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Switching Law Firms

published December 23, 2021

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Switching law firms is a big topic in the legal industry. In the past, it was common to start in one firm right after graduating and stay there up until the day you retired. However, it is much more common for attorneys to switch firms either in their market or into a different firm in today's completely different legal market. Unfortunately, many lawyers approach this from the wrong side and make mistakes in the process.
 
There are good and bad reasons for switching firms. Law firms are well aware of that, so one of the most important things they try to find out in the recruitment process is why you are looking for a new job. Firms will usually reject candidates they think want to work there for the wrong reasons. When they do that, they often give vague, generic explanations, such as not having enough experience or not being the right fit for the firm. If you start in a new firm for the wrong reasons, there is a high chance that you will not stay there and will want to switch for the wrong reasons again. Law firms are looking for attorneys who will remain with them long-term, so they will not risk hiring you if they see any indication that that might not be you.


As a legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search with many years of working in this industry, I work with attorneys looking to switch law firms daily. I have seen many of them make a successful switch to some of the most prestigious law firms, which skyrocketed their careers. However, I have seen even more attorneys switch to a new law firm unsuccessfully and regularly every few years, which ruined their legal careers completely. Throughout this experience, I have found out the good and the wrong reasons to switch law firms, so I am bringing them to you in this article to help you make good choices for your career path. Changing firms can be the best thing you will do if you do it for the right reasons.
 

Why and When To Say YES to Switching Firms?


The best reasons to switch firms are always connected to ambition and moving upward. Moving because you are trying to get out of a negative situation is also an excellent reason to switch. Law firms generally want to see that you are determined and trying to improve your career in your choices. If your preferences show that you are trying to get more work, more complex cases, more prominent clients, work in a more challenging market with more competition with the switch, they will see it as a big plus.
 

When You Have a Strong Connection With the New Law Firm


Everything in life is based on personal connections. The law industry is no different. If you are trying to switch to a firm where you have a good friend from your law school years, a family member, or another person you are close with, it is an excellent reason for you to go to that firm, but it is also an incentive for the firm to hire you. That is why having a solid personal connection with someone in the firm can help you move there.

Attorneys working with people they like are usually much more satisfied with their work, and there is a lower chance of them leaving during more challenging times for the firm. Law firms are also much less likely to lay them off during these times. Having someone who has your back is also beneficial for getting more work and help when unsure about something. Some people build their whole careers on a few strong connections they nurture for decades. Others create a few more minor connections that get them to work opportunities they would not have otherwise. The only important thing is that the links you use to get jobs and opportunities are strong, and your trust those people.
 

When You Want To Switch to a More Prestigious Firm


Switching because you want to work in a more prestigious firm is a double-edged sword. Whether it will be taken as a positive depends on your reasons to choose this more prestigious firm. If you are ambitious and want to get more responsibility, more complex cases, more prominent clients, etc., it is the right reason for you to switch firms. If you're going to switch just for the sake of working in a place with a more known name, your switch will probably not end up that successfully as you might not be ready for the high demands.

Seeing apparent upward mobility on an attorney's resume from a small firm to a larger, better-known firm always positively reflects the attorney. It shows motivation and dedication to getting more work, more sophisticated clients, the ability to survive in a very competitive environment, and firms with more prestige also carry more weight and open doors to other opportunities. However, for the switch to be successful, you need to be sure that you are able and willing to survive in such a challenging environment.
 

When You Seek Advancement Opportunities


Although more prominent and prestigious law firms are often regarded as where everyone wants to be, it is sometimes good to switch to smaller firms. There are usually much more opportunities for advancement in smaller firms than there are in bigger ones. In some large law firms, it can be almost impossible to make partners. In others, making partners is delayed as much as possible to ensure that only the most dedicated attorneys get promoted. However, if you want to advance faster and are dedicated to it, switching might be the best decision for you.
 

When the New Firm Offers More Opportunity for Related Work


Some law firms offer the opportunity of cross-selling services in different practice areas, which can be very appealing to attorneys. If you can find a firm that can provide you with this, it is a good reason to switch. Suppose a patent litigator can switch to a firm working on patent prosecutions or corporate law for their clients. It is a significant advantage as they do not have to worry about the clients looking for these services elsewhere.
 

