Testing the job market waters on a periodic basis is a good idea and hopefully, a satisfying way to scratch that itch. A good start would be to develop a relationship with an experienced recruiter that you can periodically contact with job search questions or who will contact you with job opportunities. Our experienced team of Texas legal headhunters normally sees a spike in hiring towards the end of summer. In fact, early Fall is a busy time for most in-house legal departments and law firms as they add attorneys, paralegals and compliance staff to meet deadlines and prepare for the upcoming year.
As legal recruiters, one of the most common questions we’re asked is “how’s the job market”? Translation: I’m thinking about changing jobs and want to get an idea of what my chances are. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The job market in Texas continues to boom and the cycle of in-demand practice areas is continually in flux. Yesterday it was apples and today it’s oranges. Tomorrow, who knows. If you are thinking about pursuing fresh career challenges, using this job change considerations “wish list” as a guide will help ensure that you are making the right move.
Determine Why You’re Changing Jobs
Consideration number one on your changing jobs checklist should be why you are seeking greener pastures in the first place. Is your main reason for contemplating a job change a valid one? Does it involve growth in a certain practice or geographic area? For example, international, regional or city-specific companies and firms might offer new opportunities that will ultimately strengthen your practice.
Prospecting attorneys oftentimes mention more predictable hours as their primary motivation for pursuing in-house opportunities. Although this may be true, the total number of working hours are probably not going to be much less. Is your job change decision motivated by the desire to move up the corporate ranks or attain partner status? Or would you prefer a less-demanding job that offers greater flexibility? Since nobody likes to be bored at work another motivating factor for you may be finding a job that’s more mentally stimulating.
If you are thinking about testing the waters, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is it about your job that makes you unhappy?
- Can you fix it? if not, what do you really want to do (realistically, think long term as well)?
- How do those roles stack up pros and cons-wise to your existing job?
- Does the work environment I want exist?
- What do you need to do to get there?
- Can you stay where you are and negotiate what you want? If not, will you leave?
Consider Your Career Goals and Options
When compiling your pros and cons list for changing jobs, one of the other key motivating factors of career change should be your specific goals. Is there room for career advancement at your current job, or does the new position offer better opportunities over the long haul? Before making a career decision, be sure to prioritize what you value most, whether it’s salary, prestige, title, a corner office with a view, or healthier work–life balance.
If your goal is upward mobility and partnership opportunities, keep in mind that thresholds for partnerships vary greatly based on the size of the law firm. Are you interested in a niche practice or perhaps taking on a broader role at a smaller or start-up company? It’s common for established firms to add a new or growing practice area as a revenue generator– which may pose a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges to consider when making your decision.
Compensation, Benefits and Advancement Opportunities
Although money and other financial incentives should be a key consideration, compensation isn’t the top priority for most attorneys who move from firm to firm. At most comparably sized firms salaries are generally equivalent at the associate level. However, salary differences do exist if you’re comparing a small to midsized firm that requires 1600 billable hours per year to a large firm that requires 2200 hours.
At the partner level, compensation formulas differ slightly from one firm to another. For example, “firm A” may allow credit for origination while “firm B” does not. Basically, all firms use the same criteria for setting salary- the amount of your portable business. Another firm may offer a better platform for expanding your existing business. In any given situation, be sure that you have confirmation from all other partners first that they will support said business expansion.
When evaluating an employer’s overall benefits package consider any pre-existing health issues you might have, along with your total number of dependents. What is the monetary value to you when comparing one employer to another? Also look beyond health, dental and vision insurance by researching the employer’s short- and long-term disability coverage, life insurance, matching 401(k) plan, other retirement plans and paid time off (PTO). Some employers even offer additional job perks like on-site workout facilities or employee discounts.
Generally, in-house legal departments pay markedly less than law firms, but most offset those deficiencies by offering equity and other benefits. When it comes to advancement potential even if the new position is a lateral move or within the same industry, switching careers to work for another employer with more career growth opportunities is worth considering. Before accepting any offer ask yourself how important these compensation and advancement considerations are to you.
Timing, Hiring Seasonality and Trial Commitments
Before applying for a new position or quitting a job for career change reasons, also consider the timing of the move. Since the entire job search process usually takes two to three months plan accordingly and be honest with yourself- and any potential employer- about when you can start your new position.
