Early Career Lawyers – When is the Right Time to Change Law Firms?
As an early career lawyer with a couple of years’ post admission experience, you’re most likely to be either absolutely besotted with your legal career, law firm and the colleagues and clients you work with or on the other hand, quite possibly very underwhelmed with your new choice of career and left wondering if this is what #lawlife is really all about.
If you’re falling into the latter category, then there’s no doubt you’re considering if life would be better working at a different law firm. You may be thinking, If you change law firms, will it really be any different? What if it’s worse in a different law firm? Will the problems you face now be resolved by changing law firms?
So, Where Do You Start?
Making the decision to leave
Actually making the commitment to finding a new legal position is perhaps the hardest step you’ll face in the entire process. You’re most likely going through the motions of some days being good and some days not so great. The days are bearable, well just enough for it to be easier to stay than to go through the effort of finding a new law job.
What should you consider before making the commitment to leave?
Most importantly, will the problems you’re facing at your current law firm be resolved by changing law firms?
It’s important to determine if the issues that you’re facing are localised to the law firm or position you are in, or if perhaps they are synonymous with life as a lawyer in the legal profession.
For example, issues that are related to the below areas of your employment are all areas that you may find improvement in within a new law firm.
- work culture
- work/life balance
- quality of work
- Salary and bonuses
- quality of relationships with work colleagues
- career progression opportunities
- employee benefits (i.e gym memberships); or
- training and development programs
Bear in mind though, it’s very possible to find an improvement in one particular area only to realise that another area is not satisfying your requirements.
Have you attempted to address the issues with your current law firm?
This is important, there is no point suffering in silence or assuming that any issues you raise can’t be or won’t be resolved.
Lawyer retention is a huge problem for law firms. Now more than ever, law firms are taking a proactive approach to address issues within their firms in order to increase lawyer retention rates.
Make sure you have an open and honest conversation with your practice area partner or human resources manager to ensure you make every effort to address any issues that you are facing. After doing so, if the problems still can’t be resolved, you can leave knowing you made every effort.
And…the worst case, if you decide to leave, you can hope for a positive reference and amicable separation that results in preserving your professional relationships.
Speak with close colleagues
You’re not alone, most lawyers have been in your situation at some point or another in their legal careers. Ask for advice and guidance, seek resources to help you make informed and educated decisions.
Once you’ve made the commitment to move on, speak with others (in confidence) who have done the same. Research potential law firms that you may be interested in and speak with legal recruiters who can offer you insight into the different law firms in your area.
Clarify your objectives
Ensure you have a clear understanding of your objectives. What problems are you facing now in your current law firm? Target law firms specifically that meet your career objectives. The last thing you want to do is make a lateral career move which does not resolve any issues from your previous law firm.
Choosing the right time
If you’re growing increasingly frustrated as time goes on, it’s important not to let some stressful event become the tipping point which brings everything to a head resulting in an un-amicable departure from your current law firm.
It’s always advisable to depart on good terms, preventing yourself from burning any bridges. To do so requires you to take the necessary steps to plan and organise your departure before such an event as mentioned above happens. There’s no point using your end of financial year bonus (or lack of) or quarterly performance review as the catalyst for change.
Making the move
If you’ve decided that now’s the right time to consider a new opportunity at another law firm, here are a few steps you should take.
- Research the law firms you like that meet your career goals/objectives
- If you can’t find enough information, speak with professional colleagues or a legal recruiter
- Start to prepare your legal resume, cover letter and professional references
What happens if there are no advertised roles that suit your experience level and practice area?
It’s always a smart move to speak with an experienced legal recruiter that understands the legal market and has strong relationships with law firms in your area. This is because many law firms will not openly advertise legal positions but will happily receive legal candidate profiles from legal recruiters who match a certain candidate profile.
So, if you don’t see any legal jobs advertised that match your requirements, don’t take it as an indication of there not being any current opportunities available. There are always positions available outside of what’s advertised publicly.
Prepare Your Application
There are no excuses anymore if you’re an admitted lawyer with practice experience. Your legal resume, cover letter and supporting documents must be at a level of what is expected of you. I always see sub-par legal resumes and cover letters that don’t reflect the quality of work of which the lawyer is capable of, or would supply to a client.
Take the time to draft a professional legal resume and cover letter which articulately presents your skills and experience. Don’t forget that you should also provide examples of the types of matters worked on and clients worked with and their estimated values (of course don’t provide any information that is confidential).
There’s no doubt, changing law firms as an early career lawyer can be quite a stressful and foreign experience. Use these tips listed above to make the process easier. Always remember, stay professional and don’t let the situation affect the quality of work that you’re providing to your current clients (whilst you prepare to move). Your best case scenario is always to preserve any professional relationships and not to burn any bridges.
Remember, it’s ok to move firms, it’s ok to have career goals and aspirations that perhaps your current law firm cannot help you to achieve. Most lawyers will move between several law firms during their careers, this happens for a multitude of reasons. Your main objective is to always go about it the right way.