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What are ways that other attorneys cope with the fact that they went to law school to help people and they ended up a firm, that doesn't align with their original goals?

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I did my research before I joined a firm to be sure I chose a firm that did align. That said, if you now realize you are in the wrong place, you should consider moving firms.

Although law firms are for profit entities, there are still many corporate and general practice law firms that are committed to helping people through robust pro bono programs and other outreach. Certain practice areas are also more aligned with the goal of helping people, such as plaintiff side tort law, but again, that assumes you are at the right firm. There are a number of non profits that both pay well and provide opportunities to do substantial good.

If you move to another firm, you need to look at the firm’s underlying culture and how they speak about their mission and goals, but you also need to get data on volunteerism and how they view pro bono work. (E.g. Do they have a pro bono program because it’s bad PR not to have one, or do they do pro bono work because they are committed to helping people).

The legal profession has done more to forward the causes of social justice and civil rights than any other profession, and you can definitely find a firm that has supporting that principle as part of their mission.

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I went to law school to help people because I see an incredible deficit of helpers in our world today. I left law school with a clerkship in hand to help people, but when that ended and the right jobs did not pan out for me, I took a job making as much money as possible to start paying off my debt and keep my eyes open for the right spot.
Well, when I was hired on, I knew there might be trouble when they told me the firm does not really do pro bono (despite being Am Law 100), and I knew there might be trouble when the managing partner thought it was quaint how I volunteered with a local organization.
Fast forward one year, Covid-19 has left millions out of work, thousands dead, and protests about the incredibly unjust criminal justice system we chose has gripped the nation. I was on the verge of quitting without another job lined up because of how disgusted I felt working in my practice area churning endless hours and producing almost nothing of societal worth. Thankfully, I have an interview scheduled this week with a non-profit doing work that I care about. The hair-cut I will be taking is about the value of a median household income in the United States, but I believe the personal value it will bring will be worth it.

Good luck OP.

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Good for you!

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Treat your work like training now. And keep eyes open for the opportunity that will have more public service and jump on it. Big law or medium law defense is great training for a couple years.

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I do commercial litigation and feel the same way as you do. I’m having to look at it as a paycheck and training just like partner 1 said. I also tell myself “this is not permanent” like every single day. It’s a step to get to where we want to be

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I coped by not going to work for a firm that doesn’t align with my values.

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I ran out of room earlier but I will add more information.

I did two years of AmeriCorps after college and before law school. I attended law school to be an advocate for survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence. While in law school, I took family law classes (because of the DV) and had several human / civil rights internships, because I found them interesting. (including an internship at a human rights commission abroad) I also traveled to Oxford for a human rights consortium.

I am currently working for a private family law firm that seems to attract the "men's rights" crowd and more of my clients have admitted to hitting their partner that I would even like to think about.

I have been struggling since I started a year ago, but with all of the police brutality, and race relations issues going on I realized that my heart really is not in family law, especially, for the men's rights crowd.

I want to find a new job and will likely focus my search on legal aid, civil rights, and human rights organizations, but finding positions in those roles can be a long process.

So I guess I am wondering how to make sure I am doing my best work while I search for a new job.

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Have you started looking for a new job?

I used to do family law as well and would have 30 cases I was responsible for at a time myself. I also felt it wasn’t aligning with anything I wanted to do either. I actually considered quitting be an attorney because family law was so awful. However, a judge I worked for once said promise you try a switch if you hate the first thing you do, so I did.

I am much happier now in a new area of law and found a great firm which values pro bono work and I take advantage of that and it really fulfills me and I know I am making a difference even in a small way.

Don’t give up try a new firm/area of law and see if that’s a better fit

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Thank you for these words of encouragement. It helps to hear that it gets better.

If you are not happy at your firm by all means explore other options.... don’t want to sound too philosophical or give away my age but life is too short to wake up everyday and go to a job you are unhappy doing.

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Not only explore other options get clear on what you really want and why. Get a trusted advisor to help you devise an escape plan and find opportunities that perhaps you don’t see or are aware of.

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Leave. Take the risk. Allow the fear. Chase your passion.

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If you figure out a way to cope let me know! I went to law school with the intention of being a civil rights lawyer...I now work in private equity. And the money isn’t even that great since I’m a contract lawyer.

It’s a sad moment when Hasan Minaj does a segment on his show about how your practice area is ruining the US economy. It was difficult to refute his accusations...although I did try to rationalize it for a few hours...A little depressed and discouraged, I have to admit. 😢

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Same.

I left. Align your practice with your values. If you don’t it will sap your soul of joy.

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Right on! Very unfortunate when that happens. Ended up in that space for a year or two and was miserable for the worst of it.

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I reported and then followed up in writing everything I saw that was illegal activity.

I showed up in integrity for my clients and did my best work.

When I realized I was creating around $400,000 in value for my firm that I was not getting back, I hired a business coach, wrote a book to help my ideal client, and started my firm. Totally worth it!

My book is here if you want a free copy: www.careerdefense101.com. It has I think a little more of my thoughts on the topic

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Can you change jobs?

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Denny Crane.

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I try to encourage all of our staff not just attorneys to take on causes , assuming there are no conflicts ( which may be your issue) that they feel passionate about. Most times others in the firm and even the firm will add support .

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Probono

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I am barely making my hours requirement at my job, and I am not allowed to do pro Bono work at my firm unless it "does not impact any of my paying clients or cut into my time available to the firm" which basically makes pro Bono work impossible for me right now.

I am generally working 10+ hours days trying to keep my head above water with the work that I have been given as it is.

I am a first year associate and I am solely responsible for 41 open contested family law cases. These are not cases that I am sitting second chair on, these are cases that are 100% my responsibility.

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And financial donations to the organizations you support

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Dream about public interest-oriented career number 2 as you make enough/gain enough experience in job number 1 to leave

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Currently looking for a new job where I can take part in legal reform. Considering politics even though I’m not particularly engaged by the Dems.

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Start your own firm and do what you want....

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Not everyone can do that. This was the advice constantly given by many during the Great Recession and frankly, I never thought it was very helpful then either.

Strive to find a way to tolerate the situation and think about where I would maybe fit better at a different job. Keep networking!

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