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sunnyskies1992

Boss Placed Me On Probation

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I just had my three month probation meeting, and I received an extremely negative review. My boss said that although she knows I have a good work ethic and that I have improved my client retainment rate, she is concerned that I lack identity, and that my default is to always agree with other people, which backfires in adversarial situations. She is also concerned that I lack speaking skills and general confidence.

She wasn't sure if she should keep me or not. However, the other senior associate said that he saw potential, and would like to keep me for another 3 months to see how things go. So my probation period has been extended to March 19, 2018. She wants to see a significant improvement by then. She reserves the right to extend probation another 3 months past that if I have not improved enough.

In those three months, she wants me to do the following:
  1. Travel. Take an unpaid leave of 1-2 weeks to travel sometime in January or February to gain life experience.
  2. Continue attending the Lawyer's Assistance Program (counselling), and follow advice given there. Work on boundary setting, saying no, and incorporating physical activity into daily life. Do identity exercises (who am I, what are my core values, what is my ideal life).
  3. Attend psychiatrist’s appointment booked for late December, and follow recommendations given regarding depression issues. Ask for recommendations regarding registered psychologist at appointment.
  4. Identity building. Personal goal to try at least one new thing each week to expand my horizons.
  5. Try to talk more in the office. Go out and approach people, as opposed to waiting for people to come to me.
  6. Don’t “lurk”. Either participate in conversations or return to work.
  7. Work on posture. Actively practice standing up straight, and walking with confidence.
  8. Watch body language. Body language should project confidence. Practice “open” as opposed to “closed” body language.
  9. Move out from home.
  10. Take movement/theatre classes suggested by the senior associate.
  11. When asking for advice, present my own idea instead of just asking. Able to have a more meaningful two-way dialogue if I come with my own ideas.
  12. Do Toastmasters to improve public speaking and presentation skills.
  13. Sign up for improv theatre classes. This will help with me learning to think on my feet.
  14. Practice authenticity, and saying what I truly think. I don’t have to agree with people all the time.

After she gave me that feedback, I had the following concerns:

  1. She is asking for many changes, and I am concerned that I will not be able to demonstrate significant improvement in three months.
  2. I'm concerned about burnout in trying to implement all of these changes. In the next 3 months, I am still expected to maintain my billable hours target, so the time for this self-improvement will come out of the time I've earmarked for friends, family, and my health.
  3. Even if I survive probation, my long-term prognosis at the firm is poor if the essence of my personality conflicts with the essence of what she needs from an associate.
  4. I am concerned about long-term sustainability, in that even if I made a significant improvement in these areas, I'd be expected to maintain these changes for as long as I stayed at the firm, which would certainly lead to burnout.

As I see it, I have three options:

  1. Commit myself 100% to her program, and see where I'm at in three months. These are skills that I will need anyways if I want to be a successful family litigator, so the effort is not wasted.
  2. Do her program, but also reserve some time to update my resume and begin looking for other family lawyer positions. The job search will take time, and this will give me a head start in case I don't survive probation, or if I need/want to quit down the road. However, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy that if I don't commit 100% to her program, I won't develop the significant changes that will allow me to stay at the firm.
  3. Take a job as a family paralegal. The pay would be very similar to what I'm making now, and the hours/responsibility/commitment would be much less. I'm confident I could excel in this position. However, I may have regrets down the road about not fulfilling my potential. I also wonder if I would be quitting too early, and if I could stick it out in law another year or two, I would start to know how to run a file and my experiences would improve.

Any thoughts, suggestions, or advice would be greatly appreciated.

 


 
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This is really something. I don't know if you should stay. Do you think there is any merit to her criticisms? If not, I would jet. If you do--and if you want to address those criticisms--I would consider her 'program' in light of her underlying accusation: low confidence. I think this implies that your options are far greater than the three you have outlined: Do what you think is manageable and, more importantly, what you're comfortable with. Or do none of the program, and try to address the confidence issue another way.

I don't know anything about you, so take this with a load of salt, but my immediate recommendation would be to join a gym and take up a sport. I give this advice only from personal experience. I used to have pretty crippling confidence issues. (As in, I couldn't look people in their eyes, etc.) I'm still awkward and uncomfortable in many social settings, but it's a lot better than what it was.

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Yeah, I don’t think your boss should be telling you where to live or how to spend your leisure time. 

There’s a lot in there about depression. Were you diagnosed with depression and did you tell your boss about that? It sounds like your boss is trying to solve that problem rather than work problems.

I would look for other opportunities, honestly. Also I don’t know if you should post word-for-word what your boss said on here. 

