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A Happy Lawyer is Not an Oxymoron

When I moved to Maryland from Los Angeles, my friend and real estate agent said to me, “The grass may be greener, but you still have to mow the lawn.”

I have quoted him many times since then, particularly when I am strategizing with a lawyer who is considering whether to change firms. When lawyers change law firms, they trade off one set of opportunities and challenges for another. Weighing opportunities is a strategic necessity that my colleagues and I at Major, Lindsey & Africa help lawyers explore. Three key questions to analyze are:

  1. What is your ambition? If your firm’s leadership, platform or direction does not share your ambition, then considering an offer from the platform and culture of a firm that provides a vehicle for your ambition is a worthwhile endeavor.
  2. What are your pulls? Law firms with well-defined and consistently reinforced cultures that create a sense of camaraderie and belonging often have lower attrition rates among partners. Think hard about what is keeping you at your firm. Culture? Friendships? Succession expectations? Compensation?
  3. What are your pushes? What factors are attractive about another firm? Platform? Greater cross-selling opportunities? Culture? Sophistication of work? Compensation? Firm stability? Conflicts (client or personal)? More substantial long-term upside?

Lawyers who make such thoughtful, strategic decisions to change firms often remark that they wish they had done it sooner. A happy lawyer is not an oxymoron. Last summer, my partner Meredith Frank gave a compliment to the leader of an AmLaw 100 practice group. A partner Meredith collaborated with and placed there a year ago said he was deliriously happy with his decision to change firms and told Meredith, “The grass really is greener.”

After evaluating the pulls, pushes and more, this partner and those quoted below bet on themselves and trusted their instincts that the new firm was more compatible with their ambitions.

  • “I love it here. The platform is everything I wanted. Much different from [the prior firm]. I have already more than doubled my originations in 18 months.”
  • “I’ve lost 7 lbs. and my wife can’t stop talking about how much happier I am!”
  • “I’m busier than I have ever been and I LOVE IT. Work is fun again. The work is amazing and I’ve gone from a non-entity to being in the inner circle. And (the office managing partner) has been really good to me.”
  • “I love it here! I I haven’t been so happy at work in 10 or so years.”
  • “My clients are very happy with our new firm and my new partners have already included me in cross-selling activities. This was a difficult decision to leave a known quantity but totally the right one.”

Yes, the grass can be greener!

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