Many junior-to-mid-level law firm associates think about making a lateral move to another firm for a variety of reasons and are often bombarded with calls and emails about different opportunities. When is it time to listen? Here are six things to consider when contemplating a transition:
- PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
It is never a bad thing to expand horizons, build new relationships, and work with a variety of people with different working styles. As a developing associate, most are realizing their own working style, as well as adjusting to senior attorneys’ and partners’ styles, figuring out what they like and don’t like. Obviously, it is easier to build new relationships and experience a new environment at a different firm, but also consider whether the current firm allows and supports mentorship, and the opportunity to work with different lawyers. If not, ask for a mentor or to work with other attorneys and, if denied, perhaps a change is due.
- PRACTICE AREA EXPERTISE
Most associates are practicing in one specific area of law, especially if employed at a larger firm. If the practice area is found to be enjoyable, it may make sense to stick with it (although transitioning to another firm in the same practice area is common and perfectly acceptable). If the practice area is not one the associate sees her/himself in, longer-term, it might be best to try to move into a different area sooner rather than later; it can become difficult to shift practice lanes after so many years. If there is a chance to make a change at the current firm – great – but if not, it makes sense to find a new firm/job which allows for the shift.
- LOYALTY & STABILITY
Bluntly, gone are the days of long-term mutual loyalty or people staying with the same organization for their entire careers, and partnership is never guaranteed. There is a fine line, however, between making smart, understandable career transitions and consistently moving to a new firm or company every few years (i.e., “job-hopping”). Being aware of this fact as you start your legal career is important and, whenever possible, every career step should make sense and be a move toward a longer-term career goal. Understanding the difference between a step for step’s sake VS. a purposeful step in the right direction is important when deciding on a specific transition.
- COMPENSATION & PRIORITIES
Although lawyers have different motivations regarding work, and realizing what’s important to them in a job, they often eventually realize that money – exclusively – is never a good reason to make a job change. Also, priorities shift over the course of a career. For example, someone who now values time/flexibility as a priority in their workday might have valued only cash compensation a few years ago. Regardless, even if a new job pays significantly more, people usually leave their managers/bosses, not their firms/organizations; who people work with and the feeling of being valued for the daily work and contributions will almost always trump compensation. The key is for the associate to understand what the personal and/or professional priority is at the time of a job transition and if the new employer and job fulfill those needs.
Junior-to-mid-level associates rarely control the workflow that comes their way or the partners and colleagues with whom they work. However, an associate’s effort, availability, and ability to get things done with accuracy and efficiency are often the main criteria being evaluated by firm leaders and management; these are mainly controllable. A lawyer should understand their value within the firm and have the ability to leverage it through their own controllable means. Additionally, these virtues should be recognized by the firm. If they are not and/or this isn’t possible within the associate’s current environment, a new firm could provide a better platform for success.
As Captain Obvious might say, “Timing is everything.” Or is it? An associate can almost always find a viable reason to stay in a current position. Bad timing is often used as an excuse not to make a transition, which usually means an associate simply isn’t ready to leave. And, that’s okay. But if someone is looking for the perfect time to make a move, that will rarely – if ever – arrive. The way to think about it is to completely remove the timing hurdle in the overall analysis and see if that changes the view of the new opportunity. Like compensation, timing should never be the sole reason not to look at a new job, and many firms are quite flexible on delaying start dates to suit an associate’s timing needs.