Edited by providence
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If you end up being terminated, talk to an employment lawyer. They may have opened the door to a human rights claim because of their intrusion on your mental health issues.

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3 minutes ago, providence said:

Yeah, I don’t think your boss should be telling you where to live or how to spend your leisure time. 

There’s a lot in there about depression. Were you diagnosed with depression and did you tell your boss about that? It sounds like your boss is trying to solve that problem rather than work problems.

I would look for other opportunities, honestly. Also I don’t know if you should post word-for-word what your boss said on here. 

1

Of course, it's entirely possible that the work problems are the direct result of that problem. In which case, solving the underlying problem is the only way to solve the work problems. 

It's also worth keeping in mind that if these work problems are the result of an underlying mental health problem (that pre-dates the work environment) it's unlikely to be solved by going to a new workplace. Based on OP's post (thinking particularly of the paralegal option) it seems likely that they are, and that the underlying problem really has to be addressed for them to succeed as a lawyer. I've never been a lawyer nor a paralegal, but I can't help but think that "I could become a paralegal" coming from a lawyer is essentially just saying "I don't think I can handle the stress of my profession, so I want an easier one with less responsibility and pressure. Which is fine, being in a high-stress, high-pressure profession isn't for everyone. 

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It's easier to change your job to suit your personality than it is to change your personality to suit your job.

I don't know if she's pushing you out the door - it sounds like, despite a fairly intrusive approach (as @Hegdis noted), her heart is in the right place. But your concerns seem exactly right to me.

I think you should accept her suggestion that you start standing up for yourself more. And you should begin by aggressively seeking a new job, right now.

Edited by whereverjustice
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1 minute ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Of course, it's entirely possible that the work problems are the direct result of that problem. In which case, solving the underlying problem is the only way to solve the work problems. 

It's also worth keeping in mind that if these work problems are the result of an underlying mental health problem (that pre-dates the work environment) it's unlikely to be solved by going to a new workplace. Based on OP's post (thinking particularly of the paralegal option) it seems likely that they are, and that the underlying problem really has to be addressed for them to succeed as a lawyer. I've never been a lawyer nor a paralegal, but I can't help but think that "I could become a paralegal" coming from a lawyer is essentially just saying "I don't think I can handle the stress of my profession, so I want an easier one with less responsibility and pressure. Which is fine, being in a high-stress, high-pressure profession isn't for everyone. 

True, but I don’t think an employer should be telling an employee how to solve those issues beyond telling them to see a doctor and follow his/her recommendations.

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2 minutes ago, providence said:

True, but I don’t think an employer should be telling an employee how to solve those issues beyond telling them to see a doctor and follow his/her recommendations.

It very much depends on the context and how these recommendations were delivered. It's worth noting that the employer told them to see a doctor and continue councilling. 

If the employer provided the list in the context of recommendations or suggestions that may help then everything on it seems fine (with the exception of moving out, which seems weird — though there may be situations where it's a good situation). 

For example, if the employer said: 

Quote

 

"You're not an active enough member of our firm, I would recommend: 

  1. Try to talk more in the office. Go out and approach people, as opposed to waiting for people to come to me.
  2. Don’t “lurk”. Either participate in conversations or return to work.
  3. Do Toastmasters to improve public speaking and presentation skills.
  4. Sign up for improv theatre classes. This will help with me learning to think on my feet.
  5. Practice authenticity, and saying what I truly think. I don’t have to agree with people all the time.
You don't seem independent enough for this stage in your career development, why don't you try: 
  1. When asking for advice, present my own idea instead of just asking. Able to have a more meaningful two-way dialogue if I come with my own ideas.

Your body language and interaction with clients is problematic, you should try: 

  1. Work on posture. Actively practice standing up straight, and walking with confidence.
  2. Watch body language. Body language should project confidence. Practice “open” as opposed to “closed” body language.
  3. Take movement/theatre classes suggested by the senior associate.
You seem burnt out and stuck in a rut. When I get like that I find it really helpful to try new things in my personal life. Why don't you: 
 
  1. Travel. Take an unpaid leave of 1-2 weeks to travel sometime in January or February to gain life experience.
  2. Identity building. Personal goal to try at least one new thing each week to expand my horizons.
I know you've mentioned you're feeling depressed lately, and that you're going to a counsellor and a psychiatrist. We care about you and your mental health, and really want you to get to a place where you're happy and productive here. I think it would be really beneficial for you to:
  1. Continue attending the Lawyer's Assistance Program (counselling), and follow advice given there. Work on boundary setting, saying no, and incorporating physical activity into daily life. Do identity exercises (who am I, what are my core values, what is my ideal life).
  2. Attend psychiatrist’s appointment booked for late December, and follow recommendations given regarding depression issues. Ask for recommendations regarding registered psychologist at appointment.

