How Soon Is Too Soon to Make a Lateral Move?

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I am a 3rd year corporate associate. I started out at an AmLaw 100 law firm in California but had to relocate to DC in mid-2014 for personal reasons and, at that time, I lateraled to my current law firm (also a top law firm). I like my current firm and get along well with my colleagues but feel my firm’s practice is too broad and want to move to a firm where I can specialize. Is it too soon to make another lateral move?

Look before you leap when making your next lateral move


It’s always important to remember that your resume stays with you for your entire career. While job hopping may make sense in other industries, it is generally not ideal in the legal sector, particularly so early on in one’s career. Lawyers are specialists whose expertise is constantly evolving and developing, so any one lawyer’s marketability is usually the direct result of the experience and legal skills accrued over the course of their career.

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Sometimes, it will make sense to make a quick move or two to develop the necessary skill set / experience to take your career to the next level, but in most instances it takes a certain amount of stick-to-it-ness to develop the necessary experience. For example, sometimes attorneys will have to make lateral moves quicker than expected if they need to relocate for personal reasons and their current employer does not have a practice area presence or an office in the new location. Or in other instances a young attorney might find that, due to unanticipated circumstances, they are not getting enough work to keep them busy or to adequately develop their skill set. Additionally, an attorney might join a practice group only to find out, just a few short months later, that the attorney they were hired to work for is either moving to another firm or is imminently retiring. In such instances, it will often make sense to make a quicker than anticipated move to a new employer.

However, these days, perhaps because there is a good bit of press out there suggesting that “job hopping” is not a bad thing, we are seeing far too many people make quick lateral moves for less than good reasons. It’s generally not wise to make a very quick lateral move – particularly if you have already moved around once or twice before – just because you are bored with the work or you don’t love your boss. If that’s the case, you should first try to do what you can to improve the situation and then put careful and strategic thought into making a smart, effective lateral move once you’ve earned at least a couple of years of experience at your current firm.

In this case, because you have already made one lateral move early on in your career, and have been at your current firm for less than a year, it would not be a good idea to make such a quick move again. I would first recommend confronting your practice group leader to let him/her know that you want to focus your practice, and explain why. Communicate your interests, first, before assuming you need to make another move to gain the specialized experience you seek. If all else fails, you can always make a move down the road, but first give it time to see if you can work things out internally, while allowing you to build a stronger, less jumpy resume.

Search lateral attorney jobs in California here.

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