We all make mistakes. A particularly bad mistake is choosing the wrong job out of law school. I get frequent requests for assistance from very junior associates, some of whom have been in their positions for only a few months, who are unhappy where they are and wish to make a lateral move.
Here’s my advice: stay where you are for at least a year. If you can, stay for two. Here’s why you should.
1. As a Practicing Attorney, You Are a Commodity.
Law firms are businesses and they need to make money. The people receiving your resume might think you are a fabulous person, but nothing trumps the bottom line. What firms want to know, first and foremost, is whether you are able to add real monetary value to their practice. Without a certain amount of training (conventional wisdom suggests two years), you simply do not have enough legal knowledge to add much.
You were also a commodity as a promising law student, and firms didn’t expect to make money on you then. Understand that as a commodity, you change significantly once you join a firm and start practicing. Firms that hire laterals want them to walk in knowing what they are doing. Without the benefit of time, you will find that firms do not view you as experienced enough to add anything but potential.
2. You May Be Presenting Yourself as a Losing Bet.
Every time a firm hires a promising new grad, they take a gamble that that person will stay long enough to gain the necessary training add some real value to the firm. If you try to leave your firm too soon, however, you are telling potential employers that your current firm has already lost that gamble. It also tells them that you won’t stick it out through the tough times—for example, if you have to deal with a difficult partner or a particularly taxing matter. In short, it makes you look a little spoiled; if your job isn’t exactly what you want, you’ll walk. Would you take a gamble on that person? I wouldn’t.
Firms place a premium on loyalty. They recognize how rare and valuable a loyal associate is. Your resume needs to demonstrate that you are someone who will give them enough of a commitment, and you do that by showing at least some loyalty to your present job. Jumping ship after only a few months tells a potential employer that you will likely leave them too.
There are certainly legitimate reasons to make a lateral move before the two years’ mark. Maybe your spouse took a job in another city, or your current firm is experiencing hard times. Without a compelling reason, however, attempting a lateral move too early will likely yield few results. If you can, you are better off waiting at least a couple of years.