When You Can Get More Stability in the New Law Firm


Everyone wants to feel safe and stable in their job, so it can be very stressful if your current law firm constantly experiences significant hardships and difficulties. If you are in a firm that continually loses attorneys, partners, essential clients, scandals, or has other issues, it is tough to go there every day, be excited about the work, and feel good. So, if you are in such a situation, it may be best if you switch to another firm. One that is more stable.

This point does not include temporary issues that all firms experience. It is widespread for firms to have ups and downs because of the economy, state of the legal market, and other factors, so if the issues are only temporary, it is usually not a time to leave.
 

When the New Firm Can Offer You More Work


Having enough work is extremely important for any lawyer and law firm as well. You have to have enough work constantly; otherwise, you cannot bill hours, and you and your firm do not have money. If a state like this continues for a few weeks or months, it can mean only one thing - layoffs. If you are experiencing this in your firm, it can be an excellent time to switch to a firm that can give you more work.

It is one of the most common reasons why attorneys switch law firms. Work slows down from time to time in every firm; however, if it happens over a long time or if the firm does not give you work even though they have enough of it, you should start doing something about it. Either you can try to get business on your own, or you can start looking for a placement in a firm where you can get more work.
 

When You Want To Work in a Firm Where You Fit Better With Your Peers


Relationships with other people in the firm are significant for a good atmosphere at work and doing a better job. A good team of lawyers who can collaborate well together is more likely to tackle complex cases successfully than a group of individuals who cannot work together. If you are not compatible with the people in your current firm, there is nothing wrong with looking for a firm with people who fit you better. You will feel better at work, and your performance will probably improve as well.
 

When the New Firm Is Closer to Your Home


Many attorneys take jobs in firms where they have to travel hours to reach their workplace. It can be because they did not have any other offers, they knew someone in the firm, a prestigious firm, etc. Whatever the reason, traveling to work for hours daily or seeing your family only on weekends eventually gets too much for everyone. Switching to a firm closer to your home is logical and a good reason for the switch.
 

When You Are Not Satisfied With the Management in Your Current Firm


The type of management a firm has is essential for overall stability and employee satisfaction. If a firm has recently gone through a significant management change or has had poor management for some time, it can negatively affect the attorneys and their work. It can often create a toxic and stressful environment and even drive the firm to the ground. If you are experiencing something like this in your firm, it might be a good reason to start looking elsewhere.
 

When You Do Not Have the Work-Life Balance, You Want in Your Current Firm


Although law firms are generally regarded as environments where you have to work constantly and do not have any free time, some firms offer a work-life balance. If you feel like you do not have enough time for your family or want to have more free time to spend on other essential aspects of your life, there is nothing wrong with that, and there are some workplaces that can offer you this. Some law firms advertise this as their perk (especially in smaller markets); however, some attorneys have to leave the law firm and start as in-house counsel or to a different setting to avoid the stressful environment.
 

When Your Current Firm Does Not Make It Easy To Generate Clients


Working in a large law firm comes with its advantages; however, there are also some drawbacks. One of them is that the billing rates in large law firms are usually so high that only big companies can afford them. As a result, it can be tough to generate business and get clients for attorneys independently. The intelligent step in such a situation is to move to a smaller firm with lower billing rates where attorneys, generally junior associates, can build up their network of clients and generate work on their own.
 

When You Can Earn a Lot More Money in the New Firm


Money is not always a good reason to switch firms; however, it can be. With some moves, attorneys can earn twice or even three times more for the same work, which is an excellent reason for a switch. Although you should also have other reasons for a switch, it is the main one for many attorneys.
 

When the New Firm Can Offer You More Mentorship


Mentoring is highly beneficial, especially for young attorneys. Suppose they can get into a firm that will offer them mentorship and high-quality training. In that case, it will be a big plus in their career—having people training you, encouraging you, showing you how to develop business or meet with clients, not just treating you like a commodity to do work. Some firms are better at it than others, so if you can find a firm or an attorney that will train you, it is a good reason to switch.
 

