It seems like just yesterday that the recession was in full swing, firms were firing instead of hiring, and recruiters had tons of terrific candidates and not enough open positions. Flash forward a few years to 2015, and the legal market is booming again. Firms are anxious to hire, companies are expanding their in-house legal departments, and associates are being paid bonuses that are larger than most people’s salaries. Strong candidates not only have great opportunities to consider again, but are actually receiving multiple offers, something that seemed impossible only a few short years ago. During the recession, lawyers who were lucky enough to receive a solid offer were pretty much sure they would take it even before it came, as opportunities were so few and far between. Now, however, with opportunities more readily available, candidates are once again faced with the question of whether or not to take an offer that is presented, or to stay at their current job and wait for something else to come along. In making these decisions, there are several issues that candidates should consider.
1. Back to Basics
After a lengthy and sometimes stressful interview process, it can be easy to lose sight of the reason why you were looking at other opportunities in the first place. Maybe things temporarily slowed down at work, and you forgot how you are always the last person standing on national holidays. Perhaps once you started interviewing and had mentally checked out, you forgot how much you can’t stand the people in your group. Or, maybe you haven’t thought for a while about last year’s terrible bonus, or how they keep passing you over for partner. Whatever your situation, you need to regroup, and try to remember why you started looking for a new job in the first place. Remember, job offers don’t magically appear – there was a reason that you submitted your resume to a firm or company when you did. Try to remember what led to that decision, and remind yourself how this new opportunity will address those issues.
2. The Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself
Even if you are clear as to the reason you want to leave your current position, some candidates start to develop Stockholm Syndrome and paralyzing fear when faced with the prospect of truly leaving their current firm. All of a sudden, when faced with freedom, that boss who made you miss your grandmother’s funeral no longer seems so bad. And billing 3000 hours a year now seems very reasonable and manageable. I’m not sure why it happens, but it definitely can strike the best of us, particularly us risk-averse lawyers who are suddenly faced with a huge change. Just remember – the devil you know is still the devil, and just because something is new doesn’t mean it is bad. Most changes are intimidating at first, but change can be a good thing, and just because you are nervous doesn’t mean it is a bad decision to leave and accept a new opportunity.
3. Hit the Road
Once you have gotten through steps one and two, and have made the decision to leave, the next step is to give your notice, and ACTUALLY STICK WITH IT. In this market, where firms are competing for top talent, no firm wants to lose one of its top worker-bees, and to be faced with the prospect of having to hire and train someone to replace you. So, not surprisingly, they are willing to offer you cash, partnership, their first born child – pretty much whatever it takes to keep you, to avoid the time, money and hassle of finding your replacement. Accepting such a counter-offer is never a good idea, as you will thereafter always be viewed as the disloyal one on the team, and all of the old problems that exist (see 1 above) will still be there long after you’ve spent that retention bonus. There’s a reason why the vast majority of people who accept a counter-offer still end up leaving their current job within a year. Don’t end up as one of those statistics, and don’t let your current employer’s desperation affect what was a good, well thought-out decision on your part.
In sum, it is great news for employers, candidates (and of course, recruiters) that the legal market has come back with a vengeance, and that opportunities abound. However, with more options come more decisions, and it is important to recognize that a strong offer is still hard to come by, and should not be taken for granted.