The champagne corks have barely settled under desks and conference tables, and already whispers of lateral jumps are swirling through the offices. The New Year, as you well know, is prime time for attorney shuffles – a season punctuated by huge bonuses (or their tearful absence) and a sudden surge in wanderlust.
Whether you’re basking in bonus bounty or nursing bruised pride, before you pack up your mahogany credenza and hit the pavement, heed the hard-won wisdom of a seasoned 27-year headhunter. Avoid these seven legal landmines, and your lateral leap will land with grace, not a face-plant.
Rule #1: Ditch the Wanderlust Whim.
Restless energy is no compass. Don’t trade one gilded cage for another just because the bars look shinier. Carefully consider not only what you want but what you want to avoid. Are you finding yourself without the support you need? Mired in the mud of endless bureaucracy? Having your rates raised to the point of client-loss? Moving to another firm that has the same problems, won’t solve yours. So don’t move just for the sake of moving. That’s how attorneys go out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Rule #2: Slow Down, Speed Demon.
Legal eagles are built for swiftness, but career decisions require deliberation, not dash. Resist the siren’s call of persuasive partners and commission-based headhunters promising professional paradise. Take your time! Vet opportunities with appropriate due diligence, and remember, haste makes waste – especially in your career trajectory.
Rule #3: Quantify the Carrot.
Don’t be lured by mirages. Demand tangible proof of the promised golden age. How will this move demonstrably improve your book, your compensation, or your mental equilibrium? Concrete advantages, not vaporous promises, are the currency of wise decisions. Unless there are clearly defined and measurable advantages, don’t take the deal.
Rule #4: The Two-Way Tango.
Remember, interviews are a two-step, not a solo shuffle. During the first part of the interview, dazzle them with your legal brilliance, your valuable client base and more. But don’t forget to interview them, as well. Assess their cultural fit, billable hour requirements and demonstrable ability to meet your professional goals. Ask probing questions, uncover potential red flags, and ensure their vision of your future aligns with your own.
Rule #5: Know Your Client Capital.
Don’t assume your client rolodex follows you like a puppy dog. Conduct a cold, hard assessment of client loyalty and potential conflicts. Will your book survive the transition? We’ve seen partners who were sure massive books of business would port with them to another firm – only to find themselves in the embarrassing position of having to explain why that wasn’t the case.
We eventually created a Client Portability Assessment to help attorneys evaluate this. The first question is whether they’ve asked their clients what they think about the firm they’re considering. Not “Would you move with me?” Which is prohibited by the archaic and idiotic rules of the ABA, but “You know, ABC firm’s rates are lower and I’ve heard their attorneys are free to give much more personalized service. What do you think of that firm?” Anyone not broaching this before a move, is acting recklessly. Other questions attorneys should consider seem basic but are ignored more often than could be counted: Did you bring the client in? Are you the first and only person they call, when they need something?
These and 20 other questions will help you determine which clients will move with you and which won’t. Do a comprehensive portability analysis before you bid farewell to your corner office, or your next one might be temporary.
Rule #6: Cut the Indecision Tango.
Attorneys overthink things? Say it isn’t so! “Analysis Paralysis” is a lawyer’s kryptonite. I’ve seen attorneys who had all the data they needed to make a decision, procrastinate for so long, the offer was withdrawn. Weigh the pros and cons, gather trusted counsel, then make a clear-cut decision. If the deal doesn’t resonate, express your gratitude and move on. Conversely, if the opportunity sings to your soul, seize it with conviction. Indecision breeds missed opportunities and erodes trust.
Rule #7: Go With Your Gut.
No matter how dazzling the offer or persuasive the arguments, heed your instincts. Think about the times you’ve gone against your gut-instinct and the result that ensued. This is the intellect beyond the brain. Don’t ignore it. Prioritize your well-being and professional fulfillment above all else.
As the New Year beckons, approach your potential move with the same strategic brilliance you bring to a courtroom battle or a merger. Remember, a well-considered lateral leap can elevate your career to Olympian heights, while a hasty decision can leave you face-planting on the steps outside an office building. Tread carefully, assess wisely, and trust your gut. In the high-stakes game of legal mobility, informed choices and fine-tuned instincts are the compass which will lead you in the right direction.
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