By Lauren Drake, Partner, Macrae

If lawyers worked out of offices these days, the question repeatedly whispered around the watercooler (or its more modern equivalent) would likely be “So, are you thinking of moving?” Current demand for talented associates is, in the words of one reporter, “absurdly absurd.” And, from where I stand as a recruiter focused on the partner market, attorneys at the top have every bit as much opportunity to make strategic lateral moves as their junior colleagues.

In ordinary times, it can be tempting to join the firm-hopping bandwagon when demand for lateral talent is strong. And considering we’re a year into a pandemic that has had significant consequences for many women attorneys, particularly those with children, it may be seem a no-brainer to seek greener pastures. But is it? How can you determine if, and when, the time is right to take your career in a new direction?

Next week I’ll moderate a session on this topic as part of the WBA’s virtual Spring Career Series: Make Your Moves, which kicks off Monday and runs through the end of the month. Here, I’ll plant some food for thought.

Too often the “lure of inertia” keeps people in jobs they don’t love (or even like) or in those that aren’t likely to get them where they want to go in their careers. I’d posit that historically, this affliction was more common in women than men. But just as law firms are increasingly being run like businesses, women lawyers are increasingly running their careers that way, too. They’re taking charge. This means remaining open to the possibility of changing firms in furtherance of their professional objectives – and making some careful considerations along the away.

#1: Why Should I Move?

Whether you’re serious about making a move or just beginning to entertain the idea, it’s important to determine where the biggest problem with your current situation lies. I hear four themes from candidates again and again: (1) Their practice is not a strategic priority for their current firm; (2) Their practice is thriving, but the firm is not; (3) They feel undercompensated or under-supported; and (4) They’re running into many client conflicts. Once you identify your core conflict, consider whether there’s anything you can do to resolve it. If not, you’ll know what to pay close attention to in your job search.

#2: What Kind of Firm am I Seeking?

It can be tempting to follow the money, and we all know that women lawyers getting paid more is a very good thing. But be sure to follow your gut instincts, informed by having done your homework. Before you set off on your search, answer the following questions (ideally in writing): (1) What do you love about your current platform that you’d aim to find elsewhere? (2) What about it is holding you back? (3) What characteristics would a new firm have that would enable you to be even more successful than you are right now? (4) What words/phrases would you use to describe your ideal firm’s culture? (5) What words/phrases would you use to describe a firm you’d never want to be a part of? (6) What would your optimal compensation package look like? In addition to compensation, what benefits must you have and which would be nice to have?

#3: How Do I Get Started?

 Should you work with a recruiter? Just as a realtor can help you get the right home at the right price, partnering with a recruiter on a lateral move can be extremely helpful. A skilled recruiter can supply you with critical market information, from where the opportunities are to insights into a firm’s culture, compensation, financials, and more. She can point you toward firms that might be a match based on your responses to the questions above and others, and steer you clear of the rest. She can help you prep for meetings and negotiate the best-possible compensation package. To find a recruiter you click with, ask around quietly in your networks and speak to a few before committing. If you prefer to make a move simply by relying on your personal network, keep in mind that this leaves you without the “professional buffer” a recruiter provides when faced with potentially awkward conversations, such as trying to move the process along or negotiating compensation.

#4: What Does the Process Look Like?

 It’s often said that finding a new job is a job in and of itself, and the legal industry is no exception. It’s important to have your ducks in a row – and the right mindset – from the outset. Law firms will likely want to see information about your practice, including the last three years of billings, originations, etc., as well as details of your major client relationships. While in-person interviews are slowly resuming, video meetings will likely be common for some time, and you can expect to have many once you get your foot in the door. (If you work with a recruiter, don’t be shy about asking for pointers on the art of interviewing via Zoom.) The process can move more quickly these days, but aim to meet with at least two firms to give you a broader view of the market. When it’s time to assess your options (e.g., deciding between two offers), keep in mind that you’re playing the long game here. The key factor to consider is which platform will enable you to build or grow your best practice and your best career.

Lauren Drake is a Partner in Washington, D.C. at transatlantic legal recruiting firm Macrae, a sponsor of the WBA’s Spring Career Series. A former lawyer and management consultant, Lauren has been happily helping women navigate and build fulfilling careers for more than 20 years. She invites you to connect with her here.