As a recruiter, I speak with many candidates who want to switch practice groups and unfortunately, this professional dilemma is becoming more common. Many candidates who joined firms within the last five years were not given much choice regarding their initial practice group selections. Economic times were (and remain) tough; and their choices were dictated by which groups had enough work to keep them busy and employed. It is fairly obvious that you have the greatest chance of professional success if you like your work so . . . if you are working in an area of the law that you do not enjoy, then you need to make a change.
Investigate Internally and Be Realistic
I started my legal career as a litigator. However, after four years, I realized that I did not really like to argue with people. I am not sure why it took me four years to have this epiphany, but I digress! I decided that I wanted to switch to a transactional practice and began to do my due diligence. I quickly discovered that the M&A group at my firm were super busy and actively hiring. In an ideal world, I probably would have chosen real estate or perhaps even investment management, but those groups were not realistic options at my firm at that time. I chose to pursue the M&A group because it was the group where I would have the best chance of transitioning to a transactional practice.
Evaluate Yourself and Proceed with Caution
Once I made my decision to join the M&A group, I had to plan my approach and I knew that two things were required: a brutally honest assessment of my skill set and standing at my firm, AND diplomacy worthy of the Foreign Service!
With respect to standing, I knew that partners liked me and that even though I did not like litigation, my work product had not yet suffered from my aversion! However, I knew that being well liked was not enough. I needed to review my skills and make a compelling argument about how my experience as a litigator was not only transferrable but actually useful in an M&A context. Fortunately, I had done a lot of complex commercial litigations involving deals that had gone awry. Given my experience, I was able to make the argument that my skepticism (aka “jaundiced eye”) would be an incredible asset when negotiating terms and drafting deal documents.
I am a big believer in having three strong points behind any argument. This belief may stem from my Catholic background! My presentation to the M&A group was that I was a known quantity who (1) was a well-liked team player; (2) did good work; and (3) would bring a fresh and valuable perspective to the practice. If you want to switch practice groups within your firm, then you need to conduct a similar self-assessment and figure out how your skills could be put to use, or perhaps even give you an advantage, in your target practice group. It is not enough to say “Well, I think I will like X group because I have heard very good things about it.” You need to evaluate yourself and make a compelling case about the ways in which you will benefit your target group.
There are risks when you ask to join another group at your firm so you must proceed with caution and be very diplomatic. First, you must be certain that your target group has enough work to warrant bringing another associate on board. Obviously, it is even better if you know that your target group is actively interviewing candidates from outside the firm. Here is your opportunity to save your firm a recruiter’s fee!
When I was ready, I told my favorite litigation partner about my plan. I did most of my work with this partner and trusted him. I figured that if the M&A group did not want me, then my secret would be safe with this partner while I tried to make my move to a transactional group at another firm. It was a risk, but a bigger risk for me was having this partner hear about my proposal from anyone other than me.
My next visit was to the partner who was the head of the M&A group. I was lucky because this partner was also the managing partner and his office was on my floor quite close to my own office. He was a gregarious person and we had become friendly from passing each other in the hallway every day. I made my pitch; told him that I had already informed the litigation partner with whom I did most of my work; and crossed my fingers.
I was allowed to make the move to M&A; and I remained with the group for four years. My transition from litigation to a transactional practice was successful because I followed a very simple formula. I selected a group where there was a need; I figured out how to best package myself to fill that need; and I was extremely diplomatic! 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, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, 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 www.BCGSearch.com.
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.