[Hell you could even explain the last one with]

Speaking of mental health, I know your home life is rough. It could be really helpful for you to think about moving out. I know it's a big step, but it may really help you.

 

3

At that point, we've covered off everything on the list in what I think would be an acceptable and constructive manner. Now maybe it wasn't delivered that way, or maybe OP didn't receive it that way, or maybe something else happened, but I don't think any of the advice (so long as it was advice) isn't de facto bad. 

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52 minutes ago, Hegdis said:

Some of these things are stuff she has no business asking. Move out from home? Travel?

Are these suggestions/examples to illustrate what might be a good idea, or are they non-negotiable demands? Because if it’s the latter you don’t want to stay there. You talked about setting boundaries and this is a good start. 

Some were mandatory, and some were suggestions. So I do have some leeway on which ones to implement. She mainly wants to know that I'm taking the issues she brought up very seriously, and taking steps to address them.

32 minutes ago, onepost said:

This is really something. I don't know if you should stay. Do you think there is any merit to her criticisms? If not, I would jet. If you do--and if you want to address those criticisms--I would consider her 'program' in light of her underlying accusation: low confidence. I think this implies that your options are far greater than the three you have outlined: Do what you think is manageable and, more importantly, what you're comfortable with. Or do none of the program, and try to address the confidence issue another way.

I don't know anything about you, so take this with a load of salt, but my immediate recommendation would be to join a gym and take up a sport. I give this advice only from personal experience. I used to have pretty crippling confidence issues. (As in, I couldn't look people in their eyes, etc.) I'm still awkward and uncomfortable in many social settings, but it's a lot better than what it was.

I used to be more active. But I've been having trouble with work-life balance since starting as a lawyer. If I follow her program I will have even less spare time.

24 minutes ago, providence said:

Yeah, I don’t think your boss should be telling you where to live or how to spend your leisure time. 

There’s a lot in there about depression. Were you diagnosed with depression and did you tell your boss about that? It sounds like your boss is trying to solve that problem rather than work problems.

I would look for other opportunities, honestly. Also I don’t know if you should post word-for-word what your boss said on here. 

I did tell her that I had depression. She was happy that I had started counselling, and she encouraged me to continue with it.

19 minutes ago, jjbean said:

If you end up being terminated, talk to an employment lawyer. They may have opened the door to a human rights claim because of their intrusion on your mental health issues.

I appreciate the suggestion. My boss is well-meaning though, and she said it out of a genuine desire to see me succeed as a lawyer. I wouldn't turn around and bite her in that way.

17 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Of course, it's entirely possible that the work problems are the direct result of that problem. In which case, solving the underlying problem is the only way to solve the work problems. 

It's also worth keeping in mind that if these work problems are the result of an underlying mental health problem (that pre-dates the work environment) it's unlikely to be solved by going to a new workplace. Based on OP's post (thinking particularly of the paralegal option) it seems likely that they are, and that the underlying problem really has to be addressed for them to succeed as a lawyer. I've never been a lawyer nor a paralegal, but I can't help but think that "I could become a paralegal" coming from a lawyer is essentially just saying "I don't think I can handle the stress of my profession, so I want an easier one with less responsibility and pressure. Which is fine, being in a high-stress, high-pressure profession isn't for everyone. 

You're right, the depression/confidence issues predate my current workplace. My boss is trying to address the root of my problems by fixing elements of my personality. I guess the question becomes do I want to be fixed? Haha.

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I know that a lot of what's here raises questions about boundaries, appropriate workplace suggestions, and all the rest of it. And I know that many students who haven't been exposed to workplace realities will immediately scream, and many lawyers will gasp. But I was immediately more sympathetic to OP's boss simply because the second sentence was about how she's improved her client retention rates. Because I was thinking ... what? What percentage of them were you losing? And how many are you still losing? Because that's the whole ballgame in a legal practice. If you can't keep your clients as your clients, you have no job. And anyone who's stupid enough to keep employing you anyway, will soon have no job themselves.

