It seems that many lawyers do not consider changing firms in the fourth quarter of their firms' fiscal year, even when they would otherwise want to, because they are unwilling to walk away from their potential year-end bonuses. Although nobody wants to leave money on the table, there are many reasons why an end-of-the-year move is quite compelling and should be considered.

Double Down: Why Risking Your Bonus Isn't Much of a Gamble

We frequently hear that associate attorneys, while interested in making lateral moves, sometimes restrict their considerations of moving based on the time of the year. It is understandable but ultimately shortsighted to refuse to consider a lateral opportunity only by virtue of the calendar, and there are several reasons why. In short, because many firms are willing to compensate lawyers in whole or in part for walking away from a bonus, failing to consider opportunities available towards the end of the year almost never is a reason to refuse to consider a new firm. Moreover, moving at the end of the year may create opportunities that you would not otherwise have, making it a more auspicious time of year to move laterally.
The first issue to think about is whether by waiting to start a job search, will you lose a particular opportunity altogether.

The firm is looking to hire and may not wait until the turn of the year. While attorneys may be thinking about their bonuses, when firms are identifying their lateral needs, they are rarely considering the date. It is not surprising then that firms’ needs are determined in large part by busy or expanding practices within the firms, and those practices do not slow simply because the year is almost over. What they are considering is the need that they may have for an attorney based on client needs, firm growth, and/or any number of other factors.

Moreover, at year’s end--once the first-year associates have been assigned to various practice groups--a firm is better situated to determine where lateral attorneys can best be utilized, which is often quite germane for a junior-level associate candidate interested in changing firms. Oftentimes, once a search for a particular attorney is completed, the firm will not be in a position to hire an otherwise-qualified candidate regardless of how much the attorney may want that position. In other words, if you are very interested in a particular firm, and that firm has an opening from October to December for an attorney matching your description, you may only have that three-month period to pursue an opportunity with that firm.