Back in the old days, people used to join a law firm and stick with it through thick and thin until they died or retired. Not anymore. Law firm “hopping” is a new reality many associates are guilty of, but the habit can cause severe damage to their careers in the long term since both legal recruiters and law firms still place a high value on loyalty and commitment.
While switching firms a couple of times over the first few years of your legal practice is understandable, some reasons for an attorney to leave are simply “the worst” in the eyes of potential employers.
According to a recent survey, the majority of partners leave a firm because they no longer have confidence in the higher-ups’ management style and strategy (44.2%). Other reasons lawyers leave include feeling like the law firm does not offer enough support to help them build a solid practice (35%), disliking the firm’s values and culture (31%), or being unhappy with compensation (31%).
But top-ranked legal recruiter Harrison Barnes believes that most of the time, attorneys look for greener pastures for “misguided reasons.” He believes that there are only three professionally acceptable reasons to switch law firms:
- There’s no work for you.
- You are at odds with the firm’s politics.
- You have the opportunity to join a more prestigious law firm.
Here are the wrong reasons.
1. There’s too much work.
Yes, some lawyers leave because they want a more laid-back environment that allows them to have a better work-life balance. Legal recruiters, however, rarely want to hear that. Unless the current workload poses a serious threat to your health and wellbeing or you risk ending up burned out, too much work is not a valid reason to switch law firms.
Recruiters want candidates that will be able to work hard and put in the long hours needed for the law firm’s long-term success, so they will likely turn you down if too much work was the only reason you left the old law firm.
2. You want higher pay.
Switching law firms because you want to make more money is rarely a good idea. Unless you can make at least 30% more than your current salary, don’t leave. Anything less than that is not worth it as in some places, taxes and the cost of living are so high that you may end up with even less money.
Plus, a larger paycheck comes with more work, responsibilities, and stress. In some instances, you also run the risk of working on cases that are at odds with your conscience and values. In addition, recruiters frown upon candidates that leave firms just for better compensation since they are looking for loyal people as well.
3. You want a change of scenery.
Speaking about loyalty, switching law firms just because you are bored with the current situation could severely impact your career prospects later on. If for instance, you are a successful attorney who has been handling Atlanta DUI car accidents for years but wants to relocate to sunny California due to the cool people and nice beaches, you may have a hard time finding work in the same practice area at the new location.
Recruiters look for loyalty and stability in candidates, so switching law firms just because you look for a change of scenery sends the message that a trivial reason can be more important than your career.
If the change of scenery is dictated by your spouse or another family member, you will send the message that someone else has a tight grip on your career. Law firms want loyal people that can contribute to the stability of the business, especially when entrusted with critical cases or key clients. Hiring free spirits is just too much of a risk for them.
4. You don’t like certain people.
Switching law firms just because you can get along with certain people in your current law firm is another misguided reason to move. Bad people are everywhere, and unless that partner you can’t get along with makes all the decisions in that law firm, stay put. Otherwise, you risk having to deal with even more difficult people at the new firm.
5. You feel like a failure.
Even successful attorneys suffer from the so-called imposter syndrome or feel like a fraud despite the obvious accomplishments and positive peer feedback. That is why many embrace a perfectionistic mindset, focusing on the small percent of the things they got or done wrong despite the multi-million verdicts they secured for their current law firm.
If you tend to lose sleep over the fear of failure and a few bad reviews, don’t leave. Negative feedback can be a law firm’s way of motivating associates to do more or to improve the overall quality of their work. In a new law firm, you will start with a clean slate and have to prove your worth from scratch, which will only fuel your fear of failure. So, it is best to stay put and face that nagging critical inner voice wherever you are at the moment.