having a difficult time

Hi all

I'm having a difficult time at work and would appreciate any advice.

I'm 4 PQE and work at a city firm in department X (i've been at the firm for about a year). About 6 weeks ago, a partner in department Y asked my partner if I could go on secondment for 3 months at new client C. The work at C would be work of type Y.

I was asked whether I wanted to do it and said yes despite my reservations about doing a different type of work (I felt like I had little choice). X and Y are pretty different types of work - worse partner in department Y had little idea of exactly what I'd be doing.

I started at C about a month ago and it's been awful. I have no fucking idea what I'm doing, I have no-one to ask (the GC is too busy with other stuff) and there's secondee from another firm who regularly does work of type Y and has been working/on secondment with C for almost a year. I feel reluctant to ask the other secondee for fear of asking stupid questions and creating a bad impression (which could get back to C).

It's fucking hellish and I hate going in. I feel stupid for not putting up more resistant to the secondment. Any advice most welcome.



Nobody in department Y at your firm that you can tap for a crash course in the basics of area Y or any mates in area X at your firm who might be able to put you in touch with someone in department Y at your firm?  Does your firm offer any training for new trainees or new qualifiers in department Y that you could head to one lunchtime?

Firstly you need to try and not worry right now, have a herbal tea if you have some, use a calm app etc and go to sleep. You need to rest. 

You need to talk to your actual employers about your concerns. Talk to the other secondee who I doubt is out to stab you in the back. 

But most importantly get some sleep now 

It's only 3 months so probably can ride it out. If it gets too bad tell your firm you feel like you don't have any support and not sure how performing. They will sort it or if not at least they can't complain at a later date. If they do complain after you've told them then fuck 'em

  • the partner that asked for you to go in knows that you have no experience so is willing to just send a body. They probably even explained this at the outset to the client.
  • presumably you can read Practical Law or a similar resource to get some handle on what is going on.
  • make up a reason to check in with your supervising partner that isn't specifically about this. Mention as an aside what is going on and test the reaction. That'll tell you how well they will support you if you have to pull the eject handle.
  • Call or email the other partner and say you want to book holiday for the month when your secondment is due to end but don't want to upset the client by going before the agreed end date for your secondment so can they confirm exactly when that is. If they start getting very vague then you know they are setting you up for the long haul and again you need to do something. If an extension is on the cards I think you need to go into the GC and find out their impression of how it is going.
  • Does the client do any of work X, if it does then try and ingratiate yourself with them to try and get some relief from this.
  • It's only 2 more months or 45 days. You are going to be able to leverage this if you need to move jobs, and it will be useful if there's a recession, you get the bullet and need to find a new job as it shows your versatility and "can do" attitude. 

Assuming GC isn't a psycho, s/he will have a better impression of you if you wave for guidance now than if you bugger off in 2 months leaving a big steaming pile of poo.

Partner Y will also much prefer you to wave at him/her now than have the GC call him/her in 2 months' time about said steaming pile of poo.  

Maybe have a chat with Partner X first? 

Dont bluff your way through it.  These conversations are far worse in your head than they are in real life. And they are far far easier than the "sorry I've fucked up" conversations.

Every time you get given something you can't do email partner Y and get him to explain it to you.


Is there any particular reason why you don't feel you can ask the other secondee for some pointers?

It's difficult to give any specific advice without knowing what practice area you're in, but in your position, when given a task I wasn't sure how to do, I would start by looking on PLC and Googling for law firm briefings to see if there are any practice notes or helpful articles, and try to figure out the most sensible way of approaching it. I would then sound out the other secondee for a sense check.

There's no shame in saying, "Look, this isn't my usual practice area, would you mind just checking whether I'm on the right track here?" but you need to show some initiative and make it clear you've tried to figure out what to do on your own first (you're not a trainee anymore) but you just want to make sure you're doing it right before you go and spend a lot of time on it.

Obviously ask department Y /Partner Y

Ask the other secondee

Always ask questions. Nobody is ever ever ever going to criticise you for asking questions provided they're not so infantile that no lawyer would ever ask them. We're not expected to know everything about everything. It sounds like you might be worrying too much.

You have been put in a tough spot and that is not your fault.

Ask lots and lots of questions of anyone you think may know what they are doing.

You will (1) learn; and (2) realise that others don't actually know as much as they seem to know and that everyone is (to a greater or lesser extent) winging it.