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Work-life Balance & a Biglaw Job


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I have worked very hard the last four years to get top grades at a top tier school, work on Law Review, and get an offer from my favorite, prestigious, top-ranked firm. I have worked here ten months, love the firm, love the practice group I am in, and I'm getting good reviews. My fiance feels that this is the time for me to move to his city so we can get serious about our commitment, marry and settle down. Of course, I'm committed to my fiance but I realize that big firms value longevity, and a serious focus on career. What is this move going to do to my professional opportunities?

(Many of these thoughts may apply to same sex couples as well where one partner is relocating to meet the needs of the relationship.)

You are not alone. This scenario is one of the more common stories that cross my desk. Fortunately, there is some empathy for this situation among hiring partners and recruiting staff, but you should be aware of the pitfalls, so you handle it with delicacy and finesse.

First, I would be remiss if I didn't note that I have only worked with women making the move to be in the same location with their future husbands. Rarely, have I helped an imminent husband find a good legal position to relocate near his soon-to-be-wife. Often there is a good reason for choosing who is to move. His job may be in a professional field less amenable to transition, or they both want to settle where he is, or it is a location where their families have settled as well. But, lacking an obvious reason to choose his location, many times, the women still are expected to make the job change. This works if both individuals share that value in terms of their respective professional priorities within a relationship. But, not infrequently, a woman will throw her professional trajectory into the hopper with smoldering resentment (of which she may or may not be consciously aware) to meet an expectation that may not jibe with her sense of fairness and her definition of mutual support between two committed people.

So, the first step in this situation is to examine the decision-making process. Talk out short, medium, and long term goals for each person's respective career both as individuals and as a couple. Map out the pros/cons of location and opportunity for each individual in various locations in light of these goals. Don't assume that you will take turns putting individual career goals first. Don't assume that she is always going to accept that her career will be secondary in light of assumptions about children and gender stereotypes. The current generation is very savvy and evolved when it comes to gender roles and providing mutual support with professional issues. But, in my experience the couples who are the most successful talk it out. Be explicit. Make sure each person understands the other's viewpoint, values, and desires. Ensure that each person feels acknowledged and heard according to their norms of their culture, and the mode in which they want to merge into a relationship. And then, make the decision and jointly figure out how to best unfold the plan.

We will assume that the couple, now living apart in separate cities, has decided that they are going to get married the summer after they both start working as first year associates. They also have decided that they will settle in his city for the long run and she will change firms. Probably the most important tool you have on your side to minimize the negatives of moving to a new firm at this point in your career is timing.

If you can stay at a law firm for at least a year you will minimize the penalty of "leaving too soon." The prevailing wisdom is to stay at least two to three years before any move. But in the case of leaving to marry, staying for a year, and staying even if it means you may be somewhat inconvenienced for a few months, is often seen as a good faith effort on your part. Each situation will be different. If you are a junior litigator and are on a case that is going to be "crazy busy" and you play an important role, try not to leave until your role has been played out. If you think the demands of the case may go on for years, try to give three to six months notice. If you are part of a practice group that is slow on work, often an early departure may not be a negative at all; it might be the best of both worlds, for you and for the firm.

Try not to be totally self-serving. If the firm has provided expensive continuing education programs, a luxurious all-firm retreat, or given you financial support above and beyond the norm, figure out some way to show some appreciation and not give them your "two weeks notice" the day you return from the retreat. Often, you have at least one relationship with an established member of the firm who is also a mentor and a friend. Speak to this person about your long range plans and seek their advice regarding the politics of leaving the firm early, despite having represented that you would probably be there for a much longer period. You may gain some insight regarding what the firm values most in this situation, whether it is staying until a busy case or deal winds up, training someone to do what you were doing, or simply moving on gracefully and expediently so that the firm is no longer making an expensive investment in someone who is not going to be there.

The goal is to not burn bridges, maintain strong collegial relationships, appear savvy and responsible, and ensure a source of references to assist with your search for your next position in your new location. In top tier practices, it is a small world. Attorneys move between firms more than ever before. You may well be meeting the colleagues you worked with in your first firm across the negotiating table, in the courtroom, or as office mates in the future.

In the best of all worlds, a firm may have an office with your practice group in your new location. You can explore transferring rather than leaving the firm. This can be more complicated that it appears at first glance. Often it is a matter of personalities and your perceived value by the managing partner in your current office. If you are moving from a situation where you are sought after to do work for partners, to a situation where you may be begging for work, then perhaps going to a new firm may make more sense than a transfer.

When approaching firms in the new city, a good legal recruiter can help you frame the transition so that it can be seen as a positive and your departure from your first firm is reflected in the best possible light. Try to speak to a recruiter before you give notice, and even better, before you have a rigid time frame. The recruiter can give you market information regarding the potential time frame in that market to find what you want. This can vary tremendously. Optimally, you will not give notice until you have a new position lined up. In tight markets, there may come a time when you simply have to join your fiancé/husband and you leave without having a new position. Be very sure how this will affect your search before you give notice. It can be handled, but it can be a significant negative to many law firms to consider hiring someone who is currently unemployed.

As you consider moving to a new firm, it is a wonderful time to reexamine your values and what you want professionally. After working for a year at a big firm, most associates have a much better idea of what they want and need to develop their career. Pause before you go immediately for prestige and paycheck and make sure the firm lifestyle supports your career goals. It may also be time to rethink your professional goals in light of your married status. Will you have additional time responsibilities at home related to what you and your spouse plan for the near future? Will the choice of neighborhoods to support your goals as a couple have an impact on what you are willing to do in terms of a commute? Will supporting your financial goals as a couple mandate a certain level of compensation, or will your marriage allow more freedom in that respect?

An unexpected career transition related to a committed relationship need not be a professional negative. Have great communication with your spouse-to-be so that everyone's values and goals are acknowledged in formulating the plan. Approach the firm you are leaving with honesty, humility and flexibility. Use your legal search consultant to help you form a search strategy in your new location that recognizes your evolving career goals, the realities of the market you are entering, and the need to make a graceful exit from your old firm.

We help people make these career moves successfully all the time. And congratulations!

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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