The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
Who in the paralegal profession hasn’t had days at work when you’ve fantasized for eight solid hours (or more) about loudly announcing, “I QUIT!” and then going home to a quiet low-key life that doesn’t include non-stop deadlines, brand new problems replacing the ones you just solved 15 minutes ago, and attorneys or clients who are sometimes less than appreciative of your efforts? I bet on a really bad day you’ve even convinced yourself that you’d be better off bagging groceries for a living, but a look at your checkbook nixed that half-baked idea pronto.
Most of us take a deep breath and live to see a better day – to realize the deadlines get met, to feel good about being a gifted problem-solver, and to receive an apology and a “thanks” from the attorney or client – but I’ve heard from quite a few paralegals who didn’t take that deep breath and instead created a bigger problem for themselves: trying to find another paralegal job after quitting suddenly, without a plan for re-employment.
People in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Pens
In case you think I’m speaking from an ivory tower here, early in my career I was sitting in an office with another paralegal when an irate attorney threw a pen at us. I know, I was pretty stunned, too. He was yelling – but not about anything we’d done, which was bad enough – and the next thing we knew, an expensive platinum fountain pen hurtled between our chairs and hit the wall behind us.
My initial reaction was going to sound like Johnny’s unforgettable statement in Dirty Dancing, “NOBODY puts Baby in a corner!” Only mine was going to be, “NOBODY throws pens at Lynne!” I didn’t say that, and I also didn’t follow my initial impulse to quit on the spot, but I walked out of the attorney’s office, despite his apologies, with the unshakeable feeling that it was time to move on. Within several months, I located a better employment situation for me, and left without burning any bridges. (I’m pleased to report that no one’s thrown anything at me since.)
Call Me Before You Quit
In all of the instances where a paralegal has contacted me after quitting a full-time job, with or without the requisite two weeks’ notice, I’ve thought, “I wish you’d contacted me BEFORE you quit. I would have suggested that you reconsider – unless you have another job offer on the table, or don’t need to work.” The only circumstances that I can think of where I’d agree that it’s a good idea to walk off a job without another one lined up is if the paralegal is in immediate danger of physical harm and/or severe emotional damage. Otherwise, especially in this economy, I recommend trying to “tough out” most difficult employment situations, while quietly seeking a more suitable job.
Several very qualified paralegals with wonderful resumes that have walked away from jobs have told me that they were genuinely surprised when they were not quickly hired by another firm. I’ve reviewed their resumes, been duly impressed, and then pointed out the stickler in an employers’ job market: how are you going to explain the reason you left your last job? Economic layoffs and relocation are easy to address in a cover letter or an interview – and are easily understandable – but walking away from a job in hand, even if your boss is difficult or management is clueless, is much harder to explain.
If finding another job is best for you but your household relies on your income, don’t simply turn in your notice (or worse, pack up your desk and leave with no notice) and trust that another employer will immediately recognize that you have a value greater than rubies and welcome you into its ranks with no hard questions asked. That difficult-to-explain gap in your employment can be a “resume killer”, especially in a large pile of resumes from just as, if not more qualified, and currently employed applicants.
Instead, continue to be the very best professional that you can be, even in challenging circumstances, and direct your energies into networking and actively seeking another job. The old adage, “It’s easier to find a job when you already have one,” may seem like a cliché, but it’s not. There’s even a long line of people these days that want that job bagging groceries.