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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 13, 2016
Question

I’m a 7th year litigation associate and want to retool my practice so I can move in house. I’ve been offered a corporate position at another firm, but as a 3rd year. Do I take it or wait for a better offer?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Congratulations on your offer – earning the opportunity to retool your practice is not an easy accomplishment. But a four-year seniority and compensation hit is not to be taken lightly. In order to determine whether accepting the offer is the right…or wrong career move, it will be important to analyze and weigh several factors to gain clarity before making a decision: While the number of in house litigation opportunities has increased, the overwhelming majority of in house opportunities requires a transactions background-either in tech/commercial transactions or corporate (with privacy emerging as hot practice). So if you would like to increase your future in house options, developing a corporate transaction practice is a good career move.

While this may sound surprising, in many ways the seniority hit could have a net positive career impact. You’ve practiced seven years as a litigator and now you will be transitioning to something totally new. Joining at a more junior level will relieve some pressure on you and give you more runway to get up to speed. The firm can also bill you out at a lower billing rate without a great deal of pressure from clients. And in the Darwinian world of law firms, job security gets dicey the more senior you become without a book of business. So the added years will afford you more time to hone your practice. As an in house candidate, your true and adjusted seniority can work to your advantage for a wider range of positions you apply for. In most industries the compensation gap between law firm and in house seems to get wider as law firm lawyers advance in seniority. So the comp adjustment can mitigate the sticker shock when you are ready to transition in house. In addition to these factors, ask yourself the following key question as you assess the viability of this transition:

Do you have any other offers or options?

If you have other offers, you should compare them to this one to see how they stack up. Or if you are interviewing for other positions, it might make sense to complete those processes and compare offers – if timing permits. In addition, multiple offers can provide you with more leverage when it comes time to negotiate title and compensation. But if this is your only offer, the market is likely telling you that waiting for a better offer would be an unwise risk to take.

Can you live on a 3rd year associate salary?

Crunch the numbers. All of them. If you conclude that you cannot pay your bills on a 3rd year associate salary, then this opportunity is not viable…unless you can negotiate a package that is. But if you can manage your life on the offered salary, move on and turn your focus to other aspects of the opportunity that will impact your career.

How prestigious is the firm that is offering you a job?

If the firm is well branded and well regarded, it will be a career benefit to develop a corporate practice at such a firm. Great firms have great clients so the work will be sophisticated and you’ll gain great exposure to high quality business and in house legal execs. In addition, being tethered to an excellent firm will increase your marketability for future opportunities…regardless of your seniority. On the flip side, a move to a head-scratching firm (poorly branded, weak corporate practice etc.) may hinder your candidacy if it raises too many questions.

What’s the market like for retools?

Currently, the market is a bit tough for senior associates who want to retool their practices in law firms. Not impossible, but tough. The most successful retooling profile are lawyers with top credentials, from top firms and who are not too senior (1 – 3 years). With that said, this type of move is not frequent in today’s market.

After thinking deeply about all of these issues, you’ll start to gain greater clarity on how the scale tips. And a clear path will emerge. So go through your analysis and weigh the facts…then walk confidently in the right direction.

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Comments

K.C. Victor, Principal, Victor Legal Solutions

As a recruiter with over thirty years experience, I agree with everything Julie wrote, and believe you are unlikely to get a better offer. Especially if the work is with a company where you expect to be happy, take the job for at least a few years, and learn all you can. The fates, in conjunction with you, will decide whether you stay longer.

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