Work + Growth

The Pros and Cons of a Lateral Move


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  • A lateral move to another firm can be the right one—or not
  • Cons include the possible negative perception of a lateral move and the necessity of starting over in a new environment
  • Pros include the possibility of a higher salary and new opportunities

A lawyer’s professional timeline is typically very straight: It’s not uncommon for the law firm where you were a summer associate to be the same firm where you became an associate, and then the same firm where you made partner.

Being at the same firm for your entire career can get stale or boring or unworkable for various reasons, however. A lateral move to another firm can often be the right move—or not. Before deciding if a lateral move is right for you, take time to consider the pros and cons.

Cons:

  • Starting over in a new environment: Going into a new work environment means you will need to give yourself time to adjust. You’ll need to be adaptable, a quick learner, and patient with others and yourself. It may take time to learn how to interact with your new boss and new coworkers. Adjustment can be hard; make sure you’re ready for the possible frustrations and work you will have to put in.
  • The potential of failure: You may have researched and talked to many people at the new firm before making the decision, but you never know for sure what will happen when you make the move. There’s always the potential that the move won’t work out the way you wanted it to and won’t be what you expected.
  • Possible stagnation: By making a lateral move you may be giving up an advancement opportunity. The promotion you possibly could have had at your old firm might take many more years to get at your new firm.
  • Negative perception: People in your new office have been there for years working toward the same job position as you. There may be a negative view of you as an interloper who “took” a position without having to put in the same work as everyone else. This, of course, could make you feel unwelcome.
  • Moving up the ranks, again: When making a lateral move, your new position may not have the same prestige as your old one. This might require you to spend more time working your way up the ranks at your new firm. Be prepared; this could entail a lower starting salary or fewer benefits than you had at your old firm.
Considering a lateral move? What are you most concerned about? What’s your motivation to try it?

Pros:

  • Good for your career: If your current firm is not allowing you to advance your career, then a lateral move might be a good idea. A new firm can give you a fresh start and provide more opportunity to move forward.
  • Better pay: If a new firm wants you badly enough, they’ll pay you more to entice you. They may see your work as more valuable than your current firm does and will be willing to give you better benefits or other perks.
  • New people: If you don’t mesh well with the people at your current firm, that is a completely valid reason to investigate someplace new. Having coworkers you like and get along with is important to your professional motivation and happiness. A new firm might be the place to find the type of people you’d better enjoy working with.
  • Better working environment: The competitiveness of your firm may not be working for you. A motivating working environment where coworkers encourage others to work hard and do their best may be found at another firm. Making a lateral move to a firm that prioritizes its employees’ needs will allow you to be a happier and better lawyer.
  • New opportunities: Your current firm may not allow you to start that project you’re passionate about or focus on the type of work you’re most interested in. A lateral move may allow you to go into an area or job position you find more exciting. This can only help your career and your overall wellness.

You must decide for yourself if the positives of a lateral move outweigh the potential negatives. The best thing you can do is to find out as much as you can about the new firm before making the move. Talk to partners, associates, secretaries—anyone you can to find out as much as possible about the new firm’s culture.