Do You Like This Job? That Wasn’t the Question, Do You Like This Gig?

26 05 2010

I love my job!

Sure, I could probably earn more money somewhere else and there are probably other firms in the city where you don’t have to park what seems like a mile and half from the office, but all things considered I cannot complain much about my employer. Obviously, as with other decisions in our life, we engage in a calculus of felicity when weighing the positives of our current employment situation with the negative aspects.

But should we weigh certain features of job more heavily than others? Absolutely! Based on my own experience, I propose the following three trademarks of a good job. Three elements that if present can make any employment situation and an enjoyable experience.

1.) Opportunity to Grow – You may have a six-figure salary, an employer funded retirement plan, make your own schedule and answer to only one person, but if your employer does not provide you the opportunity to grow, you are stuck in a bad job.  Growth can be defined a number of ways.  Promotion, added responsibility, the ability to diversify are all common ways employers provide and encourage their employees to grow.

Over the past five years with my current firm, I’ve gone from the most junior-level paralegal in the firm to a position of supervising paralegal, managing a team of other paralegals and legal assistants. I’ve gone from working on one, strictly asbestos, client to working on several diversified clients, including the opportunity to serve on national counsel and as trial team liaison for clients.  Additionally, my employer allows me the opportunity to work towards my J.D.–my ultimate goal.

To me, these opportunities were my firm’s way of saying to me, “we like the work you do, now here’s an opportunity for more…” I capitalized on these opportunities, which led to even greater chances for growth.

2.) Definable Chain of Command – An attorney friend of mine tells me horror stories from his firm. They have no HR person in their local office and partners stay out of the office as much as possible. Associates and support staff are left to work at their own pace, but no one seems to have any authority over the anyone else. The file room dictates how (and when) they file. The copy and mail rooms make their own rules for the coding and distribution of incoming documents and projects. Data entry clerks establish protocol different from the protocol decided on by the attorneys and paralegals. Perhaps the most shocking revelation is that the receptionist, one of the least experienced members on staff, serves as the de facto office manager. He jokes that his office employs an inverted pyramid of power.

While you don’t need a dictator–we’ve all had the overbearing boss and no one works well in that environment–there must be a hierarchy of power to establish accountability. I have a strong partner to whom I report. If I have a problem, I know that I can go to him and he can help me resolve whatever issue I may be facing. I don’t have to worry about answering to twenty different bosses. Instead, I answer directly to him, who in turn answers to his superiors. It’s neat, clean and effective. At the same time, I enjoy freedoms that many other paralegals I talk to do not.

3.) Ability to Change With Times – We live in the 21st Century. Some firms practice law as if it’s still 1980.  Fortunately, my firm embraces technology and take forward thinking approach to conducting business. Paperless files, learning to use social media to the firm’s advantage, virtual HR are examples of employing an forward thinking approach in a law firm, but this philosophy extends well beyond technology.  It is the firm’s mindset–the ability to think outside the box, identify the “next big thing” and to have the resources to diversify your firm’s practice to wrangle “the next big thing” in to your office.  This does not mean every firm  needs to be a plaintiffs’ firm, jumping from one thing to another–asbestos one day, Vioxx the next and then Chinese drywall when the well runs dry on everything else.  Good diversification, good change, involves bringing in sustainable business, not the latest fad.