It cannot be said frequently enough – look before you leap. When the realization hits you that your current firm or company is not the place where you want to be, you may get that urge to look for an escape hatch immediately. That is a natural and understandable reaction to a tough situation. Don’t worry many of us have been there.
As attorneys, we know that even though the legal job market is highly competitive, there is also a lot of turnover in the market. So, you may come to the hasty conclusion that any other job would be better than the one you currently have. You may even jump at the first opportunity presented to you, thinking that it has to be better than where you are now. Nine times out of 10, however, you will likely find yourself in a work situation that is not better than the one before. The problems may be different, but your disenchantment with a legal career is the same.
The “Look Before You Leap” Mindset
To break that pattern, you need to embrace the mantra of “look before you leap.” We all know that many employers, particularly employers in the hottest markets, go to great lengths to evaluate all aspects of a job candidate. From experience, motivation, and temperament, the level of practice and current book of business, employers will carefully scrutinize the candidates they are considering.
That kind of scrutiny works both ways. Remember, you are a professional who wants to invest in your career, so it is both financially and personally rewarding. To ensure that your next opportunity will provide those personal advantages as well, you want to make sure that you take the time to evaluate the organization that may offer you your next career trajectory.
To help you with evaluating an organization, whether it is another law firm or an in-house counsel opportunity, there are four overarching factors that you should carefully consider:
Taking stock of each factor as you look for your next career opportunity is a great recipe for success. Rather than a scattershot approach to your career, using these tools to separate the wheat from the chaff will pay dividends in the long run.
The first factor, stability, has everything to do with where the company or firm is in its lifecycle. As you look at the background of an organization, you can get a sense of whether the firm or business is up-and-coming, hitting its stride, or on the decline. Ultimately, the goal is to find a place that has the staying power so you can grow your career.
Specifically, with regard to law firms, a new firm with lots of potential will typically be a smaller operation that is just getting its sea legs and will let you be creative in re-inventing your career a bit. An established firm may have a more standardized culture, and if it is flourishing, there could be a greater number of opportunities with greater exposure.
However, an older firm that may be on the decline will likely be characterized by high turnover, less work, and overall negative energy. In order to avoid having a resume with a lot of career jumps, take the time to find a place with a solid future.
Regardless of whether you are looking to lateral into a firm or in-house position, location matters a lot. Not only do you need to contemplate the best place to live for you and your family, but the kind of work environment will change based on location.
For example, in a smaller market like Fort Worth, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; or Charlotte, North Carolina; there may be a more collegial relationship among attorneys and co-workers. Also, you may find that your strengths are highly valued, which can go a long way towards career satisfaction. On the flip side, however, smaller markets often do not provide the most sophisticated law firm clients, or allow for the opportunity to work in the corporate headquarters.
That said, being in a major market – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles – comes with its own pros and cons. You may be looking at high salaries, highly sophisticated work, and major cases. Also, you will be working with, and against, some of the smartest and most competitive attorneys in the country. Yet, the cost of those benefits comes with less job security, fewer opportunities for advancement to partner in a firm or a higher title in a corporation, and a great deal of stress.
Depending on your personality and goals, location is one of those factors that can make a big impact on work opportunities and, ultimately, job satisfaction.
There is no substitute for strong leadership. Well run organizations have strong leaders. They have a vision, a plan, and they execute on the plan. Imagine how exciting it would be to work for a company or law firm that has leaders that inspire. When you work for such an organization, there is energy, a shared purpose and collaboration is fostered. Strong leaders make everyone around them better.
When you are considering a new opportunity, be sure to do research on executive leadership. Are they thought leaders in their field? Are they well respected and do they have a track record of accomplishment? What do analysts and the media say about the organization’s leadership? What do employees that you interview with say about the leadership?
There are a number of resources to aid your research: your network, including LinkedIn Groups, Glassdoor, Cranes or other business periodicals, existing and former employees and a Google search. The critical point is that you take the time to research the company, non-profit or firm.
It is common for people to downplay the importance of corporate culture or firm environment. You may think, “I’ll be able to adapt anywhere, no problem.” Not so fast.
Your goal is to find a place where you will want to stay for a while. So, do not be afraid to get a feel for whether the culture is “buttoned up” and serious, or more social and casual. Every workplace does have a certain “temperature.” Make sure that the temperature is right for you and that you find a place where you seem to fit, before making a move. In the long run, you will be happy you took the extra beat to consider the culture factor. Do remember to as questions about the culture both during your informal information gathering as well as during the interview.
You spent time and energy getting your law degree. Make sure you capitalize on that investment by making considered career choices. A career in the law can be immensely rewarding, or a very unhappy affair, depending upon the choices you make. So, be sure to look at the factors of stability, location, leadership, and culture when considering a lateral move. In short, look before you leap.