The Matrix: When to Lean In & When to Move On?

The Matrix I've written before about my strong belief that different is good. I also strongly believe that change is good. Need proof? Read my bio! In fact, it's my opinion that the only real uncertainty comes when deciding when to make a change. In other words, how do we know when to "lean in" or to move on?

As a legal recruiter (which I absolutely love by the way), I am asked this question multiple times every day, and I've learned that the answer is different for each lawyer who asks. However, whether you are a big firm partner with a big book of business, a government lawyer with a small bank account, or a rising star lawyer who feels taken for granted at your current firm, the process for determining the answer never really changes. The key to knowing when to change lies in our willingness to engage in honest self reflection and realistic external evaluation.

I was recently on a plane and I read, The Four Types of Change Everyone Experiences in Life, by Martha Beck in O, The Oprah Magazine, which set forth a matrix for determining when you need a transition and how to manage it. The piece wasn't written specifically for lawyers in transition but the concept resonated with me, so much so that I couldn't wait to share it. 

The matrix is made up of four categories of change:

  1. Wanted and necessary: I have to change, and I want to;
  2. Wanted and not necessary: I don't have to change, but I want to;
  3. Unwanted and necessary: I don't want to change, but I have to; and
  4. Unwanted and not necessary: I don't want to change, and I don't have to.

According to Beck's theory, every opportunity for change will fit into one of these categories, and in my experience she is right. In the lateral move context, lawyers who fall in categories 2 and 4 are considered passive candidates, and if you fall into one of these, you should know that you are highly-desirable for obvious reasons. The probabilities are high that you are well-liked, busy, productive, happy, positive and successful. That's the good news.

The bad news for prospective employers is that you are well-liked, busy, productive, happy, positive, successful and hard to get. It may sound counter-intuitive, but believe me, your leverage is at its highest, and this is the best time for you to consider a transition. The operative word, however, is 'consider.' Explore your options now, because your personal stock may never be this high again. Sell high!

Admitting we fall in either of the other two categories (1 or 3) is difficult and exactly when our willingness to engage in honest self-reflection and realistic external evaluation is imperative. Beck suggests that we use passion as the instrument for change if we fall in number 1 and purpose as a catalyst for number 3.

I believe that if viewed through the appropriate lens, this could be the most exciting time in your life. You've reached that dreaded cross road when everything isn't going as planned. But now is the time when you get to evaluate who drafted that plan - you, society or "the Joneses?" You get to take time to explore questions like, What is the best purpose for your legal expertise?, or Which area of the law are you most passionate about? Then you get to set your intentions for the future and explore options with purpose and passion. And because your self esteem may never be this high again - Sell higher!

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This article was also featured in Savoy Magzine, Spring 2015 edition.

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Merle J. Vaughn resides in MLA's Los Angeles office where she is the Law Firm Diversity Practice Leader and a Managing Director. Prior to joining MLA, Merle established and managed the Los Angeles office for Lucas Group Legal. Over the last decade, Merle has been involved in several high profile partner placements with major law firms in New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Merle was recently named Women In Law Firm Empowerment's ("WILEF") Special Advisor for Diversity. She has also been retained by corporations and law firms specifically for her expertise in the area of diversity recruiting. She can be reached at (213) 225-0625 and mevaughn@mlaglobal.com.

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