It happens to many attorneys in private practice – the opportunity to leave their firm job for a new opportunity. There are numerous reasons why leaving your current firm for a new venture could be an attractive thought, however it is important that you understand the inherent risks with the decision as well. There are a host of significant transaction costs and unknowns associated with leaving a law firm job for a new position elsewhere. This is why it is critical that you do not make this decision without undergoing a rigorous self-examination. If you neglect this self-examination and rush into a decision, it could be one of the biggest mistakes you make in your career.
Speaking of mistakes, the list below contains eight of the biggest mistakes committed by attorneys when they depart their law firm job for a different position elsewhere.
Mistake No. 1
Leaving your law firm job without actually assessing the job market
Some attorneys decide to depart their law firm job in the hopes of greener pastures elsewhere. Too often, they decide to leave before actually analyzing the job market and rush their departure without having a new position lined up. This is extremely risky and can backfire, as many practice areas such as intellectual property litigation have highs and lows in terms of demand. In some years, the need for attorneys is high, but there is an inevitable slow down.
Mistake No. 2
Following the “Debbie Downer Crowd” out the door
In many law firms, including large Florida law firms, there are groups of attorneys who possess negative opinions of the firm, especially firm leadership. They are the “Debbie Downer” crowd. They are the attorneys who not only dislike the firm, but the practice of law in general. It is important to understand that joining this group will not benefit you, especially if members of this group decide to depart the firm for other law firm jobs and you follow suit because you feel some odd allegiance to this crowd. Making a lateral move because other attorneys are leaving is never a good idea. You should only leave your law firm job if you are truly unhappy and have another job waiting for you.
Mistake No. 3
Leaving because of a poor annual review
Many attorneys leave their existing firms as a result of receiving a poor annual review. They take the poor review so personally that they feel as though they are being unfairly criticized or their overall ability as an attorney is being called into question. Leaving based a single poor review is a huge mistake. You need to understand that law firms can be quite critical, especially on relatively new associates and junior partners. The expectation is that criticism will lead to improved performance. Use the poor review as fuel to improve your performance.
Mistake No. 4
Leaving solely because of money
Obviously, money is important and if you are being paid below-market value, leaving for a higher-paying job makes sense. However, if you over-emphasize monetary compensation over other factors (e.g., work-life balance, a supportive supervisor, relatively convenient commute, etc.) there is a price you pay. That price may include future job security, loss of social and family life, damage to your overall psychological and physical health, etc.
Mistake No. 5
Leaving for the attention
Some attorneys decide to depart their law firm job for no actual reason. They are not unhappy. They are paid well and at market-level. They decide to leave because of the excitement and attention they receive when they are wanted by others. There is no doubt that being recruited is a nice feeling. You are meeting new people in interviews, receiving job offers, etc. This experience can become intoxicating for many attorneys so they opt to leave primarily because they enjoy the attention of the recruiting process.
Mistake No. 6
Leaving your law firm job purely to join a “prestige” firm
Many successful attorneys are Type-A personalities and highly ambitious. These are important traits to have if you are going to succeed in the legal profession. However, if their ambition is focused solely on joining the most “prestigious” firm they can, it will often lead to disappointment. Once again, the proper reasons for leaving your current job should be related to your overall satisfaction with the position and not some desire to have a specific firm name on your business card.
Mistake No. 7
Leaving for the very first lateral offer
It is quite common for an attorney who is relatively new to the legal recruiting experience to feel compelled to accept the first offer from a lateral firm. Making a rash decision and accepting the offer without doing a proper assessment of the costs and benefits, along with waiting for a potentially better offer, is an avoidable mistake.
Mistake No. 8
Leaving to work for someone without understanding what it is like to work for them
There are attorneys inside many large law firms in Florida, and elsewhere, who have attained a reputation of being difficult to work with and generally harmful to the people who work for, or with them. Departing your current law firm job to work for this individual is a huge mistake that could cause significant harm to your reputation and long-term career prospects. Before committing to an offer, take the time to investigate the firm’s culture, and make sure it’s the right fit for you