I Need Time Off to Interview at a New Law Firm

Q. I work for a relatively unknown firm in New York City, and it’s become apparent that, one way or another, my time here is coming to an end.  The firm has been very unstable in 2009, and a senior associate tipped me off that I may be the next one to go once the major case I’m working on ends in January. 

To be honest, even if I were to survive past January, I want to voluntarily leave early in the new year for a variety of reasons—including the fact that my boss makes The Office’s Michael Scott seem like the world’s best manager.  So, as you might imagine, I’ve been sending out resumes to other firms.

I recently had a preliminary conversation with an HR person from an Am Law 100 firm in Philadelphia who now wants to schedule a phone interview.  It’s a job that I would take without second thought.  But it made me realize that if I progress to the point of an in-person interview, I need to get a day off.  Technically, I have the time to take (I’ve taken only one personal day all year and am well ahead of my billing requirements), but when I say my boss sucks, I mean it.  He won’t give me the time off if I just ask for a personal day without a reason. I know because I asked for a day off back in July, and he gave me so much shit that I didn’t even bother taking it.

So what should my approach be?  With any luck, I’m going to need time off, possibly multiple days.  Should I lie and make up a reason?  Should I be honest about why I need the day?  Should I ask the prospective employer to meet on a Saturday? 

A. Stop worrying about pleasing your current bosses, and start worrying about finding a new job.  If you plan on leaving the firm no matter what in January, then stop even thinking about pissing off your current employer.  Who cares?  They’re about to fire you, dude.  Don’t you get it?

Unfortunately, you seem to be suffering from “battered lawyer syndrome.” You’ve been so abused and tortured that, even though you’re about to get the ax, you still feel the pathetic need to please your boss—er, abuser.  Stop!  No more worrying about your old firm.  Right now, your only job is to find a new job.  Understand?

As for specifics… When you set up an interview, simply tell your boss that you’ll be out of the office that day for personal reasons.  Leave it at that.  If he presses, say that it’s personal and shoot the bastard a stern look.  The subtext here: It’s non-negotiable, and it’s none of your goddamn business.  (Whether or not you’re looking for a new job, it’s always important to create appropriate boundaries with your superiors.)

And forget about setting up meetings on Saturdays (unless your prospective employer suggests it first).

Your only obligation to your current firm is to be reasonably professional and responsible, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a hero.  What I’m saying is, don’t sit on a filing or purposely avoid an important phone call.  But by the same token, don’t worry about impressing your bosses either.  That ship has sailed.  Doing stellar work is no longer your priority.  Finding a new job is.

We’re talking about your life here, my brother.  So take charge and do whatever necessary to land your next gig—especially in this job market.  If you ruffle some unreasonable partner’s feathers in the process, so be it.  Good luck!

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.


  1. Alma Federer

    November 16, 2009 at 4:16 am

    I agree with this.  The partners at my firm are always trying to figure out what I do in my little time away from the office.  I think a few of them think that the more they know about me, the more I will like them.  Hardly.  Most of the partners only look at me as the pretty, hard working associate who will never make partner, but who is available to satisfy their idle personal fantasies about the girl they never had in law school, but who is now at their immediate call.  Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for me), the job market here is bad, so they know that as long as I can’t get a better job, I will stay, and put up with the leering looks, innuendos and double entendres.  These oafs just don’t realize that I would never be interested in them sexually.  But anyway, I think the writer should just go on the interview, and if pressed when she returned where she was, she should then say it was a personal issue, and leave it at that.  These men are ridiculous!

  2. Big Jim

    November 16, 2009 at 7:40 am

    The advice here is right.  Worry about getting a new job.  Nothing else.

  3. Er, no.

    November 16, 2009 at 8:05 am

    Why not ask your pointy haired boss if you’re on the block point blank, or at least try to feel him out about it?  Seems odd to me that you’d be doing good work and meeting your billables and still on the block – could the game be afoot, another associate trying to get you out to spare his own job?  If you’re convinced you’re really on your way out, then I agree with the other posters, don’t worry about pleasing someone who’s already decided to fire you, but I would make damned sure that’s actually the case (or at least as sure as you can be) before acting in a fashion that might actually make them more inclined to fire you than they might have been already.

  4. BL1Y

    November 16, 2009 at 8:07 am

    This advice gets it wrong.  You should lie.  Don’t just say it’s personal, say you have an appointment with a doctor.  If he presses further (and notes that you don’t look sick), say you’re getting your bone marrow tested because a relative needs a transplant.  However, you should hold off on using this until necessary.  Your prospective employer should understand the need for discretion, so you can hopefully get an interview either on the weekend (if you get one) or during your lunch break (if you get one).  As soon as you’ve taken one personal day, taking another soon, without explanation, is going to look very suspicious, so hold off on using it until you have to.  That’s right, I’m anticipating that you might need to go on more than one interview, either at different firms or twice at the same firm.  And unless you have substantial savings, you need to make sure you’re hanging on to your current job as long as possible, or until you have an offer somewhere else.

