No attorney at an AmLaw 50 firm is unaware of the market’s blazing temperature; it’s the reason why your inbox has 548 unopened recruiter emails and why you’re afraid to answer calls from unknown numbers.
So as the legal recruiters who like to zig when others zag, we’ll give you the candid truth about when it’s not the right time to move. How’s that for being honest brokers?
The anti-sale (aka, the reasons you should stay at your current job):
“The general rule of thumb,” as told by our recruiter Amdie Mengistu, “is to spend two to three years at a job before you look to make a move.” There are of course exceptions to that rule (being put in a practice you hate, not getting the kind of work you were promised, working for an abusive partner), but generally it’s a good rule. “In a hot market, however, the timeline is somewhat sped up and one to two years is more acceptable.”
Given that you have been at your job for more than a hot minute, ask yourself if your firm (/company if you’re in-house) is doing exceptionally well, and if that’s reflected in how they treat you. "Almost every firm's PPP went up last year. But what does that actually mean for the lives of associates? Your firm should be trying to keep you happy." Amdie says. Has there been a net-positive stream of associates coming into your firm to help deal with the workload? Is your firm encouraging time off, valuing your well-being over their clients’ insane demands, and giving you more autonomy and ownership over your work? If the answer to all of those questions is yes, and you love your job, then by all means, stay. We’re not in the business of making people leave a good thing.
A more speculative reason, but possibly also the best reason for staying, is thinking that you may be promoted to partner soon. “I’ve told plenty of candidates who had convincing arguments that they would be promoted in the next six months to stay where they are,” Amdie recalls. Once you have that title, it’s hard for other firms to take it away, and you’ll be a more desirable candidate. "We worked with one candidate who started her search a year before making partner, talking to firms about counsel or non-equity partner titles. She put her search on hold, then came back to it when she made partner, and firms were falling over backwards trying to recruit her. She ended up getting offered a guarantee that was about 3x as high as what was discussed in her initial search.” The caveat here is that you need to be very honest with yourself about your odds of making partner.
Last, if you don’t like your job but you’re due for a huge bonus in a month, stay put, but do start interviewing now so you’ll be ready to move the second the money hits your account. A lot of firms do offer signing bonuses to make up for lost comp, but usually when you get to the last month or two before your bonus, it stops making sense for your new firm to offer to cover that expense. Put your head down and don’t give any indication that you’re quitting soon. You wouldn’t believe it, but we’ve actually heard stories of attorneys who quit a week before their December bonuses, thinking that because they had worked hard all year, they’d still get the bonus. They definitely did not.
The sale (sorry, it's in our DNA to tell you why you should be open to opportunities):
“In a market like this, it is an active decision to stay put in your role.”
Amdie makes a good point. If you’re an associate, there will likely never be another time in your career as an associate where you have more leverage as a candidate than you do now. So deciding to stay put should be something that’s strategic and well thought out. Why not take a few information-only meetings and let yourself be surprised by what's out there?
“Even if you just test the market but choose to stay, you gain leverage to improve your current role. This is the best market to have your skill set valuated. That could mean getting more of the work that you want, better comp if you’re a partner, or just getting a better sense of what’s out there,” Amdie explained. We don’t suggest that anyone start a job search with no intention of taking another job (that’s a waste of everyone’s time and is likely to burn bridges), but searches often do end with a counteroffer from your current firm, if that’s your jam. From our experience though, staying usually isn’t that enticing once you’ve seen what else is out there.
“Unless you are 100% satisfied with all aspects of your practice — comp, subject matter, promotional track — this market is your time to get you where you want to be. All cycles move, and this too will pass…”