As a partner contemplating a lateral move, this is often the most difficult question to answer. If you are like most of your peers, the question is rarely a clear cut “yes” or “no.” It’s extremely unusual to join a firm and stay there your entire career, given that firms constantly evolve, in both good and bad ways.
Most lawyers have incredibly high thresholds for discomfort. They will stay in a challenging work environment for many years before admitting to themselves that the discomfort of staying outweighs the uncertainty and risk associated with a move. If you are like most partners, some of these thoughts might have gone through your head at some point:
- “Sure, this is not an ideal situation but nowhere is perfect.”
- “The devil I know is better than the devil I don’t know.”
- “I’ve heard stories of partners who left and it was much worse at their new firm.”
- “I’ve built up a lot of good will and it will take too long to rebuild that at a new firm.”
- “I don’t want to let my team down or leave them behind.”
On the other hand, can you relate to any of these?
- “My clients have expressly stated they need additional support in a certain practice area and my firm has tried, unsuccessfully, to build this practice. I am leaving work on the table for which I could otherwise receive credit.”
- “I am spending too much time on administrative and/or management matters, which is not recognized in my compensation. I realize that being a “good partner” means advancing others’ self -interest before my own. I am fine doing this, but it feels nobody is looking out for me.”
- “Our firm is trying to ‘trade up’ in terms of clients and raising rates, but this is making it more difficult for me to keep my existing clients because I am being undercut by firms that allow for more rate flexibility.”
- “I am not being compensated fairly for the value I am bringing to the firm and/or too many other people are benefitting from my own efforts in a manner that feels inequitable”
- “I want to know what my market value is but am very concerned about confidentiality. My compensation is determined largely by somebody I barely know, and who has his/her own agenda. It’s too political and subjective.”
- “Our firm has been successful for the past 50 years, but I’m not sure our model is going to remain successful for the next 10-20 years.”
- “Our practice group was a leader in the market for many years, but the top partners are retiring/phasing out, and the firm does not seem to be investing in filling these anticipated gaps. Other firms, who seem to be hungrier and more proactive in my practice, are becoming real threats.”
- “It seems that more and more, “potential” or “philosophical/business” client sensitivities block new client relationships, and this is adversely impacting my practice in a significant way. Determining what a conflict is depends on who is providing the definition, and it’s very much out of my control.”
- “I like my day-to-day work, but this is not the same firm I joined. I don’t like what it’s become.”
- “My firm’s geographic footprint is not aligned with the needs of my clients.”
Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to move (see Questionable Reasons to Move) but sometimes it obviously does, if done for the right reasons.
It’s a nuanced assessment and is often more art than science. So this article ends with a big “maybe.” Keep reading to gain more clarity, including this.