While the prospect of a new position can be exciting—perhaps a new title, better pay, and a more prestigious law firm—pause for a moment and consider that new position, even if it seems like it’s your “dream job.”
Consider, first, some of the key aspects to think about, especially in the law firm environment. When you weigh all the factors and ask yourself the right questions, that “dream job” may not be as dreamy as you once believed.
Will your values align?
Does the new position ask you to do things with which you’re not comfortable? Will you have to defend guilty defendants or unscrupulous corporations? Does the law firm specialize in a practice area in which you excel or in which you want to devote most of your time?
Discover the firm’s core values and culture. See if your values and standards of integrity will be supported at this law firm. It’s critical to research and evaluate the new organization to determine if it’s truly your ideal position and that you’re a good fit.
Try to get a sense of whether the work will be too demanding and the amount of time you’ll be required to be at the office. Ask what the expectations are for rain-making, pro bono, continuing legal education, and making partner. Think about the pros and cons to see what the job would cause you to lose and what it could allow you to gain.
Does the firm give off the right vibe?
Look around the office and see if people seem happy. Are they cheerful or do they seem miserable? If everyone is wearing three-piece suits, and there are no casual Fridays or laughter, it may be a sign of inflexibility and a buttoned-up and rigid hierarchical system. While some people might thrive in that environment, ask yourself if you can you thrive there or if you need a more casual atmosphere.
Consider the day-to-day realities of your dream job. Perhaps the firm is located on the other side of town, increasing your commute by 40 minutes.
Look at how they bill their clients and how you’ll be rewarded for bringing in new business.
Who will be your boss and can you work for this person?
These factors may weigh for (or against) taking a new position.
Can you grow as an attorney?
Will your new job allow you to grow professionally? Will you be challenged here? How does this position fit into your career goals? Ask the senior management how you make partner if you’re coming on as an associate and be certain that their explanation is in writing and easy to understand.
What are the fringies?
What are the fringe benefits to the new job? See if you can perform pro bono work and if the firm has a commitment to that cause. Do you get a gym membership and do they have child care? Determine for yourself what your priorities are before setting out. Decide which benefits are non-negotiable for you and those that are simply nice to have.
What do others say about the firm?
One of the best ways to get a sense of the environment and working conditions of a law firm is to ask other attorneys.
Those who have worked at the firm and moved on can give you a sense of what it’s like to work there. In addition, most firms in a community will have some sort or description or reputation attached to them. “The Smith firm is a sweatshop,” meaning that billable hours are the sole determining factor in an attorney’s success. Or “the Jones firm is a solid bunch.” There are blogs, like the ones in Las Vegas and Illinois, that have been created that provide some discussion about area firms and attorneys. While this can be unsubstantiated, in many instances the information is accurate because it’s coming from someone in that firm. These sites may be the first to report layoffs or practice groups that are leaving—both signs of instability and management issues.
See if the firm is highly-rated by other attorneys. Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings™ signify that a large number of the attorney’s peers rank him or her highly for professional excellence in legal knowledge, communication skills, and ethical standards. Martindale-Hubbell Client Review Ratings provide client ratings and comments. The peer review ratings and client review ratings provide a comprehensive view of an attorney’s legal abilities and service and benefit the entire legal community.
See if members of the firm and the firm itself are ranked as AV Preeminent®, which is the highest peer rating standard. In addition, Best Lawyers® is based entirely on peer review. Avvo© and Super Lawyers® also have reviews. These companies can provide you with valuable information about the firm you’re thinking of joining.
Should you hang out your own shingle?
Perhaps your dream job isn’t to be part of a larger law firm, but rather it’s to be your own boss. Attorneys who strike out on their own typically desire the flexibility to practice law the way that suits them best.
If you’re a legal support professional you still have the option to work independently
In addition to the basics of setting up a solo office, being the boss comes with a ton of responsibility. You’ll be the decision-maker for billing, marketing, client in-take, and every other facet of the business. Getting money from your clients (collections) is also a big concern. You’ll need to be comfortable with delating tasks, farming out functions, and managing your time. In addition, you should have a plan of how you will develop clientele and grow the organization.
If you have the opportunity to grasp your dream job, be certain that you don’t wait until you’re miserable in your current situation to make a change. Remember the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Things may not be exactly as they seem with the new opportunity or your perspective could be impaired because you’re desperate to leave your current position.
Try to leverage your current job if and when you decide to make a change. Repair broken relationships, foster more respect, and enhance your skills. Then, when you do leave, you’ll be able to achieve the next level of success. Consider all the questions and issues presented here. That way, you’ll make a clear, rational decision that will propel toward the future.