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General Board / BAS: Battered associate syndrome
« on: May 23, 2006, 06:19:21 AM »
So you've had many less-than-stellar experiences as an associate at your law firm. You've spent countless all-nighters on a two-month document review in the basement of a chemical plant located 300 miles outside of Boise, Idaho. You've woken up in the middle of the night with cold sweats, realizing you forgot to put a comma in a brief filed the previous day. You've gotten yelled at the next day for forgetting to put that comma in the brief. You've debated whether taking a weekend stroll in the park with your loved one justified passing up three billable hours. At times, you've felt as if your entire self-worth as a person hinged on whether a partner was pleased with your work (i.e., nice comments from a partner = you're on top of the world; negative comments from a partner = you're molded whitefish). You've questioned whether the admissions counselor at your law school must have been intoxicated when deciding to admit you. You were blindsided by an unexpected layoff that was allegedly based on poor performance, although you question whether that was the entire reason.

If you can relate to any of these, take note. You could be suffering from the effects of BAS. This article describes BAS and then explains how it can adversely affect you and your legal career. It then shows how using a professional legal recruiter can help you avoid the common pitfalls that accompany BAS as you wind down at your current job and seek a new one.

What is BAS?

BAS is a tongue-in-cheek acronym for "Battered Associate Syndrome." Is this a formal diagnosis recognized by mental health professionals? Of course not (or given the number of attorneys suffering from it, perhaps it is more apt to say "not yet"). But having worked with attorneys that have had to deal with highly stressful law firm experiences, I can say that the residual effects of these situations are very real and can severely undermine one's legal career.

Before discussing BAS any further, it is important to acknowledge the obvious fact that essentially all legal jobs carry an inherent level of stress. Practicing law is, by its very nature, challenging, difficult, complex, and not for the faint of heart. An important distinction, however, should be made. Feeling stressed out and working hard are normal and par for the course. On the other hand, experiencing a loss of self-esteem, burnout, and loss of control over your life is not par for the course and can be indicative of BAS.

There are three types of BAS: (1) current-job BAS, (2) recently-laid-off-but-still-working BAS, and (3) post-job BAS. If you are still with your current job, you may be thinking, "Yeah, Dan, I can relate to some of the examples you mentioned above and think maybe this whole BAS thing makes some sense in theory, but isn't this just a part of putting in my time and becoming partner? I mean, it's just like this, or worse, at other firms as well. I chose to be an attorney, worked hard, got a great job making lots of money to pay off my loans, so this is what I signed up for. If I leave, I'm a quitter and failure. If I can stick it out, I'll be okay in the long run."

This type of response is a common symptom of BAS because you are aware that your situation is unhealthy-probably both emotionally and physically-but you believe that you are locked into it or that it is the best or only job you can get. And maybe, if you are like most attorneys and have read about all the unemployed lawyers, you believe you were lucky to land your job and should be grateful that you have not been laid off. The danger with the above type of thinking (and why it is a symptom of BAS) is that you are intellectually aware of your unhealthy situation, but continue to justify staying in this harmful environment for any number of reasons.

If you have made an affirmative decision to find a new job or have been asked to leave your current job with a set period for finding a new job (recently-laid-off BAS) or have already left your job (post-job BAS), you will likely experience a temporary euphoria because a huge burden is lifted when one realizes that the BAS-causing situation has or will shortly end. It is absolutely crucial, however, to realize that the BAS symptoms and the residual effects can still linger and hinder your future legal opportunities.

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