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The Only Reasons for an Attorney To Switch Law Firms

published July 29, 2021

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There are not many reasons for an attorney to switch law firms. The truth is, there are only three. This article will explain what those reasons are and why.
 

One of the things that I've noticed in my career is that many attorneys that switch firms, maybe as many as 30 to 40% of them, do so for the wrong reasons. That's really unfortunate because switching jobs is a fairly significant choice and should not be done without putting in a considerable amount of thought. There are excellent reasons to switch jobs, and there are reasons that aren't good enough. 

 

The Three Reasons for Switching Law Firms

 
  1. Being on the wrong side of the political climate in your office
  2. Not having access to work
  3. The possibility to get into a more prestigious firm

It is important to note that the third one, getting into a more prestigious law firm, is not always sufficient enough to justify changing jobs. All of these reasons are very complex and will be discussed in detail further in the article.

Being without a job in the legal industry for any amount of time can be fatal for an attorney's career, especially in today's job market. When interviewing with law firms, they may see a break in employment is questionable. This fact could lead them to two conclusions. Either you could not get your hands on any work in your old firm, or you couldn't swim in the political game.

These are two crucial building stones of a legal career, and not being able to succeed in them in one firm might forecast difficulties in the next one. And unfortunately, there are still many attorneys that do not grasp the significance of getting their hands on enough work and knowing how to navigate the politics of law firms for their law careers. Motivation and ambition are also valued qualities in any work environment. If you're trying to move into a better, more prestigious firm, law firms are always open to that because they want hungry people who want to improve and push themselves.
 

Switching Law Firms Because of Political Reasons


If you are not in line with the majority opinion in your current firm and are not looked upon as part of the group, it is a good reason for moving to a new firm. Why?

Law firms usually have a few really successful attorneys and can get the biggest clients and cases. Groups of allies usually form around these forces that profit from these mutual relationships. The profit can come in many forms:
 

Making Partner Without a Lot of Business


If you support those attorneys in power, stick up for them and support their ideas, they will want to keep you around and make you feel valued. To show you that they stand behind you, they might put in a good word for you and help you make a partner in your current firm even if you don't have a big book of business to achieve this on your own.
 

Protection During Law Firm's Hardships


If you are close to these people in power during recessions or when the law firm faces difficulties, it can often protect you from being laid off. Especially when the times are desperate, firms don't want to lose their powerhouses. And they often take their wishes and demands into consideration to keep them on board. Being associated with them can save your skin and help you keep your job.
 

A Consistent Stream of Work


Some work relationships can be powerful that you create your work family. And family always feeds the family. So, if you are connected to the right people who have a lot of work, you can be sure that they will always pass work to you before anyone else.
 

Learning How to Get Business


If you associate with the best and have them around you often, you can learn a lot. When you watch someone great at getting business do their magic, you pick up their approach, techniques, and skills, and soon after, you will get better at getting business yourself. They may also often deliberately teach you how to get clients because they also benefit from your success when you are close allies.
 

Possibility to Follow Your Allies When They Move Firms


When powerful people with a business move to new firms, they often take their allies with them. This happens quite often in law firms because powerful lawyers need someone on their side to move to a new working environment. A new attorney coming to a firm will need someone who can look around and start relationships with people on their behalf. That's why they usually bring a friend from another law company that knows them well so that that person can do this without any problems or awkwardness.
 

Access to Information


People in power have access to information others usually don't. And they can choose who they share this insider information with based on who is close to them. They can tip you off when to avoid certain issues or people that could compromise your standing in the firm or, on the other hand, tell you to focus more on something that is currently a more important issue to the management of the firm.
 

As a Partner, You Can Be Given Business


If you are a partner, one of the most important things is being able to get business. However, there are many partners, even in the top law firms, who don't have any business. If you are such a partner but are closely allied with a powerful partner with many work and clients, they will often give you some business to help keep you in the firm and secure enough income. Being close to the right people can save you.

Being part of the most powerful group in your current firm is critical for success for your career in general. It gives you protection, information, work, and great people close to you that can guide you or put in a good word for you. If you are not a part of that group or are in direct conflict with group members, you might be in trouble. If you cannot solve the conflict, it might be challenging for you to progress--if such a thing will even be possible.

