There is an article on the Above the Law website about a law firm suing one of their associate lawyers because she quit her job after only one year. The firm, Preis PLC Law, had the lawyer, Jane Daily, sign a three-year contract when she joined the law firm fresh out of law school. The job wasn’t for her, however, so she left early, and the firm hit back in court.
A break with tradition
New lawyers leaving a law firm earlier than planned is very common. In fact, the legal field is notorious for its high turnover and burnout rates among those new to the lawyer profession. Generally, when a new associate is hired, the hiring firm accepts that they are taking a risk and that the associate may be out the door earlier than hoped. In fact, many associates work briefly for multiple firms before finding one that is a good fit for them. When contracts are signed, they usually aren’t enforced if broken, and law firms focus on retaining partners rather than associates because the former are likely to take business with them if they exit the firm.
Preis PLC, therefore, is going against tradition in their lawsuit against Daily. They say in their filing that they take great pride in recruiting new lawyers out of law school and training them thoroughly, and, that by leaving early, Daily not only cost them money but hurt their effectiveness by taking experienced lawyers away from their regular duties to train her. In its suit, the firm alleges that they have determined that it takes at least three years to properly train a lawyer, so Daily can’t claim that she was an asset to the company.
A tough profession
There are many reasons why so many new lawyers leave their first associate posting early. Many are blindsided by the many unpleasant realities of the law in practice versus the idealism of the law as presented in the classroom. Furthermore, law firms are notorious for making their associates work long hours; while associates know this is a stepping stone on the road to the more leisurely life of partner, many grow frustrated and despondent. Furthermore, associate lawyers are often working closely with a single experienced lawyer, and, if there is some kind of conflict, it’s generally not the associate that the hiring firm sides with.