Sometimes, I am asked about when it makes sense to move from one big law firm to another. I am interested in your thoughts. In my experience, it makes sense to jump after your second and fifth years — before that may be too early and after that may be too late.
Before the end of your second year may be too early (despite the calls from the headhunters) because the odds are that you are not really making money for the firm. You are likely inefficient with your time (translation write-offs are large) and you still know very little big law firm procedure and subject matter substance. After your second year, you need less handholding so you are a more attractive candidate and you hopefully have a statistical record to brag about as well as experience handling projects. I recommend keeping an open mind when headhunters call at this stage because you are likely to be a desirable candidate and you may have the chance to switch to a firm that is more desirable (whatever that means for you — size, types and quality of projects, people, etc.).
In the middle of your sixth year (or later), it may be too late to transfer from one big firm to another because although you are experienced, you are also very expensive so not as desirable. And the obvious question will be why did you leave so late in the game. Did you know you were not going to make partner after two or three more years? It is common, for example, for big firm associates to transfer in house in their sixth year or later because they have no chance of making partner or are no longer interested in the partnership track.
There are always exceptions, of course. I am interested in hearing about people’s experiences here.