Question & Answer
Start to Depart?
August 21, 2012
I am a fifth-year associate at a large NYC law firm. I graduated second in my class from a less than top teir NYC law school and clerked for two years with a federal district judge. I have received numerious calls from headhunters.
I am interested in white collar practice -- an area in which my firm does very little work. I am generally happy at my firm, but do not really know my chances of making partner. My question . . . how do I know when it is time to make a move?
Everyone I talk to tells me that time is now, however being at my firm for just over two years, I'm not sure whether I should be looking at this point. Any insight would be useful.
Dear Everyone's Talking:
If absolutely everyone you speak with is telling you that now is the time to make a move, maybe you should start listening. But before you jump, let's take a look at what you are telling everyone.
The first thing that I really focused in on was the fact that you expressed an interest in a white collar practice but clearly there really is not much of a chance for you to get any work in this area at the firm you are currently associated with. Next, I noted that you are "generally happy" but unclear as to your partnership track. I then wondered about your job history. You explained that you had a federal clerkship for two years and that you have been with your current firm for two years now. That means that you were somewhere for only one year but you didn't explain that position at all.
What happened there? Why such a short stint? Obviously you had some good reasons because apparently you were able to lateral over to a BigLaw firm without any difficulty. Your academic credentials are stellar. Graduating #2 from your law school class is a great accomplishment and so of course you are receiving numerous calls from headhunters.
As a fifth year associate, generally this is a prime time to make a lateral move and that is probably why everyone you are speaking with is telling you to make a move now. However, in your particular situation, this will be your fourth job (counting your clerkship) and your resume is starting to demonstrate some instability in terms of sticking with an employer. This is going to be a critical move for you one where you are going to have to stay put for quite a while. This is the move where down the road hopefully you are going to make partner or else move on…an up or out opportunity.
If you decide to stick around your current firm for the next few years you are going to end up being too senior to be marketed as a lateral associate to other law firms. Fifth and sixth year associates are really the most viable candidates and I suspect fifth years are really the most desirable…once again, hence the reason you are getting so many phone calls from recruiters.
My suggestion to you is to figure out one or two of the recruiters that you have developed a phone relationship with over the past two years or perhaps if you were placed at your current firm by a recruiter, reach out to him/her and ask to get together for an informational meeting. Express your interest in moving to another firm at this time with a strong partnership and perhaps also the opportunity to work in the white collar practice area. As a fifth year associate without any experience in this practice area, that might be a long shot but it is always worth exploring, particularly with your excellent academic transcript.
I do think this is a good time for you to be exploring new opportunities but again I caution you to do your due diligence and think long and hard before accepting an offer. Make sure that any offer you are considering is for a firm where you can see yourself for many years to come. Best wishes!
Ann M. Israel