When You Want To Switch Because of Law Firm Politics


Firm politics is something you cannot avoid in law firms. In some firms, the divisions are more pronounced; in others, it is more subtle. However, it can be very stressful and toxic when you stand on the wrong side of the political tide. If this is something you are experiencing and these disagreements are weighing heavy on you, it can be better to find a firm you will fit into more. Or at least one where the division will not be as evident and stressful.
 

When You Want More Demanding Work


The challenge at work is essential for growth and getting better. Some firms can offer you a more challenging job than other firms. Larger firms generally work on more sophisticated cases than small firms do. When firms see that you are ambitious and want to work on more challenging and meaningful tasks, they regard it as a big plus.
 

When You Want Work, You Are More Interested in or Trained For


If you are asked to do work for which you are not trained or work that you are just not interested in doing at your firm, it can bring in negative emotions. Corporate attorneys are often asked to do litigation work. Patent prosecutors with training in one field are asked to do patent prosecution in areas they have never studied and know nothing about, etc. It is also common to be asked to do work you are not interested in and align with your goals and direction. Or they might want to focus on a specific type of work, such as commercial litigation or white-collar work litigation not available at their current firm. If you're going to do a different kind of work than you can currently do in your firm, it is a good reason to switch.
 

When Your Reputation in Your Current Law Firm Is Bad


Having a bad reputation in your existing law firm can be an excellent justification to switch law firms. You can have a bad rep for various reasons. They can be as minute as someone in the firm not liking you and talking about you negatively in front of others. Still, it can also be based on a grave mistake you have made in the past, such as missing a deadline, losing an important client, sexual harassment at work, revealing information relating to client files to the press, malpractice, getting drunk at a work event, and many more.

If an attorney leaves a firm for having a bad reputation, it is common for them to omit this information in their further interviews and state a different reason for switching firms.
 

When You Want To Correct an Early Career Mistake


You might know this from your own experience, but young people sometimes make stupid decisions and mistakes. And if you have made a mistake early in your career that has been dragging behind you for years until now, you may be thinking about switching. It may have been small mistakes, but even those sometimes break the trust between you and your boss, or it may have created some tension between you and your peers. If you believe that your past is holding you down and switching to a new firm with a clean state will benefit your career, it is a good decision.
 

When You Constantly Get Negative Performance Reviews


Although a firm constantly gives you bad performance reviews, it is probably best to move somewhere else, although you are trying to work on yourself. The firm is not satisfied with how you work, so you can advance and prosper there is little chance.
 

When You Are (Justifiably) Worried About Your Current Job


If you have valid reasons to think that your job might be on the line, because of frequent layoffs, the bad financial situation of the firm, a major mistake you have made recently, etc., it might be a good idea to start looking for a firm you can switch to. It is always in your best interest to already secure a new job in another firm before you are let go of from your old firm, as any gap on your resume can impact your future negatively.
 

When Your Current Firm Is Experiencing Serious Problems


If you see that your law firm has severe problems that will not go away just like that, my career advice is to look for a new firm as soon as possible. You want to avoid being left without a placement and with a gap on your resume. This is a switching reason all law firms will understand.
 

When You Have Too Much Work You Cannot Handle


Although having enough work is essential for firms and attorneys to survive, there are situations in which some attorneys have more work than they can practically handle, even when they work every evening and every weekend. It is common to have these difficult weeks several times a year, but when it happens all the time, and you have no time to spend on things outside of work, it negatively affects your health and well-being.
 

When You Are Going Back to Your Hometown


If your career path has led you to a city that is not your hometown, it is consistently acceptable (and sometimes even valued) if you decide to go back home and switch to a local firm.
 

Why and When To Say NO to Switching Firms?


Leaving a law firm is a big decision that should always be approached with thought and care as there can be negative repercussions afterward. Suppose you leave a firm and find out that your new firm has the same issues, and you would want to go again. However, if you have many switches on your resume that do not have excellent reasoning behind them, it reflects negatively on you, and law firms do not like it.

Firms are always looking for attorneys who will stay with them for years, which will raise questions if they see that you have switched firms often on your resume. Changing for valid reasons (mentioned above in the article) is completely fine, and law firms like to see ambitious attorneys who want more challenging work or better working conditions. However, if the reasons for the switches were not that valid, firms will see you as someone unstable who will leave their firm as quickly as they left the ones before. Following are the reasons firms might not look at positively.
 

