As a paralegal, you work closely with attorneys. Perhaps you even have a dedicated relationship with a supervising attorney at your firm. What happens if they leave?
If you have a great working relationship with your attorney, there’s a good chance that they’ll invite you to come work with them at their new firm. Should you follow them to a new job at a different law firm, or stay where you are and continue building your career there?
In this article, we’ll give you the top six considerations to make when deciding whether to hitch your wagon to a relocating attorney.
Ask yourself: what is your lawyer really like?
Sometimes, it is a privilege to work with a particular lawyer. And, sometimes, it’s not as wonderful as it seems.
As a young associate, I remember being so proud that I was chosen to work with a specific partner. After all, he represented professional sports stars and other media figures. His book of business was endless, he had undeniable swagger, and to be chosen as his go-to associate gave me instant credibility at that firm.
The truth, however, was that he was an absolute nightmare to work for. He was unreasonable, unappreciative, and, frankly, mean.
Had I followed him to a new law firm — one where he didn’t have swagger or a built-in reputation — there would have been a good chance that I would have simply been miserable for years while we tried to build a reputation in a new place.
Remember, you’re not just following a job in this scenario. You’re following a person. If that person is unbearable, your job likely will be too.
That said, if the opportunity at the new firm is great for your career and the attorney is the only problem, consider whether you can learn to deal with that person in order to take advantage of the new opportunity.
Ask questions about your position at the existing firm
If you’ve been doing most of your work for one lawyer, you may have questions about what your job will look like if you stay at your current firm.
That’s fair, and you should have questions. Be cognizant, however, of who you talk to about your concerns.
It won’t do you any good to talk to your peers in this situation. Speak with a supervising paralegal or the partner in charge of your department and tell them you’re thinking of leaving. This kind of honesty is tough, but you’re more likely to get honesty in return.
Ask the hard questions about your ongoing viability at the firm without this particular attorney. Are there great opportunities still available, or is it wiser to go where you know your attorney will appreciate you?
Go into this meeting with openness so that you can weigh your options with all the information available. You may even come away from that conversation with lucrative incentives to stay.
Research the heck out of that new firm
Let’s say that you absolutely adore the departing attorney, and you can’t imagine working for any other team but hers.
That’s great. You still need to do detailed reconnaissance about working conditions at your new firm, though.
Use a website that lets you filter search results based on work attributes that are important to you. These could be things like culture, wellness programs, billable hour requirements, etc.
If you have trouble finding the firm on those types of websites, do an internet search for employee reviews, or even reach out to former employees on LinkedIn.
Then, if you have concerns about moving to the new firm, sit down and have a heart-to-heart with the departing attorney.
Since you already have some trust with your attorney, you can be totally candid about things you might hesitate to ask about in a regular interview, like how the firm will react if you need a mental health day or whether maternity leave is available in the near future.
Talk to current paralegals at the new firm
You’re being asked to join a discrete group of individuals at this new firm: the paralegal corps. Try to get access to one or more paralegals so you can interview them about their daily lives at the firm and get a feel for the people with whom you’ll be working.
You might even want to take them to lunch somewhere away from the office where you can ask the hard questions.
Talk about issues such as treatment by attorneys, bonus structures, remote work opportunities, and the like. Many times, people are hesitant to publish their gripes about a firm on the internet (and for good reason). If you get them away from the office, however, you may just get the real story.
Pay attention to the cultural cues you see in these potential peers. Are they all laid back and casual? Do they seem like the highly efficient, productivity-focused types? These clues can help you decide if the work culture at this new firm would be a good fit.
Weigh the realities
Another thing you’ll want to do is weigh the cold, hard realities of life at this new firm.
- How’s the pay compared to your current income?
- Will your commute be longer or shorter?
- Will you be able to continue working remotely or are you expected to be in the office?
- Are there any benefits offered that you don’t have now?
- Do they use the same legal software products that you’re used to, or will you have to learn new systems?
Individually, each of these issues seem relatively inconsequential. When you add them up, however, several negatives might lead to one good reason for you to stay put.
The reverse is also true. Maybe you’re not totally in love with the idea of working for the same attorney, but the new firm offers a lot of little advantages that are good for your career and your lifestyle.
Is there any potential damage to your career path?
Finally, ask yourself how this change in law firms will impact your career.
For example, if you’ve worked years to build a reputation as having expertise in family law, yet the new firm is known more for estate planning work, will that practice focus help or hurt your long-term career goals?
Similarly, you’ll want to ask yourself whether your career goals are aligned with those of the departing attorney.
Let’s say, for instance, that her primary reason for switching firms is so she can achieve a greater work-life balance, but your long-term goal is to work as hard as you can so you can move into paralegal management someday.
That incompatibility may be reason enough for you to stay where you are.
Obviously, there are myriad things to consider when your attorney asks you to follow her to a new firm.
While you make those considerations, though, just be sure to stop and congratulate yourself for being such a great paralegal that your attorney doesn’t want to work without you.