So You Think You Need to Move From Your Current Firm?

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It is not uncommon today for seasoned attorney professionals to think about accelerating the pace of their career. And often that thought process would encompass the possibility of moving to another firm that seems to hold out the possibility of greater achievement, both financially and professionally. And while that may be true, before you get started in the process of weighing those possibilities, as someone who has been recruiting laterals for many years, I have a few suggestions for you to consider before you enter into the fray.

First and foremost, it is important that you do an internal inventory of what assets you have to call upon, how you have gotten to this stage of your career, and where you might go with what you know. In order to do that my suggestion is that you embark upon the creation of a business plan, regardless of whether or not you ultimately make a professional move. But by business plan, I do not mean the typical MBA style of plan using algorithms, or Excel spreadsheets. No, what I mean is something equivalent to what I call corporate psychotherapy. Analyze, in writing, the course of your professional career, and bring it forward not just to this point in time, but have a little fun with what you envision your future to be. Make it a narrative, write it, rewrite it, put it down for a while and read it again. Be creative, shoot for the moon in this plan. After all it is at this point, not ready for prime time … it has become your personal musing.

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Think about matters you have handled well, clients with whom you have developed relationships that could or should be longlasting. Think about the situations where you have been the go-to person for your clients or colleagues, and assess whether or not, should you leave you current firm, the clients you have worked for would be happy to follow you anywhere. Or, think about how you might continue to grow and develop with your client base while remaining at your current firm. Can you make progress staying put? This self-evaluation is the first step in understanding where your value lies in your current firm or elsewhere. But you must be honest with yourself. Are you challenged by rates that seem to place a stumbling block between you and more business? Do you have the kind of team support that will assist you in winning the next pitch for a new client or opportunity? Think about what your sweet spot is in terms of your skills and business development capability. Are you a middle-market person? Do you shoot for the high end of opportunity? Or are comfortable at cutrate situations working more on volume? None of these options is good or bad … they are what you make of them. But until you take an open, honest and deeply probing analysis of your business capacity, you can’t make a fair judgment of where your best professional opportunities might lie.

Next, ask yourself if you have the courage to make a move. And under no circumstances should you make that kind of decision based, first and foremost, on financial considerations. If you feel you are not properly compensated, for instance, lay out the level of compensation you believe you should be earning. Is your current firm compensation model the type that will reward you for origination or hours billed and collected only? Are you more of an “eat what you kill” kind of lawyer, or are you the type of lawyer who craves collaboration and performs better in a true team environment. Keep in mind that if you focus on being the best possible lawyer you can be, it is highly likely that the right level of compensation will follow.

How important is firm culture to you? It is my belief that the culture of a firm flows from the top. Are you content with your current firm leadership? Are there adequate succession plans in place for the continuation of the organization? Are you involved in management? Do you want be involved in management, or are you content just lawyering along (nothing wrong with that)? Have you developed close friendships within your firm that are personally valuable to you? Could you maintain those friendships if you left the firm for what you believe to be greener pastures?

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All of these thoughts and comments are meant to get you started to think about how best to improve your professional life as you define it. There are many more considerations, of course, but the point of these introductory remarks is to get the process started so that once you complete the business plan process you will have a much clearer idea of where you stand in the legal universe of opportunity.

And once you are equipped with that tool, it will be much easier to make the kind of evaluation regarding your career options. Of course consulting with a professional recruiter who is knowledgeable about the legal marketplace, can then become your steppingstone to greater career fulfillment. Lyndon Parker

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