When is the right time to start your law firm search? (Now)

Many law firm partners ask me when the best time of year to start searching for a new firm is.   

The question always reminds me of the Chinese proverb that starts with, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago…” Anyone enjoying the shade of a 20-year-old tree can attest to that fact. 

And the same goes for your legal career: when is the best time to change law firms? There can be no doubt that it is anywhere from last year to a decade ago. The process is long, slow, and can be personally trying.  

But if you aren’t happy practicing where you are and wish you were somewhere else, the second part of the proverb may help, “the second best time is now.”

Does it feel like you need a change? Are you dreading a return to the office? 

No matter how unhappy they are, most law firm partners find many reasons to wait to make a move. They put it off until the end of the year, only to find out they’ve waited too long, they get busy again, the timing doesn’t feel right again, and the time never comes. 

But if you dread going to work and want your future self to enjoy the benefits of working somewhere you want to work, then the best time to start your process was last year. The second-best time is today.  

Feel like you are ready for a change? 

I am writing this in August when the end of summer comes into view, and time on the beach seems just a bit more fleeting. 

You may be reading this in August or February – but you know the feeling.   

It is back to school time. Students are excited about the coming year and its possibility. 

It is a time of transitions, moving from one school to another, or moving into university, or finally into a job. 

It is the time when vacation ends, and you get back to work again.  

So, here’s the question: how does that make you feel? Are you excited to get back to work? Or are you dreading it? 

Maybe the return to the office and the return to a family schedule means it is time to start your apology tour: “I wish I could be there, but I can’t. I’m sorry.” 

But, if you are a successful law firm partner with a book of business, you shouldn’t dread returning to work. You should look forward to it with the same relish an incoming college Freshman looks forward to moving into the dorm. 

And, you shouldn’t have to apologize every few days for missing yet another event.  

Is January the best time to change law firms? 

There is an impression of activity around the first part of the year. But for partners with a book of business, there is always opportunity. 

Firms hire when they need or want attorneys. Sometimes, they don’t even know they want or need you until they meet you. Hiring a partner with a book of business is an opportunity to expand and grow the firm, which is attractive any time of year.  

There is an incentive to stay until the end of the year, and that is your bonus. If a significant portion of your income comes at the end of the year in a lump sum payment, you may want to wait for that bonus before you move.  

That makes sense and is doable, but remember that the process takes time. I once had a conversation with someone on December 23 who wanted to be placed by January 1. 

A one-week timeline at the end of the year is impossible; March might have been possible, but not January 1.  

Finding the right law firm takes time

Hiring in the legal world is notoriously slow to begin with, and in this search, you want to move deliberately for yourself. You do not want to move from one bad situation to another bad situation. 

A legal recruiting search built around you takes time. It starts with your Lateral Partner Business Plan. Then you review the list of firms we put together, do your research, have conversations, interview, negotiate, and so on. Each step takes time. It isn’t unusual for the process to take months. 

Importantly you don’t want to rush the process because this is about finding the right fit for you. You are already successful, so your search isn’t about finding a job to pay the bills; it is about finding a work situation you enjoy.  

Therefore, if you want to move in January or early in the New Year, the time to start is in September. 

Give yourself time.  

And you don’t need to play by the calendar anyway

As a successful law firm partner, you have options. 

A lateral law partner move isn’t like an associate’s search where the law firm has all the power. As a successful law firm partner with a book of business, you are in demand and can time the move your way. 

The reasons above for the January – April rush are all valid, but they don’t affect law firm partners with a book of business nearly as much, for the same reasons that the economy doesn’t affect you.  

Law firms always need partners who can bring in business. That firms need partners is true in a good economy, a bad economy, and any time of year. If you have a large book of business, then you have the power to negotiate a good deal and the timing of that deal to work with your schedule.  

So the best time to start your search is now

Talking to law firm partners over many years, August through September is a time when happiness seems most elusive. 

While everyone else is excited about new beginnings, school, and everything else that comes with the end of summer and beginning of fall, they suffer. Instead of excitement, they fight the discomfort in the pit of their stomach. Instead of joy, they dread the endless list of things they will have to apologize for.  

It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you have a book of business, you should be happy where you work, so if you aren’t, don’t wait until January. The only thing you do by staying that long is add months to your unhappiness.  

Instead, start now: 

Begin with your Lateral Partner Business Plan (here) and set out what you want for yourself. Your Lateral Partner Business Plan guides you through the process of assessing your career, your opportunities, and defining what you want from your job.  

We discuss that plan, your needs, and your desires. Once you have your business plan, we will discuss it. This helps us understand you and your needs beyond what is in the plan. We develop a clearer picture of you and can start identifying options. 

If appropriate, we will create a list of law firms for you. We may tell you in our meeting that you are in the best possible situation for you. We deeply understand the market and the firms in the market – if moving doesn’t improve your situation, we’ll tell you.  

If it will, we put together a list of firms we think may be a fit.

Once we have the list, you can review it, you do your research, and we start to plan interviews and negotiations. 

Only once you’ve approved the list and we’ve devised a strategy do we start reaching out and making connections. That leads to interviews, discussions, and negotiation, which will take time.  

And if we do this patiently and build around your needs a couple of years from now, you will be very happy that you made the switch (or that we planted this particular tree!). 

Gillman Strategic Group exists for lawyers

We want you to be successful and happy. Our business exists so that law firm partners find a work environment they enjoy. We want you to be as excited as a five-year-old or a college Freshman every end of August.  

So if you are ready to enjoy practicing law again, let’s talk