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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

July 1, 2016

The GC of my company left and my colleague was promoted instead of me to take over the department. I still like my job, but is it the right career move to leave? What should I do?

Julie Q. Brush

I’m sorry you’ve encountered this experience. It is never easy to come in second – in anything. It hurts. It smarts. It bruises. And being edged out for a coveted promotion is a particularly bitter pill to swallow. But for all the pain and suffering, this event need not be a setback. In fact, your career can…and will go on to flourish if you so choose.

So what now? You still like your job, but does it make career sense to stay…or go?

In order to determine the best path forward, you’ll need to examine your current situation and balance your “wants” and “needs” with your goals. Below are a few key issues to assess:

Your Goals.

Is your professional goal to be a General Counsel? If so, how integral is this goal in defining your professional success…or personal happiness? Do you think it can be achieved in your current company given the recent developments? If being a GC is not the Brass Ring for you, do you believe you can still achieve your professional goals in your current role?

Does Career Advancement Still Exist?

If career progression is important to you, this will be a key factor to consider. In my years of experience dealing with these situations, I have found that opportunity for career advancement becomes severely limited. Why? The executives have promoted your colleague to the top spot and since you were the co-lieutenant in the department, there will be nowhere left to climb on the professional ladder in the organization. In addition, should this incoming GC leave, the executives will likely hire an outside candidate rather than pass the baton to you as the heir apparent. From a psychological perspective, they have already considered your candidacy for GC…and have chosen not to pursue it. Done deal. So it is highly unlikely a different result would occur the next time around.

Know Thyself.

Take inventory of your temperament in this situation. Will reporting to your new boss and former equal make you “see red”? Damage your confidence? Create resentment? Embarrassment? Any of these feelings will create a negative experience for you in the office, which will bleed into your personal life and adversely impact you…and your career. So if you believe you will not react well if you stay, it’s time to move on. On the flip side, if you can make peace with the decision and move forward positively then staying might be a viable option. Might be…

Do Other Happiness Elements Exist?

You mentioned that like your job. How much do you like it? How much do you like the company and your colleagues? What is it about these factors that you like? Do you think they’d be difficult to find or replicate in another opportunity? How heavily do these factors weigh in your ability to be happy if you stay in your current position?

Take Inventory of the Current Legal Market.

Talk to the experts and get a sense of the current hiring market. Are many employers hiring? If so, who are they and what are the practice areas in high demand? What does the current GC market look like for public and private companies? How does your background stack up? How marketable are you as a candidate? Why/Why not? What is market compensation for your practice profile? Where does your current comp fit on the spectrum? What are the latest trends with titles? Depending on the answers above, the market may be ripe for exploration or a place where waiting is the better option.

After you analyze and weigh these factors, a much clearer picture will emerge as to the best direction to pursue. But regardless of whether you decide to stay or go, I recommend that you have an open conversation now with your new boss – as s/he may be feeling a bit awkward as well. Welcome him/her to the role, offer your congratulations and express no hard feelings. Finally, reiterate your desire to add value and help create success for him/her and the legal team. By taking the high road, you are creating goodwill and building a positive foundation for whatever the future may hold – stay or leave. And that is the mark of a true professional.

You’ve recently been dealt a professional blow. And your disappointment is understandable. But choices do exist for you to move your career forward and stay on course to reach your goals. So examine your current situation closely and the all right choices…and actions will become clear.

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