Our Texas legal headhunters usually see a spike in hiring this time of year. Early Fall is routinely a time for in-house legal departments and law firms to add attorneys, paralegals and compliance staff to meet end of the year work demands. If you are thinking about a job change, we suggest you fully consider the following factors in making the right move.
What is causing you to think about moving? Do you seek more growth in a certain practice or geographical area? International, regional or city-specific companies and firms can provide new avenues to strengthen your practice. Attorneys often cite more predictable hours as a reason for wanting to go in-house; this can be true but the number of working hours are probably not less. Do you want better opportunities to move up the corporate ranks, make partner – or – do you want to work in a less demanding job with greater flexibility?
Closely related to motivation are your career objectives. What are the priorities for you in a new job? What do you not currently have that you need and want? Be clear on whether you value prestige, titles, corner office space, or work/life balance – the salaries are quite different and your goals must be in line. If you are seeking upward mobility and partnership opportunities, keep in mind that thresholds for partnership vary greatly among large and small firms. Do you want a niche practice or a more broad role that smaller and start-up companies provide? Firms often seek to add a new or growing practice area to increase revenues; that poses opportunities as well as challenges so you need to fully think through those pros and cons on an individual basis.
Compensation is really not a large factor for most people, moving from firm to firm. Salaries are generally equivalent among the same size firms at the associate level but there is a difference between a small to midsize firm that requires 1600 billable hours per year and a large firm that requires 2200 hours per year. At the partner level, compensation formulas vary slightly from one firm to another (for example one firm may allow credit for origination and the other not), but basically all use the same basis for setting salary: the amount of your portable business. Different firms may offer a better platform for expanding your existing business. Make sure you have the assurances you need that other partners will in fact, support that expansion. In-house legal departments, as a general rule, pay markedly less than law firms but offer equity and other benefits – what’s most important to you?
Before even applying for a new position, make sure the timing is right. The entire process generally takes a few months to complete so plan on a three-month period and be very clear on when you can actually make a change. Do you have present commitments that must be honored, like a trial setting? Do you have children in school such that you would not relocate until a semester or summer break? Do you have any pending equity bonuses or stock vesting that would affect your timing?
Culture can be difficult to determine during a few short interviews, so be really deliberate about the type of culture you want and be honest with yourself if you learn information that suggests the firm or company culture is not in line with yours. If you really value the ability to have a flexible schedule, and the prospective employer expects you at the office every day, give that factor sufficient weight or you’ll soon be unhappy, even if all the other details of the job are appealing.
Family Reality Check
Is your spouse supportive of your change and desires? Many times a candidate will start a job search, only to have their spouse voice objections after an offer is extended. Discuss your motivation, objectives, compensation desires, timing and culture fit with your spouse early on and make sure they are willing to make the changes with you. A change in work demands or location may mean a decrease in income or a move to another city or state that your spouse isn’t willing to make. It’s not uncommon for a candidate to receive an offer, only to have their spouse veto the details at the last minute.
Making a job change can be a very positive, exciting career and life-enhancing choice if you are clear on what you want and whether you are likely to realize those desires. Carefully consider your motivation, objectives, compensation desires, timing and culture in making a smart, calculated move.