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Working for the Jerk Partner as a Young Associate

By Roy S. Ginsburg

Your first job as a lawyer isn’t going so well. One big reason is you work for a jerk. What can you do to get your confidence back?

jerk partner

During the pandemic, there’s hardly a soul working for a living who hasn’t re-examined what’s essential for their job satisfaction. Work-life balance and flexibility have probably received the most attention. However, many have lost sight of what, for a majority of people, is the most important factor: one’s boss.

Consider this. A Harvard Business Review article from 2016 stated that bosses matter far more to employee satisfaction than any other factor. Korn Ferry found that bosses cause more stress than any other factor. In 2020, McKinsey & Co. noted that when it comes to employee happiness, relationships with management are the top factor. 

Now let’s put this in terms that every young associate will understand.

If You Work for a Jerk Partner, You Will Be Miserable

Don’t lose sight of this vital truism. Properly assessing this variable can be critical to one’s success as a young lawyer. Here’s why.

Why Are You Unhappy?

Your first job as a lawyer isn’t going so well. Do you know why? There can be lots of reasons, especially since law school certainly didn’t teach you what to expect. The usual suspect factors — other than your boss — include: 

  • You don’t like the actual work.
  • You don’t like the practice area.
  • You don’t like working in a large (or small) firm.
  • You don’t like private practice.

If you don’t correctly gauge the boss factor, you may give up too soon on some great private practice opportunities. Don’t assume you hate the work, practice area, firm or private practice. All frequently take on an entirely new light when paired with a more enlightened boss as opposed to a jerk partner. 

What Can You Do?

If possible, try to get assignments from other partners in the practice area. Admittedly, in some firms, that may be easier said than done. Should you decide to quit because you can’t take the jerk anymore or the jerk does you a favor and fires you, don’t automatically assume that you’re only going to be happy going in-house or becoming a government lawyer. There are still plenty of options to consider in private practice. Remember, private practice is where most jobs are for lawyers. How about:

  • The same practice area working in another firm.
  • A different practice area working in another firm.
  • The same or different practice area in another firm that is a different size from the firm you left.

You get the point. Lots of alternatives, some easier to obtain than others, but all worth thinking about.

Related: Law Firms, Don’t Tolerate Jerks! by William Cobb

Don’t Let the Jerk Partner Ruin Your Confidence

Jerks, among other disagreeable traits, tend to have unreasonable expectations. The odds are good that you are a very capable lawyer, and a demanding boss suggesting otherwise doesn’t make it so. That will be critical to remember when you seek your next position and interview. No one wants to hire someone whose confidence has been shattered.

Finally, do some due diligence when you start looking for your next job. Make sure you meet the partner or partners you’ll be working for. Talk to people who work or have worked with those partners at the firm. Best, talk to others no longer at the firm who have worked with those partners. Although it’s doubtful any of these people will provide a completely unbiased, accurate assessment of what it’s like to work for so-and-so, some information is better than none.

You’ll Get the Hang of It

There’s a reason why there are so many lawyer jokes. The profession seems to attract a disproportionate number of jerks. They are sometimes difficult to steer clear of, especially when just starting out. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the more years you have under your belt, the easier they are to avoid. And someday, when you’re the boss, having had this experience will help you remember what kind of leader not to be. 

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Also on Attorney at Work:

“Take the Money and Run? Factors to Consider Before Accepting a Big Law Job Offer”

“17 Things I Wish I Knew as a First-Year Associate”

“Want to Be More Profitable? Take a Look at Your Management Style”

“The War for Talent: Great Expectations”

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Roy S. Ginsburg Roy S. Ginsburg

Roy Ginsburg, a practicing lawyer for more than 40 years, is an attorney coach and law firm consultant. He works with individual lawyers and law firms nationwide on business development, practice management, career development, and strategic and succession planning. Over the past 15 years, he has helped over 150 solo and small law firm owners across the country in all practice areas develop their succession plans. Learn more at and

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