Things to keep in mind when changing jobs include your school-aged children that you may not want to relocate until end-of-semester or summer break. Is your spouse or partner supportive of you searching for a new job? It’s not uncommon for a candidate to start a job search, only to have their significant other voice objections that veto the deal’s details at the very last minute.
A change in work demands or location may mean a decrease in income or having to relocate to a city or state that your spouse or partner isn’t willing to make. Be sure to discuss your motivation, objectives, compensation goals, and other key factors with them ahead of time. Are there any upcoming trial commitments you are involved with that must be honored? Are there any pending equity bonuses or stock vesting that will influence the timing of your decision?
Patience in this pursuit is certainly a good thing. Timing, job market and your marketability all play a large role. If you decide to leave, do so professionally with plenty of notice. Also, leave positively with your reputation, friendships and professional relationships intact. Knowing when to change jobs is also influenced by seasonal hiring practices, especially at mid- to large-sized law firms. What follows is a typical recruiting calendar at a larger law firm:
February to April
This is usually when most of the lateral interviewing and hiring is done. During February, firms must finalize and submit their NALP forms for inclusion into the latest edition of the NALP Directory of Legal Employers. Sometime in April, many recruitment managers head to the annual NALP Conference.
January is a time during which larger firms finalize at which schools they want to recruit for their first-year associate and summer programs. As a candidate, you may experience delayed response times and scheduling conflicts during this three-month period.
May to July
At most large firms, the summer associate program gets prioritized in late Spring. Those activities continue through July and consume much of the recruitment staff’s time and efforts. During the Summer many hiring committee members also take vacations. Depending on the firm’s case load some lateral hiring may take place from May to July.
August to October
Once Summer associates head back to school in August there’s usually a flurry of hiring activity, although on-campus recruiting ramps up again from early August into September. At many law firms first-year associates begin orientation immediately after Labor Day weekend. Because of all the attention being focused on law students and new associates, lateral hiring tends to slow down during the third quarter.
December and January
Around the Holiday season is typically a great time to start a job search, notably for senior or partner-level candidates. As firms plan for next year screening and interviewing activities usually increase for open lateral associate and partner positions. Most firms also finalize their annual budgets in early January. However, delays in the hiring process are possible as candidates collect their share of disbursements and profits at their old firms.
Culture, Areas of Practice and Client Portfolio
Your job change considerations should also include the company or firm’s culture. Practicing alongside fellow legal professionals in an office that share your same values, beliefs and work ethic will make life more enjoyable. Before accepting a new job determine first if it’s the right cultural fit for you by considering these elements:
- Work-life balance
- Ethics and values
- Schedule flexibility (Can I work remotely vs. at the office?)
- Diversity and inclusion
- Support and teamwork
- Reward culture
- Communication and clarity
- Recognition and sense of influence
Before deciding, ask yourself if the practice areas offered by the firm coincide with your own. Will practicing at a given firm or company provide you with career-enrichment oppo
rtunities that are more attractive than those found at your current job? Before interviewing with a potential employer, it’s a good idea to jot down a list of questions to ask if-and-when your role would happen to change due to unforeseen circumstances, like an economic recession.
And finally, if you’re considering a lateral move to another firm what does their current client portfolio look like? On the positive side, even during slow periods when hiring committee members are tied up with other responsibilities if you’re a potential partner with a large portable book of business they will probably give you a look.
Check the Market with Credible Sources
Wonder if that law school classmate at XYZ law firm is making $20K more than you? Are they handling more substantial work? A lower minimum billable requirement? Bringing their dog to work? A recruiter can offer market data and knowledge that can assist you on this road. With this information, you may realize you’re actually in the best place for you and your career, and we’ll read about your partnership in the business journal in a few years. Other times you’ll discover that the stars have aligned, and the timing is right to make that move. Making a job change can be a very positive, exciting career and life-enhancing experience once you have clearly considered what you want, along with whether or not you are likely to realize those objectives while practicing elsewhere. When making a career change decision, be sure to carefully consider factors like your motivation, objectives, desired compensation, timing and office culture.
If you are a legal professional who’s in need of some job change tips, contact one of the market-savvy recruiters at Momentum Search Partners today. With convenient offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston, connecting prestigious Texas law firms and legal departments with exceptional talent is what we’re all about!