Question & Answer
Then I Saw My Fiancée's Sister and Wow!
February 05, 2013
I recently changed firms and practice areas. Once I came onboard the new firm, I realized they have another practice area that I am interested in. How do I go about asking to work in that practice area (which is busy and sounds like they could use the help) without offending the partner my current group is assigned to?
I wish you had told us what year you graduated from law school. If you are a senior associate then I would have a completely different answer for you. But I suspect you are very junior since your new firm was open to letting you change practice areas. For the sake of my answer to your question, I am guessing you are a second year associate (certainly no more senior than a third year).
As a second year you are now on your second job and for all intents and purposes, if you go into a new practice area, many might consider it as your third job.
I am not worrying about offending the partner in your current practice area. Unless you are the only two people in that group, he/she probably doesn't even know you exist. And even if the two of you are thick as thieves, there is no offense intended when someone switches into a different practice group (unless there is some bad blood between you and the partner that you are not telling us about and in that case, he/she would probably be happy to see you go).
What I am worrying about is the general impression you are about to impart to everyone at the firm (or, at least, those who are made aware of your indecision). It's time for you to decide what you want to be when you grow up.
You need to think very seriously if this third practice area is really where you want to be before mentioning this to anyone at the firm. How did you miss knowing about this practice group when you were interviewing with the new firm? Surely, if they really are so busy that they are looking for more associates, you should have expressed an interest in this group before you accepted an offer. You didn't follow one of the top rules of interviewing -- do your due diligence.
How did it happen that you were hired for your current group since you clearly did not have any experience in that practice area? You must be a sensational interviewer and a very attractive and viable candidate and the firm must have been very excited about you.
I hope you haven't been at this job for much longer than a couple of weeks. The sooner you mention that you would like to jump over to yet another practice group, the better. This is yet another area where you do not have experience and if you really are a second year associate, the firm might have categorized you as a first year (although many firms will pay a candidate in this type of situation on a scale equivalent to their true class year but hold them back a year for partnership consideration). All the more reason to make the move now, if that is what you have determined is the right thing to do.
The first thing to do is to speak to the hiring partner and explain your reasons for wanting to switch groups (and your reasons had better be cohesive, solid and make a lot of sense). If there really is a need in that department for an extra associate, you might get lucky. However, you had better really do your due diligence on that department, the partners and the practice area before making this switch because if you decide down the road that this isn't the right type of practice for you once again, you are dead in the water.
Indecision in the practice of law is not considered to be a good thing. Once you make this move, if your firm approves, this is where you had better stay for a long, long time. And if they refuse your request, you might be considered a risk for your department and that is when the bad feelings about you might occur.
Please be sure this is what you want to do and truly believe this is where you will be happy before you say anything. But make that decision soon -- don't let time go by before you put in your request. Best wishes!
Ann M. Israel