How to Change Law Firms Without Losing Your Soul

After almost 14 years with my former firm, I made a change to a new firm this May. As excited as I was by the new opportunity, it was a hard process. There were many thoughts swirling in my mind and there was a ton of emotion. My reasons for making the change will remain private out of respect for everyone involved, but I have already said publicly that I was grateful for the start my former firm had given me. In this way, the goal when I left was not just to pursue a new opportunity but to do it while causing as little pain as possible.

Experience tells me that I am not alone in this. Even when a job is no longer right for us, we may feel loyalty to and genuinely want the best for the team we are leaving. We may need to maintain good relationships since lawyers in some jurisdictions might all know each other. Or maybe we just don’t want the personal baggage of knowing we made a hard situation worse with nasty behavior.

With all of those things in mind, here are the steps I took that helped me make my decision and leave with as much grace as possible.

1. Pick a new firm with good values.

Most of us would like to think that we are perfect angels and would always do the right thing no matter what. But, the truth is that we are social beings and are heavily influenced by those around us. Thus, if you want to live your values, it really helps to work at a firm aligned with them. One of the best things you can do to make a good transition is to pick a firm with good people who can support and guide you and will not put inappropriate pressure on you. In other words, the first step towards leaving well is to be sure that you are joining a team with good people.

2. Don’t gossip before you give notice.

This may be one of the hardest things for lawyers to do because we are incredibly social. Yet, this is why you should be cautious about sharing information about your plans too soon. Word spreads quickly among lawyers and the rise of social media has made that phenomenon even faster. To honor the feelings of your colleagues and allow for a planned message to clients, it is best to avoid discussing your plans publicly before you give notice to your firm.

3. Don’t play games with client relationships.

This one should be a no-brainer since the ethical rules prohibit it, but the temptation to get a competitive advantage in retaining clients is always there. Don’t give in. Following the rules when it comes to client relationships in the midst of attorney transitions is essential. Not only does it avoid putting clients in an awkward position, it also avoids behavior that will all but guarantee an acrimonious relationship with your former firm.

4. Talk to calmer and wiser people.

Though you should be discrete about it, life change necessitates seeking counsel from a wise and stable person. Ideally, this person can listen to you and remind you to take the long view and walk in the other person’s shoes. They can help you to focus on your future instead of getting embroiled in issues from the past. They can help you avoid becoming defensive or combative because you feel frustrated or unsure.

In the best case, they can even help you prepare for the difficult conversations that await you and help you plan out how you are going to give notice. Taking the time to talk out your concerns and plan out your course of action with a trusted advisor will help you stay true to your values even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

5. Manage your emotions.

Leaving a law firm is not just a business transaction. It also means changing or perhaps terminating some relationships. Emotions are likely to arise on all sides. It doesn’t work to fight them, so your best bet is to care for them. Expect that you may have to deal with a range of potentially conflicting emotions both in yourself and others. Plan in time to write or talk these issues out with interested parties or trusted friends and relatives. Move as much as possible to discharge excess energy and relieve stress. Give yourself grace as your emotions fluctuate from elation about the future to sadness and even grief about the past.

When you change jobs or think about changing jobs, guilt may be one of the first emotions you feel. Our work as attorneys and roles in our firms can serve as a foundational part of our identities. The idea of changing these roles can cause us to feel like we are being disloyal or doing something wrong. Or it can just cause fear about what the future might bring.

At the core of many of these emotions, you may often find judgment. When you can move past the judgment or at least hold it a little less tightly, another opportunity opens up. Instead of focusing on whether you or your decision is good or bad, you can focus with more precision on how to execute your decision the right way. If you make ethics and values the cornerstone of your transition plan and balance the emotions of yourself and others, you can change your law firm without losing your soul.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Confidence in Job Searches: Interview with Legal Recruiter Bryan Silver

We are talking about confidence this month on the blog. What does that term mean to you as it relates to the work you do for attorney recruitment?

In terms of my work, confidence means trusting my experience and skills enough to do the work involved in building rapport quickly with the best and brightest BigLaw Mid-Level Associates, and getting them to trust me with their careers.  I have confidence in my communication style that I’ve built over the years that allows me to get along stupidly well with smart attorneys.  I get confidence when I think about the ways in which what I do has significantly helped people. 

