Is Changing Practice Areas within a Law Firm a Good Move? | \n

Is Changing Practice Areas within a Law Firm a Good Move?


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I am an associate with a top firm in Manhattan. Work in my practice area at the firm (M&A) has gotten very slow, and my partner mentor has asked me if I want to transfer to another, busier group within the firm such as litigation. Should I do so even if I have no interest in litigation and do not ever plan on practicing in this area of the law? -James C., New York, NY
Is changing practice areas within law firm - a good move?


In today's market, which is volatile at best, this is a very common question. The up and down of the stock market has taken its toll on a number of firm clients. It has, therefore, taken its toll on a number of firms - and their influx of business from such clients. It's not surprising to hear that several key areas of practice are slow this season, such as M&A, structured finance, and any practice that relies on the credit markets.

In light of this slowdown, some associates are finding themselves without a great deal of work to do this summer. When faced with low billables for weeks on end, an associate really only has three choices: (1) sit it out and hope the market improves and business picks up; (2) move to a busier practice group within the firm; or (3) switch firms. We are going to focus on option number two.

Ideally, it is best to move to a busier practice group within your practice area. Thus, if you are an M&A associate, when M&A is slow, try and jump to the securities/capital markets or hedge fund practice groups. Although these are different legs of the corporate animal, keeping a consistent resume is very important, and I would rather see you become a corporate generalist than a jack-of-all-trades in a number of different or unrelated practice areas.

Having said this, when switching to another leg of corporate practice is not possible at your firm and your only option is moving to a practice group which is outside of your current subject area (such as moving from corporate to litigation), this move requires a bit more thought. It is a weighing of realities and priorities. If your firm is struggling or you are sensing layoffs, a move to the litigation practice may not be ideal, but it will keep you employed, busy, learning, and engaged.
For those of us with a mortgage and children on the brain, that biweekly paycheck cannot be undervalued. Thus, if maintaining an income is important to you right now, move to litigation. It is not an ideal scenario, but it will keep you employed, and your resume will continue to feature the same employer. That is valuable.

There is also value in taking on corporate-related pro bono projects during this period so that while you are doing litigation, you are also adding some new corporate matters to your resume. They may not be client billable, but again, they add value. Finally, you should keep your eye on the prize and switch back into corporate as soon as the market improves and your partners allow.

If, on the other hand, a consistent income is not your top priority and you are more inclined to take a risk, you may entertain the option of staying where you are in the M&A practice and simply waiting things out. Keep in mind, however, that "waiting things out" can be risky. If, for example, three more months pass without any work in M&A, you may be recast as the low-hanging fruit in the firm - and if your firm is looking to lay people off, that is not the type of fruit you want to be. Thus, staying in a slow practice group during a down period has attendant risks, which only you can consider and decide upon.

Finally, you may decide to cast off your slow practice and the partner's undesirable offer to have you switch practice groups and move to another firm altogether. This is a very real option, although finding a new firm can be a slow process during the summertime, which, traditionally, is the sleepy time for lateral hiring.

Thus, when thinking about ways to keep yourself busy in a slow practice, I would recommend not letting pride or a certain "vision" of yourself get in the way of keeping yourself valuable within your firm. Law firms are businesses. When business gets slow and your goal is to stay busy, weigh your personal priorities, compare them against your career priorities, and make an informed decision.

Please see this article to find out if litigation is right for you: Why Most Attorneys Have No Business Being Litigators: Fifteen Reasons Why You Should Not Be a Litigator

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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