Sometimes, it might be difficult to figure out who is the "man in power" initially, but the more time you spend in the firm, the easier it will be to spot these powerhouses. And these are really the people you want to impress and get close to because they can bring opportunities to you and everybody in the company follows their opinion. Being able to navigate the politics of power in firms is as important as the quality of your job and billing hours. Because when you are not on the good side of the people in power, life in the company can get really difficult. And it often prompts people to move firms because they want to find the people they can get close to and count on in their professional life.

Following are some political mistakes you want to avoid if you want to be a part of the "in-crowd:"
 

Easily Avoidable Mistakes That Make Those in Power Look Bad


It happens to everyone from time to time, but attorneys early in their careers are especially prone to it. Making small technical mistakes that are easily preventable by taking an extra minute to double-check your work or write down everything that has to be done, such as forgetting about a task, filing a wrong document, or sending out information to the wrong client. Those mistakes can be done easily but make the firm look unprofessional and careless, which is not a look anyone wants to accept. And the whole firm can turn against the person that made such a mistake.

In litigation, filing something incorrectly or late sometimes happens even to the senior associates, and it can cost them their promotion or job. Patent lawyers have to do many analyses and equations in which they can sometimes make mistakes that can be fatal for their career.

Once you make such a mistake, it sticks to you like a scarlet letter. And when the executives and partners remember you as the associate who made that mistake, it is tough to shake that off. You often don't have any other choice than to move firms to start with a clean slate.
 

Thoughtless Comments


Comments or remarks that you make without thinking might really stain your reputation among your colleagues and partners. They can be things such as when someone gives you work to do, and you respond that it's administrative work and there must be somebody else who can do that. Or when you express that you don't want to work over weekends.

Any comment like that tells those above you that you are not committed enough for the job. Your superiors want you to believe that having a job in law firms is a privilege (which it is), so when you act like you are above it or don't add the same value to it, it will make them wary of you.

Thoughtless comments might also be remarks that you say about others in the firm, especially higher-ups and those in a powerful position. If you slip in front of the wrong colleague and the word that you bashed your superior gets to them, you get to a really unfavorable spot.

You want to be really careful about what you say; otherwise, you are doing yourself a disservice. But it's not just about your words; your body language and other behavioral cues also tell a story. So, watch your eye-rolling and your sighs as well.
 

Choosing the Wrong People to Associate With


Choosing the wrong people to ally with can be one of the biggest mistakes for your career, so you have to be very careful about it. Sometimes, it is smartest to wait before getting close to someone in your firm and only setting clear lines after knowing how others are viewed.

If you make a mistake and associate with someone the higher-ups do not like, they might (and probably will) consider you "guilty by association" if they see you with them often. It would be best if you were nice and friendly to everyone, but keep your distance until you know that associating with someone won't hurt you or can help you.

However, just because the boss at your current firm doesn't like someone or a group of people, it is not good to automatically disregard them as sometimes, such groups are the ones that move to a new firm. Therefore, if there are some good business generators in the group, it might be better to stick to them and have the opportunity to switch law firms with a powerhouse on your side.

You have to be smart and tread lightly in the political game, and it might be scary at first, but with time, you will learn how to read people better and what to anticipate from them.


Not Billing Enough Hours


You should never avoid billing hours. Billing is how the firms and partners get paid, so it is essential. If you find solutions too quickly and do not bill enough, it will be frowned upon.

Firms sometimes have clients they "milk" - they try to bill as many hours as possible because the matter is too complex or because the client isn't worried about money and wants their issue to be looked at several times and from all different angles.

Even if you consider some of the work unnecessary, your job is to be a soldier and follow the orders the partner has given to you, not question whether the work is or not needed. Even if you are asked to bill a ton of hours just writing out memos.


Make Sure You Choose the Right Group to Associate With


If you want to associate with a group, you should really make sure that it is the right one. If you rely on only one group formed around one big client, you are all in an unfavorable position if that client leaves your firm. If you can, be a part of more than one powerful group or a group with more big clients or businesses from different streams. You have to be smart about who to ally with.

Avoid Practice Areas That Don't Generate Business or That the Firm Is Not Focusing on Anymore.

Many firms start out doing one thing and move on to do another. For instance, commercial litigation is much more profitable than counseling or employment litigation. When a firm sees that they can earn more money focusing on the former, they will quickly find a way for their attorneys to either change what they are doing or let them take on attorneys to focus on the more profitable tasks.

Some practice areas are at a higher risk of being pushed out than others. These are:

Patent Prosecution

The competition is high, fees are usually set "flat," and the work is often outsourced to countries with lower fees.