I’ve had a candidate get a $110K boost in his base salary.  Others get the mentoring or the adjustment in responsibilities they’re looking for.  Some move to a place where the billable hourly requirement offers an improvement in work-life balance.  I know these things give people meaningful change that they feel both in their careers but also in their lives outside of work. 

The job market for lawyers is really active right now. Does that mean confidence doesn’t really matter or matters less?

It always matters.  Having confidence allows someone to do their best work. Whether they are on an interview, or doing attorney work.  Even if there is an increased demand for talent, the firms and businesses who hire attorneys are still interested in working with the best people.  

Confidence tends to be important for lawyers, but how important is it when searching for a job or transitioning to a new role? Why do you think it is important?

I think it’s very important to appear confident when job searching or starting somewhere new.  The reason that it’s so important is because there is competition for each role.  All that law firm or business cares about is their needs and how to fill them.  They’re interested in hiring the candidate who makes the very best business sense.  The margin between the candidate who gets an offer and the one who doesn’t could be razor-thin. 

I often compare it to the Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding competition.  Can you tell the difference between who wins first and second place?  Me neither.  Your interview might come down to a “photo finish.”  Feeling and appearing as confident as possible will help you achieve your peak performance and make the best possible presentation in an interview.  

Do attorneys looking for new roles care about how confident prospective firms appear? If so, in what ways?

Absolutely.  Attorneys are looking for firms that can help them achieve their goals and solve their limitations.  I deal with candidates who get multiple offers.  They select the firm that best checks their important boxes.  The one that can best be the aspirin to their headache.  The main boxes are money, responsibilities, hours, lifestyle, environment and future career growth. 

How does one effectively project confidence while searching for a job without looking like an arrogant jerk or overselling their abilities? 

Your interview is a sales presentation.  Zig Ziglar said, “selling is caring, and if you care you must sell.”  I think adopting a more positive outlook on sales helps.  Instead of looking at it as something that you do TO somebody, look at it as something you do FOR and WITH somebody.” You don’t want to sell ice to an Eskimo.  You want to sell HEAT to an Eskimo.  You can confidently present that your experience and skills are the solution to the company’s problems.  This is not arrogance.  It’s exactly what the interviewer is hoping to see.  I always remind people before interviews to turn the volume up on their strength and what is unique about them. 

Recently I presented a candidate who mostly did Toxic Tort Defense work to a firm that did more sophisticated complex commercial litigation.  He was worried that his experience wouldn’t be very highly regarded.  I reminded him that they wouldn’t be interviewing him if there wasn’t a serious chance that he could win.  Then I remember saying, “maybe you haven’t worked on Cryptocurrency matters yet, but I bet you’re the only candidate they’re going to meet who speaks English, Spanish and Chinese.”  I learned that the team was divided between him and one other candidate and the final decision came down to the Practice Group lead. 

What practical tips do you offer the attorneys you work with to help them boost confidence to prepare for interviews?

I tell people to do their homework on the firm and the interviewers.  Think of their best skills and plan to tell stories that demonstrate these skills.  I tell people to prepare good questions for the interviewers because asking questions shows interest.  I always suggest that people try to relax and trust their experience.  I liken it to Tiger Woods teeing off on the first hole at Torrey Pines.  When he walks to the tee, he’s not thinking about every little nuance of his swing.  He’s not thinking about his foot position or club-head speed.  Because he’s so well prepared by all of his experience, he’s able to simply approach the ball and swing.  I tell people that no one is going to be able to talk about their experience better than they can, so just approach the ball and swing. 

Bryan Silver leads the national associate division for the Attorney Search Group. In this role, he helps law firms build the best teams and helps associate attorneys accelerate their careers. Bryan grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. He is an Eagles fan and aims to prove that it is possible to be a decent human being at the same time. After pivoting from a career in digital animation and visual effects in movies, Bryan spent years in a niche sales role, aimed at the legal industry. Outside of work, he enjoys stand-up comedy, baseball games, movies, playing guitar, trivia nights, barbecuing and scuba diving. He lives in San Diego with his Wife, Marie and 5-year-old Twins, Lily and Joey. Bryan has an interest in mindfulness and that’s what led me to connect with him on LinkedIn. He’s a good follow and you should find him there too.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.