How to Switch Law Firms without Making Yourself Miserable
Summary: Here are some ways to smooth the transition and ease the tension and stress inherent in changing law firms.
As many an old-timer will tell you, the legal world has changed dramatically and very few lawyers remain at the firm that hired them out of law school. Every associate in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City has experienced that barrage of phone calls from recruiters telling them how marketable he or she is. Some associates will move after just a few years and others will make the jump as senior associates. Changing jobs presents a set of unique challenges and opportunities which can be at once scary and exhilarating. Here are some ways to smooth the transition and ease the tension and stress inherent in changing firms.
NEW FIRM, NEW WAYS
You are accustomed to how your old firm operated from big picture items like assignments and reviews to the smaller things like getting expenses reimbursed and checking books out of the library. Many associates only know one way for a law firm to operate. Your new firm is going to be different. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, just different. Of course, it is going to take some time to get the lay of this new land and to become as accustomed to the new system. But as you do, keep the following in mind:
No one wants to hear how your old firm did things. Your old firm may have done it better, faster and cheaper and there may come a time when you want to raise that issue with your new firm, but you should not do it right away. Your new coworkers are just as entrenched in their system, faults and all, as you were in your old system.
You are also going to make some silly mistakes that really don't matter. You may fill out the wrong form, call the wrong person to fix a problem or get lost looking for the files. In your old firm you were a mistress (or master) of the universe incapable of such a faux pas, but times have changed. Have a good attitude and be able to laugh at yourself. Most important, ask others for help early and often.
At your old firm you were on a first name basis with almost everyone you came in contact with and you were a known quantity with a reputation for hard work and careful attention to detail. You changed jobs, but your reputation did not. It is time to start making new first impressions. Just as when you first started practicing law, first impressions are often the most important. Be extra careful and extra diligent. You are not a first year anymore and therefore have less of an excuse for mindless mistakes.
Significantly, unlike when you first started, you are no longer on the bottom of the ladder. You will have to make a good impression on lawyers who are junior to you and who will be working under your supervision. Do not think that your reputation will grow solely based on your interaction with the more senior lawyers. The senior lawyers will be asking the more junior people about you. They know and trust the junior people and will likely credit their opinions in a significant way. Hopefully, you have already learned how to be an effective supervisor and making a good impression on those junior to you will not be too difficult. But make an extra effort. Good words from a more junior associate can be money in the bank.
Take the time to make contacts at your new firm, including the support staff. They can save your professional life, and in this case, they can help make the transition much easier. From the start, build goodwill with people who can help you when you make a mistake or are under a tight deadline and need the impossible.
A WHOLE NEW VINE
Firms are not unlike extended families with complex interrelationships between attorneys forged over many years. You will not be able to learn all about it overnight. Of course, every office has someone who will take it upon themselves to give you a crash course in the sundry sagas running through the halls. Take them all with a healthy grain of salt and trust your own impressions more than what you hear second, third and fourth-hand. As you probably realized in your old firm, many of the tales are grossly overstated and, sometimes, simply legend. You are being bombarded with information from how to operate the copier to the substance of the new cases or transactions you are working on. It is already an information overload and office politics is most likely only going to be a distraction.
KEEP SOME ROUTINES
One nice side-benefit to changing jobs is that it forces you to start with a clean office and a clean desk. If you have been meaning to try new ways to be more productive and better organized, there is no better time to experiment, within reason. If trying something new could get in the way of making a good fresh impression, wait a while before doing it. A multitude of things are going to change in your daily practice, having some familiar routines can be important.
If you have a set way of handling a closing, do not change it wholesale the first time you do so at the new firm because you think the new way could be better. That first closing is a big game and you should go in with what got you there. Stick with the fundamentals and save your razzle-dazzle for later in the game.
You are going to be spending a good deal of time with these new people. While you want to adjust quickly to the work atmosphere, you also want to consider the social aspects. Be yourself and make an extra effort to make friends. People are just as interested in your personality as your ability and just as you are making a new professional impression, you are making a new social impression.
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