The lateral movement of big name legal stars – like the recent move from Cravaths to Kirkland & Ellis of Sandra Goldstein is big news, but lateral movements between firms is very normal these days.
It’s a big question move to make and can pose some serious issues, as it can when lawyers want to change practice areas.
The question however, is when is the right time to make a move and switch law jobs.
The job for life mantra for lawyers is being overturned by an increasingly competitive and fluid legal marketplace where options and opportunities are many and when the stigma of changing firms no longer attaches to those who do make the change.
The news is not good for law firms though, who find the movement of associates, let alone their legal stars, highly expensive.
As recruiter and legal blogger Harrison Barnes points out in his article, the law firm costs are recouped through higher billings, particularly when you have associates in the big US law firms starting off at US$160,000.
So when is the right time to make the move?
Harrison Barnes makes some points you may wish to consider. Here are five.
1. Don’t leave too soon.
It’s natural for anyone joining a new business or law firm to have to find out about the culture and environment and it’s altogether too much to have to then re-start the whole process with yet another firm. Leaving within three years can be based more upon your own feelings and discomfit, more than the firm itself.
Moving within three years is too soon to know for sure.
2. An exception to the three year rule.
If there is a lack of experience as others or mentors have already left then it may be time to go. Barnes suggests you look carefully at the following:
Is it that you are not being mentored or trained properly?
Is it that you are frustrated because you feel like you don’t know anything?
Are you unhappy with your level of secretarial support, or the firm’s technology?
If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then it’s time to think about what you can change and what you need to accept as inherent in the profession.
High remuneration also brings with it higher expectations. You need to really work out whether making the change will be to your benefit, or not.
3. Make your exit carefully.
Ensure you act and prepare carefully when you’re looking at making the move. Often a headhunter will help in finding the new firm for you, if they are good and truly partner with you, but make sure you undertake your own due diligence by talking with friends, associates and others – taking care not to flag your departure to your current firm.
Similarly, check with your own law school and their career services people to talk about your impending move
A good recruiter or headhunter should know the industry inside out and therefore know the firms you’re looking at. He or she should be able to provide wise counsel on what you need to do and to look at.
As Harrison Barnes says:
Competition for new talent is stiff and has been for several years. Some firms latch on to negative news about the competition and repeat it over and over, often exaggerating the facts. Beware of lawyers who speak negatively about other firms, especially if they cannot also convince you of how their firms are different.
4. Check with authoritative sources
Any good lawyer should rely on authoritative sources. Apart from friends and the sources mentioned, you need to also check the legal media for anything about your prospective firm, including searching its practice areas to find out what is happening.
Check with lawyers already working at the firm, including those who have moved and whom you know already. They can sort the wheat from the chaff and tell you what the real story is from the ‘inside’ rather than rumor and hype.
5. Use due diligence
Remember its your decision to make the move so make it carefully and having undertaken due diligence and proper management. This is an important career decision so don’t fluff it by leaving in haste or without due preparation.
Make sure you’ve covered yourself and protected yourself by undertaking your research and not acting on a whim. Know why you’re making the decision in very clear terms.
As Barnes says: “The factors that lead to job satisfaction are simple: doing what you like, what you’re good at, with people you enjoy, and in an environment in which you can thrive.”
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