  5. Anon

    November 16, 2009 at 8:31 am

    As usual, BL1Y gets it wrong.  No wonder he got fired.  Don’t start lying like a litlte bitch… The firm knows you’re on the ropes and on the verge of getting fired, they’re not going to care that you’re out looking for a job.  In fact, they’re actually happy that you are.  Furthermore, most partners don’t really think that much about what associates are doing with their private time.  all they care about is getting the task at hand done.  If you’re not there, they’ll find someone else.  So what if he gets pissed. What’s he going to do fire you?

  6. PGuy

    November 16, 2009 at 8:39 am

    After Bl1Y’s recent stunning win in the argument against overbearing Partner, her returns to his usual muddle-headed, morally lost reasoning. Lie? Are you serious? Lies unravel, they require management, they become excuses to fire you before the holidays rather than after. And what for? Do you really think ANY excuse is going to satisfy this guy’s boss? Of course not. Screw that. The advice is right on: Demand your time off, refuse to say why. Set up dome boundaries. They aren’t going to like, it, but they aren’t liking much else anyway. Move forward on getting the ll out of there.

  7. Craig

    November 16, 2009 at 8:53 am

    This is quite normal.  People look for new jobs while they are in their old ones all the time.  Tell your boss whatever you want.  Who cares.  The important thing is to put most of your effort into getting the new job if you want to leave.  Your current boss is not just going to fire you out of the blue for taking two or three personal days over 2-3 weeks.  You will get a warning or he will ask what is going on and I doubt it would even come to that.

  8. Son Of Guano

    November 16, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Alma: Given the circumstances you describe, the likely legal slump for the next 8 years and how hard working is, why don’t you marry some good looking older guy outside the office who would value you beyond measure?  Stay at home, sleep in, raise kids (well there goes sleeping in), work out, play tennis, etc?

  9. Son of Guano

    November 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I almost forgot the point: when leaving a job, be honorable by doing your work and leaving no messes. Bad karma (and bad references for years) follow those who leave badly.  But put youself first: fib, make up an illness, whatever to get the time you need to arrange an exit.

  10. Anonymous

    November 16, 2009 at 10:18 am

    “say that it’s personal and shoot the bastard a stern look”…That sounds like more of a reason to fire someone than an excuse, which while suspicious, the boss isn’t going to follow up on without some evidence that you’re lying.  Remember that your firm probably has a policy on what personal days can be used for (typically things like weddings and funerals), and so your boss will probably ask what you need it for and is entitled(!) to know, otherwise it’s a vacation day, which normally can’t just be taken at will.  And yes, the firm will care if he’s out, especially because he said he’s at a smaller firm.  They might not just be able to grab someone else.  And yes, it does matter if they fire you.  It’s easier to get a job while you still have one, and getting fired (shock!) cuts off your paychecks.  But like I said, it’s best just to try to schedule the interview for when you’re not in the office anyways and use the personal day as a last resort.  Hell, you might even need to use it for a legit reason.

  11. Big Jim

    November 16, 2009 at 10:39 am

    @Anonymous 10:27.  Really?  Shooting a partner a stern look is a reason to get fired?  What?!

  12. BL1Y

    November 16, 2009 at 11:03 am

    (Previous Anon was me, forgot to put my name in, whoops.) Jim: You’ll have to look at the context.  Associate asks to take a personal day, partner asks the reason (since personal days are usually only available for specific reasons).  Associate then responds with “it’s personal!” and a stern look.  I’d have my desk packed up before I tried that.  It’s basically telling your boss that you’re not coming to work and not giving him a reason why.

  13. dietlawschool

    November 16, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Just call in sick. Tell ‘em you may have swine flu. They won’t want you back for at least a couple of days =)

  14. Desi

    November 16, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    The old swine flu excuse ya good one.

  15. Guano Dubango

    November 17, 2009 at 4:13 am

    Yes, I agree you should just go.  If you must stop to provide an answer, just tell the boss you ate something very bad the nite before (i.e., mexican/indian/afgani food), and have a chronic case of the runs.  Believe me, no boss wants to have a liquid load sitting in the middle of the floor waiting for building maintenance to clean it up.  In Ghana, we say we do not care if you look like a model; your poop still stinks just like a rhino’s.

  16. BL1Y

    November 17, 2009 at 9:38 am

    True story, I was at home with the runs and a partner called me on my cell phone for an update on some research I was doing.

  17. Guano Dubango

    November 17, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    BL1Y, that is terrible.  I met a very nice looking buxom woman last week in the Scandanavian House.  She took a liking to me and me to her, so she invited me to her place for herring and sardine sandwiches.  I am not a big fish person, but I liked the woman very much, so I ate a lot of herring and sardines while watching a soccer game on international cable network.  We had too much to eat and drink, and then had a very good time, but the next morning, we both were very sick.  I will learn not to eat food I do not like just to be sociable with a good looking woman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>