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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

October 2, 2019
Question

I’ve been in my job for 2 1/2 years and my friends tell me I need to move now or employers will think my experience is stale. Is this true?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

If you were to put a pin in today’s hottest legal profession trends, “Candidate Mobility” would be at the top of the list. The frequency with which lawyers are moving from job to job feels like watching the proverbial revolving door. In one day…..and out the other. Repeat.

In the legal profession of old, job moves were highly frowned upon and indicated that there was “something wrong” with a person who switched.  Back then, the primary catalyst for a job move was the failure to make partner in a law firm: A red-letter brand that sent senior associates packing for more promising pastures.

But as the profession has evolved, the necessity for mobility has increased: startups that go bust, company acquisitions, layoffs, company relocations and a new generation exercising their power and leverage in the market for quick career advancement.

The average tenure of a law firm associate used to be between 7-8 years (that was typically when partnership decisions were made). Today it is between 2-3 years. The firms have tried to plug the migration dam with more money, but this fix has always proved fleeting. In house mobility stats are no different – and are also between 2-3 years before lawyers make a leap. There are some exceptions where candidates can push into 4-5 years, but that life span is on a steep decline. Move frequency can also be correlated with age/generations. Youngers move more and seasoned lawyers stay put longer.

Hiring managers have expressed frustration and dismay by this growing trend. The time, effort and money involved in making the right hire and integrating that team member…is substantial. A candidate departure soon after this is achieved is disruptive, disappointing and demoralizing for the team left behind. This has produced hiring managers who seek flight risk guarantees as part of the hiring process. A tall order indeed in the current market.

You have been in your role for 2 ½ years and you are worried that you have been in your role too long because your friends have told you so. Is this a valid fear?

No.

Being in a job for 2 ½ years is not very long. It takes at least a year to get acclimated to the culture and develop strong sea legs. That leaves a little over a year to perform the role with familiarity and knowing. Not only do you have more value to contribute, but there is still a lot to learn and growth to be had. No employer on the planet will think your tenure is too long or your experience stale. In fact, your longevity will be a virtue when you are ready to make your next move. So relax, you’ve got time.

So how long is too long then? If you are in a role where promotions and development are consistent, you’ll have a runway of roughly 7-8 years before it’s time to contemplate your career options. If your role has little/no forward motion, 4 years (max) is reasonable tenure if you are interested in climbing the corporate ladder.

Also, a word about taking  career advice from friends: Too many lawyers listen to and get freaked out by friends and colleagues who make generalized and/or off-the-cuff statements about the market and compensation. I understand the value of these sound boards – and they are valuable, but it is always prudent to consult a market expert before jumping to conclusions or making material career decisions. Obtaining a more comprehensive understanding about where things are in the profession today will mitigate stress and place you on firmer footing with where you are, where you want to go…and how to get there.

Mobility is at an all-time high in the legal profession, but that doesn’t mean that staying put for a while is a bad thing. Receiving all the education and benefits a role, a culture and colleagues have to offer takes time. And that you have more of in your current role. So take your coat off and stay awhile – you’ll be glad you did.

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