Dear Annie: Lawyer who benefitted from years of training feels guilt over desire to leave firm

Dear Annie: I have been a practicing attorney for six years. My current job as an in-house attorney was my first job out of law school. My employer was taking a big risk on me, as in-house positions are usually given to attorneys who have already done their time in big firms. My boss said that she saw a lot of potential in me, and even though she knew it would take more time to train me, she thought it was worth it.

My boss tells me quite often that there’s a bigger plan for me at the company. She goes out of her way to get me involved in projects where higher-ups at the company can see my work. The company has spent significant training and development dollars on me, and I’m so appreciative of that. There have been several in-house attorneys from our team who have gone on to high-level management roles within the company, and I know my boss thinks I’m headed that way. She’s an incredible mentor, and I’m so lucky to work for her.

Unfortunately, I don’t really want to take on a bigger role in this company. I look at the positions above me, and I cannot find a single one that interests me. I am primarily a litigator, and I find trial work to be exciting and challenging, but I don’t find the actual work my company does to be very interesting. I just can’t imagine myself being happy in a role where I am involved in the day-to-day operations of my company, rather than the litigation work. Even my boss’ job doesn’t appeal to me.

Recently, I was asked to interview for a job as an in-house attorney for another company. It would be a bit of a pay raise, but mostly, it’s a lateral move. The difference is that I’m very interested in this business as a whole. I can see myself taking on managerial roles at this other company and growing there. But every time I think about leaving my job, I feel an immense sense of guilt. I love my boss and my team, and I know they would feel blindsided. I’m afraid they would resent me for coming in with basically no skills, taking several years of training and guidance from them, only to use those skills somewhere else. I can’t stand the idea of hurting or disappointing my boss, but does that mean I should stay at a company where I don’t see a future for myself? — Conflicted Lawyer

Dear Conflicted: It is understandable that you would not want to hurt or disappoint your boss. She sounds like a wonderful one. With that being said, if she truly cares about you as a person, she will understand.

The key is to communicate to her exactly what you did to me in your letter. Express your gratitude for all she has done for you.

Having a passion for your work is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and the clients that you serve. In the long run, if you don’t feel passionate about the long-term roles at your current firm, your boss will understand.

Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected].


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