LegalJob responded to the following inquiry from a mid-level associate contemplating a lateral firm move (in an effort to become more specialized).
Q: I am between two good firms. I have been considering the pros and cons of each firm. I was wondering if LegalJob could share any insights with me. Some of my thoughts are:
- Firm X will allow me to focus on transactional work, while Firm Y is about 60 percent litigation and they expect all their associates to do some litigation work
- At Firm X, there are several associates at my level, while at Firm Y, there are no associates at my level — there are a few entry level associates and one very senior associate
- Firm Y encourages associates to participate in article writing and seminars, while Firm X does not discourage this, but it is not active
- Firm Y has been rated as one of the top firms for women
Answer: Great question and your pros and cons list seems well thought out. As part of addressing your list, LegalJob will share its priority list for you to consider when making this decision:
► The people with whom you will be working. Can you see yourself comfortably spending long days (and sometimes, long nights) with them. Hard to know for sure when everyone is all smiles in the interview but go with your gut here. Have any of the people (lawyers, not administrative folks) you met with gone out of their way for you in any way during the courting process? Perhaps someone has been extra helpful concerning information on timing and next steps (and any other lingering questions about the firm) such that you felt a sincere interest on their part. In our telephone conversation, you mentioned that one of the attorneys at Firm X has been very helpful in this regard. Pro one for Firm X.
► The quality and type of work. Do you have the opportunity to do some heavy lifting at this firm? If so, how soon? Will you have the opportunity to focus on the area of work you enjoy? How many attorneys are practicing in the specific area in which you want to focus? Will there be sufficient mentoring opportunities? You mentioned that you are leaving your current firm because you would like to concentrate on transactional work, so this priority is especially important for you. Again, it sounds like firm X fits your needs in this regard. Pro two for Firm X. Note that even though the work is the reason you are leaving the other firm, the work is still second priority to the people with whom you will be working. Consider the extreme case. If you have great work but dislike your colleagues, you will be miserable. On the other hand, if you do not love your work but you enjoy the people, the job will not be perfect but it is unlikely that you will be miserable.
► Professional development opportunities. Does the firm provide an opportunity for you to grow and develop? Has this area been emphasized in your conversations with the firm? Will you be able to take on increasing responsibility here in terms of type of work, interface with clients, mentoring younger attorneys, leadership roles at the firm, etc.? Does the firm encourage you to speak and write? Does the firm have a transition plan such that older partners can train younger partners to eventually take a lead role on firm client matters? What is the track to partner if that is important to you? If not, what are the alternative tracks? What is the compensation structure? Note that this item is at the end of the list (because generally big firms are fairly comparable in this regard), but obviously it is important, especially as you become more senior. Is the compensation lock-step? Merit based? You mentioned that Firm Y encourages you to write and speak while Firm X is not active. That item is a pro for Firm Y and con for Firm X. However, note that despite the lip service, the priority for most firms is that you work on firm matters and maintain strong billable hours (and strong collections). Firm Y may emphasize the importance of getting out there but getting your work done is still their first priority (and should be yours too). Accordingly, LegalJob would not put too much weight on that point unless you had the sense that Firm X affirmatively discourages you from speaking and writing and taking outside leadership roles.
► Intangibles. This item is the miscellaneous category. You mentioned that Firm Y has been rated as one of the top firms for women. Obviously, this item is important to you and a strong pro for Firm Y. Are there many women working at Firm X? Are there many women partners at Firm X? Perhaps you can talk to them and raise your comfort level. Another item in this category could be the make up of the group in which you will be working. Note that this item could also fall in the professional development category. You mentioned that Firm X has several associates at your level, while Firm Y has a few entry level associates and one very senior associate. These facts could cut both ways in terms of pros and cons. On the one hand, having several associates at your level could be helpful in terms of going through firm life together and bouncing ideas of each other. On the other hand, your professional development opportunities may be increased at Firm Y in that you may be able to work directly with partners more frequently (and have the potential for increased client contact) and you may have more chances to mentor younger associates since you do not have much competition. This item is intangible because different people will have different preferences. It sounds like you prefer to work in an environment with several associates at your level, so pro for Firm X.
Overall, it seems that while Firm Y has some great pros, Firm X is a stronger fit for you. Good luck!