When the Only Problem With Your Existing Firm Is That You Are Bored


One of the reasons people move is that they get bored with their law firms and the routine. This is never a good reason for moving. In their essence, law firms are very similar environments. When you are in a new job, it might be exciting initially because of the novelty. But when that novelty wears off, you sit behind the computer and meet with clients daily in every law firm. So, if you are bored with your current firm, you might actually be bored with the practice of law itself.
 

When You Are Using the Interview Process To Fulfil Your Need For Attention and Validation


Some attorneys attend interviews and switch firms because they enjoy the recruiting process as it is. Being invited for interviews, getting assessed, meeting new people, and just anticipating getting an offer can sometimes feel validating. No wonders that some attorneys choose to chase this feeling with constant applications to new jobs. However, it will become harder and harder to get law firm offers with more previous employers on your resume with this approach.
 

When You Are Scared of Failing


Every one of us has been scared of failure throughout our lives, but some attorneys are so worried about failing that they quit everything before they have the chance. Most attorneys who start in large law firms eventually switch to a smaller one before they even have the opportunity to get a partnership offer. Some even have the habit of quitting right before performance reviews if they think they will get a negative one.

That is not the right approach to your career path. Failure is a great way to learn from your mistakes, and not allowing yourself to experience these mistakes can get you stuck in one place for years without advancement. Moreover, employers do not like to hire "job-hoppers" to their firms; they seek long-term employees.
 

When You Want To Switch to a More Prestigious Firm


As mentioned previously, switching to a much more prestigious firm can be a good reason for switching, but it is not always the case. Moving firms just because you got an offer from a more popular firm is not a good look for you. There will always be more prestigious firms, so unless your upward switch is to a firm that is much higher than your current firm, this is not a good enough reason on its own.
 

When You Want To Earn More


If the difference in your salary in a switch is not substantial, it is not a good enough reason for that switch. Moreover, money should never be your only reason, even if the change is big enough. More money usually comes with more obligations. Employers expect you to work more for the money you are getting. Also, more money usually means living in a big city where the living cost is much higher than in smaller markets. These placements in large law firms are also much less stable, so taking on all these additional worries is not worth it if you are not getting enough money and do not enjoy the work on its own.
 

When Your Recent Performance Review(s) Have Not Been Great


If one or two of your last reviews have not been good, it is not a reason to quit, especially if you have just started there. It is common for firms to begin by giving out more critical reviews to young associates to encourage quick improvement. Unless you are getting bad reviews consistently for some time or you have been told to start looking elsewhere, this is not a valid reason.
 

When You Have Too Much Work


Having work is essential for success, so having too much work should not reason to switch firms. However, as mentioned before, sometimes it can get too much. If the amount of work is enormous, but you feel like you can still handle it, it is best to make it work. Employers appreciate attorneys who are willing to work extremely hard, and if you can show that you are one of them, it can help you improve your career.
 

When You Do Not Have a Reason


Switching firms is an important decision that should ALWAYS have a valid reason behind it.
 

When You Are Not Getting Along With People in the Firm That Well


Although it is always more pleasant to have friends at work, not having those is not a good reason to quit and look for something else. If you do not have an essential senior against you in the firm, switching because of not getting along with colleagues is not a good idea.
 

When You Do Not Enjoy the Tasks, You Are Being Assigned


Not enjoying your current assignments is genuinely not the right reason for switching. Firstly, you can have no certainty that you will be assigned only tasks you enjoy in the new firm. Secondly, the period of getting jobs you do not want is usually relatively short in an attorney's career. As you gain experience, the firm will start to trust you more, and you will be able to work on cases you enjoy more. However, if you switch and end up in the same situation, it can be discouraging.
 

When You Feel Like You Have Been in the Same Firm For Long Enough


Some attorneys feel needing to move on to another firm once a certain period goes by. But employment in one firm does not have a set deadline. You can stay with one company your whole legal career. In fact, the longer you stay with one firm, the more loyal and valuable you will seem.
 

Conclusions


Switching firms can be something that will better your career; however, it can also be fatal. It is essential to think about this decision and switch only for good reasons, not bad ones.

See also:
 

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