Associates tell me regularly that one hesitation they have about leaving their current role is that it’s safer to stay with the “devil you know” than move to an unknown environment. This justification, by its very premise, is depressing. You have officially been ground down by the machine if your thinking is that all law firms are the same, and you might as well just continue to muddle through.
BigLaw to BigLaw doesn’t have to be like for like.
Spoiler alert: it’s possible to be happy at work. I recently helped an associate move from one New York-based BigLaw firm to another. She says it’s night and day. The office she moved to has an incredibly hands-on managing partner who served as a one-man hype squad before she arrived, such that as soon as she landed she had partners clamoring to meet her and ask her what kinds of work interest her most. She works fewer hours, enjoys those hours more and is doing the sort of work that she wanted. On the surface, this move was from like to like. In practice, that’s not the case at all. It comes down to people. A good recruiter doesn’t just have the info in a job ad, but can tell you about the personality of a department and a firm’s local office. The intangibles matter here.
BigLaw to SmallerLaw can be a life changer.
I helped a BigLaw associate move to a boutique and she said, without any hint of exaggeration, that her life is completely different. Not only does she now wear jeans every day, but she’s on a much smaller deal team (which means increased responsibility but also increased control over her day/nights/weekends), and it’s a much flatter structure. She said “it’s almost like not being a lawyer anymore.” While that may not be your goal, a massive paradigm shift is possible. Boutiques offer the ability to specialize and build your own path, the chance to play a very different role on transactions/cases and often an enhanced quality of life. Cumulatively, it’s a career transformation.
The platform matters.
You may be at a great firm and generally happy there. But is it a great firm for what you do? Is there another department at another firm getting the kind of work you truly want to be doing? Can you build a practice where you are, or are you penned in at your current level? Are you getting opportunities to build your own practice? I spend an alarming amount of time on LinkedIn, and yesterday I saw the profile of an associate who moved from a firm where associates are notoriously happy to one with a harder edge. It took me a minute to realize why: she was tired of losing to them! The firm where she landed may not have a glowing reputation as a warm and fuzzy place to work, but it gives an associate in her practice the chance to work on one of the biggest pieces of tech-focused litigation in California at the moment, and the path to partnership is wide open for her. She made a calculated call that this added up. She could have certainly kept coasting where she was, but this was a far better platform for her at this stage. I look forward to seeing what she does with it.
It’s really easy to settle. It’s normal to think that because you know and are used to the quirks of the people you work with and the work that you do, that it’s all the same out there. It’s not. That’s complacency talking. Imagine waking up on Monday morning with no dread. It’s possible, and it’s within your reach. Working closely with a trusted recruiter, you can find a new professional home that is a better fit, with no devils in sight.