Advice on Making a Legal Career Move

If you're a talented associate at a private law firm who wants to make a change in your legal career, the good news is that there are a number of options in front of you. But before you make a career move, set aside some time for introspection and consider the reasons you feel it’s time to act.

Reasons for a career move

First, ask yourself why you’re considering a career transition. Are you unhappy with the work? Do you dislike the culture of your current firm? Do you feel you need more balance between your work and personal life? Or do you sense you’re not on track to make partner?

Next, think about whether you could change any of these issues; and if you could, would you stay with the firm? If the problem is lack of work-life balance, for example, perhaps you could ask your employer if you could telecommute one or two days a week.

If, after further evaluation, you confirm the reasons for your dissatisfaction cannot be easily addressed or changed in your current work environment, a new position elsewhere could be a positive career move for you.

However, be sure to consider the timing of your resignation. If you've only been employed by your current firm for a year or so, some future employers may wonder why you're abandoning ship so soon. And if you've been with the firm for several years, recognize that you’ll risk losing seniority by moving to a new legal organization.

From big law to big law

Once you decide to make a move, evaluate the different paths you can take. For example, lateral moves have become a common strategy for attorneys. Law firms frequently will opt to hire senior to midlevel associates rather than taking on and training recent graduates. Associates are attractive because they come to the firm with skills and experience as well as client contacts.

From big law to boutique

If your desire for a change in jobs is prompted by a dislike of big law firm culture or lack of promotional opportunities, you may want to focus on finding a position at a boutique law firm. Boutique firms often specialize in a particular area of law. They also tend to be more entrepreneurial, with fewer management layers, so attorneys may find more room for advancement and autonomy in a small firm. Keep in mind, though, that successful boutique firms can be acquisition targets, which could send you back to a big law firm.

From boutique to big law

If you want to move from a small firm to a large one, the ease of the move will depend on your specific skills and portable book of business. If you have a few years of successful litigation experience, for example, and can bring a number of clients with you, big firms may be very interested in hiring you. According to our research, lawyers with experience in general business and intellectual property practice areas are also being sought by larger firms.

For all moves, whether it's a boutique-to-big law move or big law-to-big law lateral change, keep your practice areas, years of experience and desired workplace culture in focus. All of those factors will have a bearing on whether the next move you make will bring the legal career satisfaction you seek.

To stay apprised of trends in the evolving legal profession, visit Robert Half Legal's Future Law Office