Trusts and Estates

You can only ask for low rates in this practice area.

Immigration Law

Clients often aren't able to pay much, and fees are also often set flat.

Family Law

Just as with immigration, clients often don't have that much money for an attorney.
Trademark Law and Employment Litigation
Often routine work means that attorneys cannot ask for a lot of money.

Bankruptcy

Not a steady stream of work.

Overall, when switching jobs for political reasons, the bottom line for quitting is that if the main political opinions are against you and cannot change their views, it is better to switch. If you have found favor with the higher-ups or you can change their opinions of you, it is better to stay. If you have no idea of your standing in your firm, it will be hard for you to advance, and it is probably not a good career move to stay.


Switching Law Firms Because of Not Having Access to Work


You and everyone in the firm is paid based on the amount of work you do and your bill's hours. If you don't have access to work, you have a big problem.

Even if you have been successful in getting work for years and billed thousands of hours, once you cannot get your hands on enough work for a prolonged period of time, you will lose your job without regard to your previous successes. It doesn't matter how hard you previously worked or for how long; if you don't have enough work, you are a burden to the firm, and they will most likely let you go.

When you are working in a law firm, you should always have your hands full of work. If you are not in such a situation, something is wrong. There are several different reasons you might not have access to work while working in a law firm. The following are the most common ones:


Political Reasons


This has been addressed in the previous section, but if the opinion of the powerful group in your law firm is against you, they might be standing in your way of getting work. They give the work to the people close to them first, which doesn't leave much work for the attorney they do not support.

You can avoid this situation by avoiding the political mistakes mentioned previously. If you are already in such a situation, you should try to fix it. If it is not fixable, the only option is to switch firms.


Structural Reasons

Structural reasons for not having enough work mean that the firm is doing something wrong that prevents them from getting the clients and cases.


Overpricing Services

Some firms ask for too much money for the type of services they offer. They either set rates that are too high from the beginning, or they increase them gradually until it becomes almost impossible to gain new clients. This negatively affects associates and partners, and it also slows or stops the firm's growth.

This often occurs in small satellite offices opened in smaller towns by large big market firms. They keep the New York or Los Angeles rates, but clients in these smaller cities cannot pay them and choose some local law practice that knows what clients in that area can afford. This will leave the small office without work even though they have a well-known name.


Conditions That Drive Away Partners With the Business


Some firms have compensation conditions that are not as lucrative for partners as they would expect or want. Everybody is motivated by money, and partners with a lot of work are no different. If they feel like their current firm is not giving them back as much as they deserve (or as much as other firms would give them), they will move on. And if they leave with their business and their clients, it means less work for others.


Focusing on the Wrong Practice Area(s)


Some law firms hire new employees when the business and economy are on the up, and then they are left with too many attorneys from one practice area. This can often happen in litigation, for instance. When all litigation cases in a firm end in a short span of time, it can even end the firm.


Merged Law Firm


If a firm has been created through merging one or more other law firms, the relationships inside sometimes become too complex and affect the functioning of the new firm. Small groups of people from the "original" firms might form strong alliances. This strong bond keeps the other attorneys from getting the work they need. The situation can get out of hand really quickly and, if you are on the unfortunate side of the battle, it is often better to leave.


Overhiring


There are many reasons why law firms overhire, but they are left with too many associates and not enough work when they do. In such cases, it might be better to leave before it is too late.


Too Many People at Certain Levels


When a firm has too many people on the top or too many people on the bottom, there might not be enough work for everyone on that particular level.


Losing Vital Client(s)


Counting on only one or two clients can be very dangerous for a firm. When that client leaves, so does most of the work.


Recession


When the economy is in recession, many clients move from big-name firms to smaller ones because they have lower fees. If the work at your current firm starts to slow down during a recession, it is best to move quickly. The work is still out there, but clients have moved to smaller firms.


Seniority Level Reasons


Senior partners can charge more than less experienced ones, and sometimes these senior fees are comparable to the ones of partners. If this happens, clients often prefer partners (i.e., the more experienced) to work on their cases. And partners often prefer to take on the cases because it means more money into their pockets. Sometimes firms don't have enough work for both.

If this happens, the senior associates often don't have any other choice than to move to another firm and start again. If your stream of work slows down, it is a time to act because access to work is one of the most important aspects of success. You have to either get access to new work, create new work with existing clients, or change the environment. Otherwise, you are putting yourself at a big risk.

