When you leave one firm for another, you want to be sure that you’re making a decision that serves to move your career and your life forward.
Let’s say you’ve worked at your firm for a few years and you’re thinking about leaving. That might be the right move—or it might not be. Whether it is all depends on you and why you believe now is the time to move on, and if the position you’re considering is truly a better fit than your current one. You don’t want to end up in your own personal Groundhog Day—reliving the same experience at your new firm that you were having at your old one.
What’s Groundhog Day?
If you’re unfamiliar with the movie Groundhog Day, here’s a brief synopsis: A cynical, sarcastic weatherman (Bill Murray) finds himself reliving the same day over again—Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He tries to enjoy the time loop that only he is experiencing, first behaving outrageously when he realizes there are no consequences to his actions, but eventually becomes depressed and suicidal as his attempts to escape it prove unsuccessful. He is only able to escape when he learns to try a different approach and better himself, which finally wins him the love and respect of his beautiful producer, played by Andie MacDowell.
Examine Your Reasons for Wanting to Move on
- Are you simply bored with the work? If you find the daily office routine uninteresting and think another firm will somehow be more exciting, you’re going to be sorely disappointed when you find yourself in that same routine at the next place. You may need to consider changing your practice area or exploring leaving the law altogether.
- Are you running from issues rather than correcting them? If you’re prone to mistakes or aren’t as knowledgeable in certain areas as you should be, you might believe you can avoid having to own up to the problem by starting over somewhere else, a surefire recipe not only for disaster for your career but overwhelming anxiety for you. Now is the time to get assistance if you need to and correct any problems before they cause you real trouble.
- Is morale low at your firm, do you feel you have too much work, or dislike your current assignments? Remember that all these things are temporary. Unless your firm is in financial trouble and people are worried about keeping their jobs, a period of low morale can be a normal part of any company’s life cycle. Ditto for a heavy workload or assignments you don’t like. The work will slow down and you’ll move on to the next assignment. Now, of course, if your firm is so relentlessly busy for long stretches of time that keeping up feels impossible and your health is suffering, finding a firm with a more reasonable pace and workload is imperative.
You may find that your reasons for wanting to leave your current firm are perfectly reasonable, and include things such as:
- Inadequate pay
- A lack of advancement opportunities
- Your firm is in serious trouble
- Poor management and a lack of mentoring
- Work that remains unchallenging (just being boring doesn’t count)/generally not relevant to your experience or goals
- Political reasons/cultural fit
You Decide to Go
Once you decide to move on, you still need to assess what you did correctly at your current firm and what you need to do differently. Again, the idea is to avoid simply doing the same thing and having the same unsatisfactory experience at your new job. Reflect on areas that need improvement, and start working on them before you set foot in your new office. What didn’t work for you, and what did? Find a couple of senior attorneys who will speak to you candidly about your performance and what you can do to better yourself. Now that you are leaving, those who are familiar with your work may be willing to give you specific feedback on the areas you need to strengthen. Be clear that you are ready to hear any constructive criticism they have and encourage them not to hold back. Make a commitment to yourself to take their thoughts seriously.
A Different Approach
Remember how Bill Murray’s character was only able to escape the time loop once he did things differently? Approach your new firm differently than you approached your old one. Be prepared to be flexible and not expect the next firm to be absolutely perfect or the answer to all your dreams. And keep in mind that many firms often aren’t as good at integrating lateral hires into the culture as they are new associates; you’ll need to be proactive, introduce yourself, ask questions, and be willing to figure out a lot of things on your own.
If there were social aspects of your old firm that you never enjoyed—like the monthly happy hour, training seminars, or recruiting lunches—give this new firm a chance by attending a few of these types of events. You may find that the culture of this office makes all the difference. If you felt that you didn’t build strong enough working relationships with senior attorneys, now is your chance to make a fresh start. You’ll need to enthusiastically volunteer and produce impeccable work to be noticed in a way you might not have been in your previous position.
Of course, happiness at your new firm is not guaranteed—it’s not uncommon for lawyers who have been working for a few years to come to the realization that practicing law in a firm environment is simply not for them, or even that they don’t want to practice law at all. Only you can say what is best for you. You can avoid jumping from firm to firm, having the same disappointing Groundhog Day experience, though, if you commit to honest self-reflection and working to strengthen your weaknesses.
If you’re considering going to a new firm, make a list of reasons why you want to leave. Are any of those reasons true deal-breakers? If so, reflect on what you can do differently in your next job to assure a better experience, and find at least one area you can improve. Get feedback from others if you are able.