Q: I am currently a second-year associate at a national firm in Boston. Though my grades were very average, I interviewed with the firm when the economy was booming, and was hired as a summer student. I should also mention that I graduated from a very high ranking law school.
I recently became engaged to an investment banker in New York. I asked the managing partner of my Boston firm about the possibilities of transferring to the New York office. He said not to worry, and set me up with the New York office for a round of interviews.
Unfortunately, the New York office will not hire me. I have not been given any reasons, either by the New York office of my firm, or from anyone in Boston.
The immediate fallout from this is that some of the partners in my own department have stopped giving me assignments, saying that they do not want to waste their time with me since my goal is to be in New York. A few partners insisted that I be kept on because my work is good. So, for the moment, I still have a job.
I still want to move to New York, and have been quietly looking at other firms there. However, the few interviews that I have had with large national firms have not been successful. Everyone asks me why I do not just transfer to the New York office of my Boston firm. My response is that the firms don't, as a matter of practice, transfer junior associates around that easily. This answer is difficult to swallow for firms that do, in fact, transfer people around.
What should I tell firms when they ask why I just don’t transfer to the New York office of my current firm?
I certainly empathize with your situation. You really are in a tough spot – on one hand, you are separated from your fiancé and are trying to find a job in NYC and, on the other hand, you want to make sure that you are busy at work and still gainfully employed until you do find a new opportunity.
I suppose that I should start out by giving a word of warning. If possible, it is always best to have some other opportunities in your back pocket before announcing to your current firm that you would like to transfer to a branch office. Since your intentions have been made clear to the firm, it is somewhat understandable why some partners are reluctant to hand over new assignments to you. After all, they might put you on a very important client matter and then, in the middle of the deal or the litigation, you give notice and leave the firm.
Since the managing partner had no reluctance in referring you to the New York office, it sounds as if he has been happy with your work. I suggest that you sit down with him at this time and let him know that you intend to be as responsible and committed as you have been in the past until the very day that leave the firm for a new position in New York. You might want to have the same kind of conversation with the partners who continue to give you assignments. Let them know how much you appreciate their confidence in you and that you hope they will continue to give you work.
Next, you need to contact the recruiters in New York and see if any of them have potential opportunities for someone with your background. You also should contact the career services office of your law school as they might know of some law firms in New York that are looking for associates with your experience. You might also want to network with any attorneys that you know from law school who are currently working at firms in New York. You need to pull out all the stops at this time.
Once your job search is underway and there are some interviews in the works, you need to set aside an entire week to spend in New York and go on interviews. I can't imagine that this will come as a surprise to anyone at your firm since your intentions to move have been made very clear.
As far as how to answer the question as to why you are not transferring to the New York branch of your firm, I caution you not to make things up such as that firms don't like to transfer junior associates. You are right – no one is going to buy that line, particularly if you are a valuable associate. Rather than lose you altogether, a firm would prefer to keep you as part of the family and will transfer you as long as there is a need in the branch office.
So, in answering why you are not transferring, you need to put your explanation in the best possible light, which you certainly can do, particularly since no one can tell you why the New York office has rejected your candidacy. When asked why you are not transferring to your firm's New York office, say that you were interested in doing so, but apparently there was no need for someone of your class year and/or practice area at this time. Remind them however, that your reviews have been very good and that you will receive excellent references from the partners that you are working for at this time (and make sure that this is all true).
This is also a chance for you to let the interviewer know why his or her firm is of great interest to you. Do your due diligence prior to any interview and learn as much as possible about the firm and the department with which you are interviewing. Let the interviewer know that you are particularly interested in his or her firm because of a well-thought out reason. This is where your due diligence will allow you to fill in the blank.
Bottom line: Continue to work diligently at your current firm, but spend every moment that you can spare trying to set up interviews in New York. You need to keep your current job until you find a new employer. This means that your biggest challenge will be to persevere with your work in the same manner that earned your good reviews while at the same time being able to move as quickly as possible in your job search.