Firms and businesses can only survive if they know what their clients or customers need and provide it. There's always work to be done, so when attorneys don't have enough work, others look down on them and consider them not dedicated and hardworking enough. The best lawyers know how to create work and get additional work from clients.

If you are not good at finding projects or additional work, you need to find new angles for the work. The best attorneys will look at all matters they are working on more closely than their competitors. That's what the best law firms do. That is why the best law firms and attorneys are more expensive, but ultimately they're giving better service because they're doing all the additional work.


Switching Firms to Get Into More Prestigious Law Firm


Not all law students can get into a big prestigious law firm right out of law school. You don't have a record of accomplishments right after graduation, so law firms can only decide who they hire based on the law school and academic results candidates had there. If you weren't at the top of the best schools, your chances of getting into a top law firm are not that great. However, after you have already worked in a law firm for a few years, you have some clients and cases on your record, and you have built a reputation that can make you marketable to more prestigious firms.

When you get the chance to switch to a major law firm from a smaller one, the benefits you suddenly have access to are enormous:


Bigger Clients With More Important Work


Big clients with significant work understandably always seek out big prestigious firms in large markets. If you want to have access to these big clients and cases, you often have to work in the most prestigious firms.


Higher Expectations Help Develop Skills


Major law firms with big clients cannot afford to make mistakes or hand in subpar work. They charge a lot of money for their services, so their work has to have the highest quality and care put into it. The assignments also often go through several rounds of reviews and comments, which gives you a unique chance to accelerate your growth and skills. The attention to detail and dedication you learn in a large law firm is not easily learned in a smaller firm with less pressure for perfection.


The Competitive Environment Will Enhance Your Social Skills


The best law firms only employ the best attorneys who are always competitive and very ambitious. Working with such people every day will teach you how to navigate the social game and the best work. Such experience will be precious for your whole career.


You Gain Great Credentials for a Lateral Move


Large law firms generally like to hire attorneys from other large firms because they already have experience with the pressure, pace, and work ethic in such an environment. So, if you already have a prestigious law firm under your belt, your chance to get into a great firm is pretty solid.


Gaining Contacts and Experiences Small Firms Cannot Offer


Large firms generally employ attorneys with prestigious schools in their background with a vast network of contacts in the industry. Smaller firms don't have access to such people, so you can gain access to career options you wouldn't have otherwise as a part of a prestigious company.


Your Skills Will Be Highly Valued if You Move to a Smaller Firm


Small law firms value people with training and experiences from prestigious firms. There are many good reasons you might want to switch back to a smaller firm after working in a big firm. And your experiences from there will be beautiful for your new employer because of the work ethics, dedication, training, and experiences you have gained.


Higher Earnings


Attorneys can usually earn much more money in a big firm than they can in a smaller one. It makes sense as they have bigger clients and high-profile cases. Sometimes you can even triple your salary when switching, which can be very appealing if you have debt or build a new house.


More Options for Going in-House


With a big-name firm on your resume, big corporations and successful companies will want to hire you as their in-house counsel. Big law firms also often have their contacts in big companies, which means they can give you access to places others cannot.


Large Firm Credentials Might Get You International or Other Career Possibilities


If a law firm is prestigious and has a big name, it is generally recognized internationally and known to governments, non-profits, etc. Having such a name on your resume might bring you working possibilities in different countries or help you with your career outside of law firms.


"Brand Name" Clients


Large law firms with well-known names attract large companies and recognized clients. Prestigious firms are often associated with quality and success, so it only makes sense that high-profile clients would choose them. As a part of such a firm, you have the opportunity to work with such clients.

Moving to a more prestigious law firm can be great for your career, giving you a ton of opportunities and money you would only dream of in a smaller practice. However, there are some disadvantages that you have to take into account. A more competitive environment means working longer hours, more stress, a more difficult path toward making a partner, and less security of keeping your job. You have to weigh all of this when you have the opportunity to move to a bigger firm.

Another aspect that plays a role in your possible success in larger firms is your specialization. The more specialized you are, the more success you can achieve. Always.


Conclusions


Unemployment and jumping from one firm to another never look good on your resume, so you should always be careful about switching from a stable job. You should only consider changing law firms if the political opinion is not in your favor and it cannot be reversed, you don't have access to work, or if you have the chance to move to a more prestigious firm.

See also:
 

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