Lateral Firm Move Questions – Question 1: Will A New Big Law Job Really Be Different from My Current Big Law Job?

Looking for the perfect law job fit?  You have come to the right place.

There are a lot of factors to consider in making a legal move.  Our attorneys all ask similar questions:

  1. Will the new big law job really be any different from my old big law job?
  2. Do I want to try to make a practice group pivot?
  3. What is the right long-term opportunity for me?
  4. Will a move help my career in the long-run?
  5. Do I need to make a transition move to get to where I want to be?
  6. Am I marketable?
  7. I really want work/life balance, but do not want to sacrifice salary? Help!
  8. What type of law jobs are there (large firms, boutiques, small firms, in-house) and which is right for me?

These are all very important questions to be asking yourself in considering a lateral move or a change in your legal career.

Here at Top Tier Legal Search, we will help guide you through these questions.  Today, we will tackle question number one.

Of course, moving from one big law firm to another big law firm feels sometimes – on paper – like a fruitless move. But there are many reasons why attorneys do this, and why it is the common move to make.

When I worked in big law in New York City at an extremely prestigious large firm, I was happy there.  As a young associate, I never understood why anyone would ever move firms within a practice area.  But that is because I lucked out with an extremely supportive bosses at a top firm, attorneys who I learned so much from, and some who I am still in touch with years later, and consider friends and colleagues.  I soaked in all I was learning, and I was given room to grow and develop, and also explore the type of practice I wanted to do.  At the same time, I spoke to my friends at other firms who were having extremely different experiences than I was.

Now that I am a legal recruiter, I understand that sometimes, a lateral move not only makes sense, but it is crucial for both career happiness and career development.  Making a move within big law, for the most part (although there are definitely some serious exceptions if your hours are very unreasonable) will not lead to a significant decrease in hours or a strong shift in work life balance.   However, firm moves can bring a lot of other benefits that is hard to realize as a young associate.

First, no one should be miserable in big law.  There are good places to work – I promise you.  Yes, you will work hard, yes, you will be expected to be available, but with the right team and a supportive firm, you can earn respect and be respected by your partners.  If you are in a toxic situation, a move can actually make a huge change.

Second, career development is huge.  Associates need to (at a very young age) look at the firm they joined and really understand its promotion requirements.  Some firms require business, some firms have an extremely long path to partnership and counsel, some firms will ask associates to leave who are not making partner, some firms do not have a strong in-house exit strategy.  A lateral firm move can be extremely important to getting you to your ultimate goal, and this is something Top Tier Legal Search can guide you on.

Third, sometimes a move even within a practice area will give you different experiences that will make you more marketable in the long-run if in-house, government, or partner somewhere else is your goal.  Attorneys can get pigeon-holed in a very specific niche in a practice area.  While practice group switches are difficult (which I will discuss in a different article), it can sometimes be beneficial to move to either practice more broadly, or alternatively, to develop a significant niche if your current practice is too broad, depending on your future goals.

Fourth, sometimes change is important.  It is hard not to burn out in big law, and changing firms not only gives you more connections later in your legal career, but is also helps to give you a fresh start, which is often desperately needed.

Fifth, there are actually differences sometimes in the expectations and hours. Some firms are extreme. It is just the reality. If you are working insane hours week after week, year after year, you can and should be able to do better.

This does not mean firm moves are right for everyone.  There are some situations where it definitely makes sense for candidates to stay at their firm long-term if they are happy and can see themselves being promoted or having strong exit opportunities if they stick around.   If you found that firm, hold on to it tight.  But if not, a lateral move can be a really good option, and one countless associates do in their career. It is extremely unusual for an attorney to spend their career at only one firm, and it is because of all the reasons above.

Contact us as Top Tier Legal Search if you want to discuss your own career and goals at



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