So, here's the counter position. It may well be true that your boss is way, way over the line and you simply need to get out. Or it may be that they are trying to help you as much as they reasonably can, and that some of their advice is unavoidably personal. Speaking as a small-time employer who doesn't even try to be HR correct at all times, I'm actually very sympathetic to this problem, from their perspective. Take an employee who just presents badly. Assume their problems are fixable, but if they aren't fixed I simply can't keep them around because they are losing me business. But to even discuss those problems, I need to get personal. Should I dismiss them for non-specific reasons, and thereby cover my ass? Or should I get into the real issues and give them a chance? The second position is actually the kinder, and the more human one. And I'm not saying I know for sure that's what's happening here. But it's at least possible that it could be.

I agree 100% that it's easier to find a job that suits you rather than change to suit your job. But I guess the problem I'm having is this. It isn't clear to me that the OP can be a lawyer at all and not change at least some of what's under discussion. And here's where I hit a real wall in what I know. Maybe the OP's specific boss is very demanding. Or maybe her problems are significant and pronounced. Or maybe some of both. Anyway, you need to figure out if these personality tendencies are in danger of costing you just this job, or the possibility of even a career in law. And then decide if you want to change and are willing to. It's still perfectly valid to not want to change. But at least see what's on the table first.

I hope that doesn't sound unreasonably pessimistic. Clearly you have things going for you, because you were hired in the first place and someone is going to bat for your long-term prospects. But the practice of law is adversarial and the business of law is entrepreneurial. You need to sincerely ask yourself how much of that you want in your life, and how much you're willing to change to accommodate it. It's not for everyone. Nor should it be.

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I'm a lowly 1L so I have no advice but I just wanted to say I'm sorry you received such personalized negative feedback. A lot of it amounts to an attack on your character and must have been really hard to hear. I personally think she crossed a line with some of her comments.

 

Also, I'm sorry but it's such a bourgeoisie mindset to think that 1-2 weeks of vacationing will give you "life experience".

 

However, I will say it does sound like her intentions are good and that she is trying to find a way to keep you. I agree with others saying her heart was in the right place but I do not think her approach is a fair or effective one.

Edited by Starling
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I am sympathetic OP. If I had a choice between practicing family law and going slightly hungry (let's say 900 calories per day) I would choose to go hungry. 

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Just now, Luckycharm said:

Your boss needs professional help.

Look for another job

OP's boss sounds top decile for family law practitioners. 

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20 minutes ago, Eeee said:

OP's boss sounds top decile for family law practitioners. 

I don't think OP has a future in that firm.

 

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52 minutes ago, Diplock said:

I know that a lot of what's here raises questions about boundaries, appropriate workplace suggestions, and all the rest of it. And I know that many students who haven't been exposed to workplace realities will immediately scream, and many lawyers will gasp. But I was immediately more sympathetic to OP's boss simply because the second sentence was about how she's improved her client retention rates. Because I was thinking ... what? What percentage of them were you losing? And how many are you still losing? Because that's the whole ballgame in a legal practice. If you can't keep your clients as your clients, you have no job. And anyone who's stupid enough to keep employing you anyway, will soon have no job themselves.

So, here's the counter position. It may well be true that your boss is way, way over the line and you simply need to get out. Or it may be that they are trying to help you as much as they reasonably can, and that some of their advice is unavoidably personal. Speaking as a small-time employer who doesn't even try to be HR correct at all times, I'm actually very sympathetic to this problem, from their perspective. Take an employee who just presents badly. Assume their problems are fixable, but if they aren't fixed I simply can't keep them around because they are losing me business. But to even discuss those problems, I need to get personal. Should I dismiss them for non-specific reasons, and thereby cover my ass? Or should I get into the real issues and give them a chance? The second position is actually the kinder, and the more human one. And I'm not saying I know for sure that's what's happening here. But it's at least possible that it could be.

I agree 100% that it's easier to find a job that suits you rather than change to suit your job. But I guess the problem I'm having is this. It isn't clear to me that the OP can be a lawyer at all and not change at least some of what's under discussion. And here's where I hit a real wall in what I know. Maybe the OP's specific boss is very demanding. Or maybe her problems are significant and pronounced. Or maybe some of both. Anyway, you need to figure out if these personality tendencies are in danger of costing you just this job, or the possibility of even a career in law. And then decide if you want to change and are willing to. It's still perfectly valid to not want to change. But at least see what's on the table first.

I hope that doesn't sound unreasonably pessimistic. Clearly you have things going for you, because you were hired in the first place and someone is going to bat for your long-term prospects. But the practice of law is adversarial and the business of law is entrepreneurial. You need to sincerely ask yourself how much of that you want in your life, and how much you're willing to change to accommodate it. It's not for everyone. Nor should it be.

