once threatened them with termination, and they have never once been surprised when it happened. This is just poor management.

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Threats of termination do not teach and they do not inspire. If they have to go they have to go, but handicapping them in advance does nothing to prevent that from eventually happening, and is a poor use of capital. MP should want everyone to excel, not fear him. People caught up in their own ego do this, and they shouldn’t be allowed to manage people.

uplifting

I am a Managing Partner at a small firm.
1. No it is not "normal".
2. If by Junior you mean 2 years or less, you are expected to make minor to moderate mistakes. That's part of the learning curve.
3. If you are making massive boneheaded mistakes, then maybe, but if you are NOT missing deadlines regularly, not blowing attorney-client privilege, etc, it should be a discussion of what to do better, even if an unpleasant one.
4. I think I have only threatened to fire once, but it was because I was giving a second chance that I probably should not have given.
5. Dust off the resume. Look for a better situation. You can afford to be selective because, at worst, you have your current known situation. Do not just jump at the first other alternative. Make sure you are affirmatively picking the new job, not just leaving the current one. Good luck.

likesmarthelpful

Point 5 is phenomenal advice. The first opportunity to cross your desk may be worse than your current one. You take that and in a year you’re moving on to your third firm and the cycle repeats. Each time the search becomes more difficult because you become viewed as a “jumper.” Focus on finding the right opportunity for you. That includes figuring out why there is an opening in the first place. Is it because some other associate left because they were poorly mentored and threatened after every small error?

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I'd look for another job. If you don't now, it sounds like you may end up having to look by force later anyway

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No. Leave

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Lol are you me in Texas? No, it’s not normal.

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Had this exact experience at a small firm. Every single small mistake was an opportunity to threaten my livelihood. It was 2 years of walking on egg shells. Life has never been better since leaving.

likeuplifting

There absolutely is. Keep your head up and your network ready.

likeuplifting

The MP sounds like a loser trying to mask his own incompetence. Just leave and let them deal with their own BS.

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Interesting, I had never really thought of it but you’re right. MP is absolutely incompetent at managing and training associates.

Get out fast. It's difficult to survive at small firms as a junior because juniors often don't produce enough revenue. When I was at a small firm, many of the equity partners did not recognize the value of juniors. It sound like that is what's happening at your firm.

likesmart

I had the same experience as AA2 and as you described. I was at a small boutique where I was only junior associate and constantly threatened with “not making enough money” and needing to “step it up” after 1 yr I lateraled to an AM100 with better mentorship and better pay.

likeuplifting

I’ve never worked at a small law firm, but my friends have experienced this often. The small firm wants to hire newly minted attorneys since they cost less and can be billed out at lower rates, but it doesn’t consider that you have to train that newly minted lawyer on how to actually practice law. It makes for a frustrating and tense relationship.

If they aren’t interested in training you, leave. There are small and mid size firms that will take the time to train you.

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WLB is very important to your overall career. But not so much in the beginning. It’s the only time of your life that you can truly grind it out. You almost have to, as undergrad/law school did very little to prepare you for actually practicing. Your ability to properly complete something new is usually predicated on your mastery of something else you don’t even understand yet. Lots of trial and error, which unfortunately takes time and there aren’t any shortcuts. But like the Rocky montage, you emerge from that hellish ordeal leaner, meaner, faster, stronger.

But if you’re putting in the beaucoup hours having no life, the consideration better be both new legal skills and “fuck you” money. If it’s not, go. It’s a bad relationship. You can’t change them, you can never change them. They’ll never learn their lesson, and if they do it’s only when it’s well to late.

helpful

Hard to say without knowing more details. As vague as this post is, MP might be a jerk, or you might be defensively trying to shift blame because you expected handholding.

likesmart

OP, tough it out till you get better then leave. Every step you take has to move your career forward not backwards.

I was drinking every single night and angry all the time from being belittled constantly. Grin and bear it, hell even learn to please your micromanaging boss like I did and get on their good side.

Then don't bat an eyelid when you take a new job 'just when your performance is on par' and laugh when the office manager calls you and asks you to come back cause they can't find a replacement 4 months later.

If you tough it out, you can shop around and know enough about the industry and have contacts who can tell you about your next home to prevent a recurrence of your current situation

upliftinglike

No, it’s not normal. But the MP there sounds like a clown.

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“Normal” is maybe a poor word here. It’s more commonplace than you think, particularly at small firms. And in many instances that’s not a legitimate threat. Nevertheless, it does not foster a good work environment and is likely a sign you should get out sooner rather than later. Might just be that partner’s way of trying to push you out too because they don’t want to fire you—this happened to a couple other associates at my old small firm. The partner would make life miserable for the people he wanted to push out. Sounds like similar situation. Nothing really to do with you, just poor culture and probably poor fit for you.

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I would agree, but this MP has no problem firing people. Prior to me joining the firm, he fired 3-4 associates over the course of 3 years. So he just seems unhappy with everyone’s performance and cycles through associates. All that is to say, it’s unlikely he’s trying to push me out. But definitely a poor culture and poor fit.

Toxic. You deserve better.

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I would be looking to lateral if I was being threatened this way. Better leave the firm on your own in a position of strength than be fired because the firm is toxic.

likehelpful

I just left a firm where the managing partner was saying stuff like that all the time to another associate. She would constantly say that he “sold her a bill of goods” and she wasn’t sure he was the quality of associate she wanted at the firm. I also got a formal warning for having a few (3ish) typos (which I admit I should have been better at catching, but they were minor and were in a draft sent to another attorney at the firm, who also didn’t catch them and then I caught typos from the same managing partner is her edits and she had about 6/7 typos is a draft she okayed to be sent to a client).

That was just her behavior and it depended on the mood she was in on any given day. One day she would tell me my motions were amazing, another day she would tell me that my writing was not up to par. My friend and I both ended up quitting within a month of each other. It was a toxic environment.

likehelpful

Wow why are people like this?! I had a toxic boss that was the same- one day your work is good, the next day it’s shit because of a tiny typo. Every time I’d say to myself, thank goodness my self esteem isn’t wrapped up in what you think.

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This is common at small firms.

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Get outtt!!!

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I dealt with the same thing and jumped ship after only two and a half months. Bail while the economy is good.

likeuplifting

ADA1, thanks for this anecdote. That’s really upsetting to be told that “you’re not the associate we thought we hired.” I haven’t been explicitly told that, but feel that way regularly.

That said, your insight is helpful. Some people are just like this, and there’s nothing to do about it. My MP once chastised me for having a typo, and said “the Court will not except [sic!] these mistakes”

Glad you’re onto greener pastures.

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Yeahhhh. I always found it so frustrating to be told that tiny errors would make or break a motion (after 10 years of practice, trust me, they definitely won’t) or that minor typos cannot happen when the partner makes more typos in one email than I make in a week, all while not being able to point that out to the partner because, you know, hierarchy. At the end of the day, I decided I wanted to like the environment I was in and did not want to burn out due to toxicity.

At least you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and can realize some people are just like that. If you can make sure to separate that from your sense of worth in the work you’re doing, that will definitely help. Good luck and keep your head up!

uplifting

From what I’ve heard from friends, this is more “normal” at small firms than it is at law firms as a whole. I’m very sorry, OP.

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Not really sure the point of the threat.
1. There’s a lot nicer and more productive ways to handle even mistakes. If this is the way the MP always talks, he’s just a jerk that wants you to work in fear.
2. If an associate just isn’t working out, I frankly stop using them. Sometimes getting more work is the highest compliment you can give. There’s no real point in being a jerk.

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