The traditional legal industry perception, especially among large established law firms, is that any candidate who has moved several times from one firm to another is a “job hopper,” raising red flags in the hiring process. While one or two job moves might be forgivable, any more than that can be viewed negatively and leave the candidate significantly disadvantaged.
Being brandished a job hopper comes with its own set of assumptions. Frequent movers are often inappropriately stereotyped as incompetent, having difficult personalities or eternally dissatisfied people who fail to recognize the value of a firm’s investment in their careers. This may be because, historically, law firms have been run very differently than corporations, preferring to think of themselves as loyal and genteel practitioners first – and then as business professionals second. The legal industry has changed however, and law firms need to change their hiring mindset as well if they want to grow strategically.
In a 2013 Cornell Hospitality Quarterly study of executive career paths by AETHOS partners Keith Kefgen, Jim Houran, and Rense Lange, the research suggested that there are two different kinds of executives: “organization types” and “trailblazers.” Organization types are more likely to stay with one employer, emblematic of the traditional expectations of corporate loyalty, while trailblazers are prone to shorter tenures. However, ironically, many of these trailblazers have just the characteristics that are highly sought by law firms, such as ambition, proactivity and entrepreneurship.
While law firms have long valued seniority and loyalty — sometimes over margins and profits per partner — the corporate culture is changing quickly. Many law firms are learning that job hopper patterns in a potential hire’s history should not be weighted as negatively or strongly as in the past, particularly if the candidate has logical explanations for their moves, and has demonstrated productivity and potential value to the firm. Law firms need to take a page from the client businesses they represent, and make hiring decisions based on the bottom line and candidate’s whole package, rather than getting stuck on the outdated “job hopper” stereotype.