I make my living by convincing lawyers to consider new career opportunities. Join Smith & Jones and increase your partnership potential. Make a lateral move and get the chance to work with cutting edge biotechnology clients. Change firms and become a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Get away from unpredictable hours.
While making a lateral move can certainly address core career concerns and help increase career satisfaction, a lateral move is not always the best option. At the very least, if you are thinking that the grass may be greener somewhere else, it is worth taking the time to look critically at your current job. Are there things you can change about your present situation that will help you increase your career happiness?
I was reminded of this the other day by one of my star candidates. This associate works for a major law firm in Boston and she is extremely valued by the partners for whom she works. In general, she likes what she is doing. But the pace of the work is very challenging.
I met with the candidate several months ago and we discussed looking at opportunities at smaller firms with more reasonable expectations about billable hours. We also investigated opportunities in a New England city that is less intense than Boston.
During the interviewing process, the candidate began to have some discussions with the partners at her current firm. She discovered that while she was a valued player in their M&A practice, that they were also very busy in other aspects of their corporate practice. In particular, she learned that there were opportunities to work on corporate matters that are much less time sensitive and much more predictable. For now, the associate has decided to make an internal move at her firm and see how that goes.
Ultimately, this candidate may conclude that the demands at her current firm are inconsistent with her definition of work/life balance. In the meantime, she has the chance to try something a little different without the disruption that comes with a lateral move.
Reasons to Stay Put
Several years ago, I met with an associate who was doing environmental law for another large Boston law firm. He was not happy doing regulatory work and expressed interest in moving to another firm where he could join the corporate group. I advised him to talk to some of the partners in the corporate practice at his current firm. The group was very busy at the time and this associate had received glowing performance reviews from the environmental practice.
The associate did make an internal move to the firm’s corporate department and his career satisfaction went way up. He stayed with that group for several years. Eventually, he decided to leave big firm practice to start his own firm. But by the time he left, he was well versed in M&A and corporate finance. He was able to use those skills to build his own corporate practice.
Staying where you are can make sense if you are being given the opportunity to development business relationships in an industry that interests you. For example, if you work for a firm that does a lot of work with medical device manufacturers and your goal is to go in-house at a med device firm, sticking with a job that you don’t enjoy may make sense for a while. By staying where you are, you will have the chance to cultivate relationships with in-house attorneys and business people who may be able to hire you or refer you to someone else in their industry.
Student loans may be another reason to stay where you are. If leaving a large firm seems to be in the cards for you, staying at the firm for a few more years will give you more opportunity to pay off your debt more quickly.
On the Other Hand
But if you are not working with the kinds of clients that interest you, if you really do not like or respect the partners who are giving you work or if you are not being given the professional development opportunities you need to grow as a lawyer, then maybe it IS time to test the market. It is a lot easier to make moves earlier in your career. Just make sure you have considered your options to make change from within. If you are a well respected where you are, you can leverage that good will in ways that will be harder at a new firm.