That’s all fine and good, but, and I say this as someone who has several years of actual work experience, an employer has no right to attempt to arbitrate what an employee does or does not do with their personal life away from work. 

If someone has hygiene problems, or dresses poorly, or interacts poorly with clients, sure, fair game. That is all directly related to your employment and is within their purview. But once you leave the office? Barring extreme hypotheticals what that employee does is their own business. 

Speaking personally, I’ve always kept my personal life and my work life separate. If an employer tried to sit me down and say “here is what you need to do in your personal life to be a better employee”, I would let them know that they are crossing a boundary and that it isn’t appropriate, that my private life is and will remain private, and that I expect that this will be the last time we have a conversation like this. 

I get what you’re saying, and from a work point of view I agree with you. I just think boundaries are important. 

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2 hours ago, Diplock said:

I know that a lot of what's here raises questions about boundaries, appropriate workplace suggestions, and all the rest of it. And I know that many students who haven't been exposed to workplace realities will immediately scream, and many lawyers will gasp. But I was immediately more sympathetic to OP's boss simply because the second sentence was about how she's improved her client retention rates. Because I was thinking ... what? What percentage of them were you losing? And how many are you still losing? Because that's the whole ballgame in a legal practice. If you can't keep your clients as your clients, you have no job. And anyone who's stupid enough to keep employing you anyway, will soon have no job themselves.

So, here's the counter position. It may well be true that your boss is way, way over the line and you simply need to get out. Or it may be that they are trying to help you as much as they reasonably can, and that some of their advice is unavoidably personal. Speaking as a small-time employer who doesn't even try to be HR correct at all times, I'm actually very sympathetic to this problem, from their perspective. Take an employee who just presents badly. Assume their problems are fixable, but if they aren't fixed I simply can't keep them around because they are losing me business. But to even discuss those problems, I need to get personal. Should I dismiss them for non-specific reasons, and thereby cover my ass? Or should I get into the real issues and give them a chance? The second position is actually the kinder, and the more human one. And I'm not saying I know for sure that's what's happening here. But it's at least possible that it could be.

I agree 100% that it's easier to find a job that suits you rather than change to suit your job. But I guess the problem I'm having is this. It isn't clear to me that the OP can be a lawyer at all and not change at least some of what's under discussion. And here's where I hit a real wall in what I know. Maybe the OP's specific boss is very demanding. Or maybe her problems are significant and pronounced. Or maybe some of both. Anyway, you need to figure out if these personality tendencies are in danger of costing you just this job, or the possibility of even a career in law. And then decide if you want to change and are willing to. It's still perfectly valid to not want to change. But at least see what's on the table first.

I hope that doesn't sound unreasonably pessimistic. Clearly you have things going for you, because you were hired in the first place and someone is going to bat for your long-term prospects. But the practice of law is adversarial and the business of law is entrepreneurial. You need to sincerely ask yourself how much of that you want in your life, and how much you're willing to change to accommodate it. It's not for everyone. Nor should it be.

OP's boss can certainly talk about things that could drive clients away - an inability to communicate and apparent insecurities/poor confidence are fair game to comment on. But telling someone to travel or move out of their parents' home? Now it's different if there is a close personal relationship developing between the two and the employee expresses that living at home is difficult or they would like to travel more and the boss gives friendly encouragement to do so, not tied to the job.

When I was clerking, I had a father-daughter like relationship with a judge and in the course of work we would sometimes have heart-to-hearts and he would ask and I would express what was going on in my life. And he expressed some opinions as to what I should do in my personal life and I took his advice. It was good advice and it helped me. But it was never tied to my employment, job performance, references etc. 

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8 minutes ago, providence said:

OP's boss can certainly talk about things that could drive clients away - an inability to communicate and apparent insecurities/poor confidence are fair game to comment on. But telling someone to travel or move out of their parents' home? Now it's different if there is a close personal relationship developing between the two and the employee expresses that living at home is difficult or they would like to travel more and the boss gives friendly encouragement to do so, not tied to the job.

When I was clerking, I had a father-daughter like relationship with a judge and in the course of work we would sometimes have heart-to-hearts and he would ask and I would express what was going on in my life. And he expressed some opinions as to what I should do in my personal life and I took his advice. It was good advice and it helped me. But it was never tied to my employment, job performance, references etc. 

Yeah, that part seems totally inappropriate. 

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Sit down with your boss, acknowledge her heart is in the right place, and tell her what you're prepared to do and not do (with reasonable explanation).  One of her central concerns appears to be that you're too agreeable.  If you show her that you have a spine, she'll respect you more. 

 

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