Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Katherine Hagman is a Director at Lateral Link where she places associates and partners throughout Chicago and the Midwest. She was a Corporate Recruiter in-house for one of Chicago’s fastest growing companies, and has several years of experience placing attorneys at Chicago law firms and companies. Katherine graduated magna cum laude from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received her J.D. from Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

“We’re hiring!” it says. While intrigued by the opportunity, you are not really sure if you should consider a job change at the moment. You are happy where you are and so it just doesn’t feel like the “right time.” After all, they are nice to me here. It’s not so bad. It’s probably not any better across the street. Then again, maybe it doesn’t hurt to look. You can’t decide what to do!

While it is good to trust your gut, there are concrete elements that are going to be very valuable for your career trajectory as an attorney. For the sake of this article, let’s assume you are happy in your job and that if you weren’t, you would work on fixing that or move on.

I’ve been working with lawyers on their careers for the past seven years and it can be hard to really put your finger on whether or not you’re at the right place. This can change over time and it’s more or less a moving target.

I’ve created this quiz to help you take the temperature of your current job and to help you see if you need to think about moving somewhere warmer. Keep reading below for a breakdown of each question…

The five factors to consider are Work-Life Balance, Quality of Work and Skills, Headroom, Career Path, and Compensation.

1. Work-Life Balance

I am satisfied with my work-life balance. I work hard but also have time for personal interests, family, and social relationships.

Yes! This is a real thing that exists.

As a junior associate, your primary goal is probably to earn your stripes. You may look forward to working long days, proving your dedication, and learning as much as possible.

As you advance, you may become more efficient and exert more control over your own schedule as you move up the ranks. You may prioritize your time differently and create better boundaries around work. You may figure out who to work with that will give you lead time on projects so you can plan your personal time.

If, as time goes on, you don’t restore balance with your personal life, relationships, exercise, and outside hobbies, you will probably experience burnout at some point.

We derive so much of our self-esteem and satisfaction from work. It is great to have success at the office and see your hard work pay off. That said, sometimes the only way to recharge your battery is to enjoy life outside of work. This can also make us more efficient and balanced at the office.

Things to Consider:

– Has it been so long that you haven’t returned phone calls that your family thinks you’ve gone into the Witness Protection Program?
– Have you signed up for a new class or fun team event only to cancel at the last minute?
– Have you stopped getting invitations because your friends know you can never go?
– Do you work with people who enjoy personal hobbies and maintain strong relationships with family?

2. Quality of Work & Increasing Skills

I am receiving quality work that I find interesting. I am learning a lot and increasing my skills each year.

You want to be sure that your day-to-day projects are at an appropriate level for your class year and also that you are continuously learning and improving your abilities as an attorney. The quality and complexity of work will sharpen your skills. Your skills are what will make you stand out as a viable in-house or lateral candidate and improve your likelihood of promotion to partner.

People ask me all the time, why would I go across the street when I can stay here? Not all practice groups are created equal. Some partners at some firms have better clients and more complex work. They represent interesting clients in interesting fields. The scale of the work and the size of your team will also influence whether you can play a meaningful role on matters. Ask yourself if you are steering the ship or just a cog in the wheel.

Things to Consider:

– What is the reputation of your group within your practice area? For example, are you at the world’s best litigation firm, but in a transactional group that isn’t very well-recognized?
– Are you working with partners who are highly regarded and considered experts in their field?
– Does your practice group have its own clients, or is the work mostly a service group for other teams?
– If your group gets good work, does it make its way to your desk?
– Is your partner accessible and are you getting good training?
– Are you getting exposure to clients and handling more complex legal questions?

3. Headroom

I have advancement opportunities at my current firm. I have already moved up and have headroom for additional growth here.

Headroom is different than career path and very important. People who have no space to grow in their current firm become bored and dissatisfied. We all seek new challenges, growth, and recognition for the value we add to our teams. This is often reflected through promotion and new internal opportunities.

Much of what we learn in our careers is learned on the job. Eventually, you are going to become really good at your job — so good at it, in fact, that you might not want to languish in the weeds any more. As you become more senior in your career, you definitely want to have space to grow where you are, be promoted, and take on additional responsibility amongst your team.

Things to consider:

– If you are practicing as an associate at a law firm, are you gaining responsibility and management skills?
– Have they had conversations with you about your next steps and what you need to do to get there?
– Is there a place for you at your current place of employment two years from now?
– If you want to make partner, have people been promoted at your firm in the past five years or do they tend to lateral in partners? How about in your group?

4. Career Path

My current position is a step on a career path that I am excited to take. More doors are opened to me than closed.

This will mean different things to everyone and also varies by practice group and long-term goals. If you want to be a partner, you want to be somewhere that is going to support you and market you. If you want to go in-house, it’s important to get client counseling experience. If you want to work in tech, you may need to make a geographic move, so you want to be sure you are working somewhere that has a national brand to make it easier to move.

Sometimes the only way to get farther down the career path you want is to make a lateral move. Your first job was probably the best thing at the time, but now that you have more experience, additional doors will be open to you that will edge you closer to your longer-term goals. It is all about positioning. There can also be more than one way to get there. Don’t rule out positions that will make it easier to get from here to your dream job.

Things to consider:

– If you want to be partner, are you currently at a firm that provides marketing support and a platform for your potential clients?
– If you want to move in-house, are you getting the right type of exposure to clients? Are you in a practice group that is easily hired to in-house positions?
– Where have people from your firm gone? If you’re looking at moving in-house one day, what network do you have from your clients and former colleagues?

5. Compensation

I am happy with my salary and feel that I am fairly compensated for the level of work I’m handling and compared to others on my team.

Everyone wants to be rewarded fairly for what they bring to the table. We want to feel valued, and an important way employers convey that is financially. Money is not and should not be everything, but it’s definitely a large part of the picture. If you are working as hard as people across the street, but you are not getting paid like it, maybe a change of scenery might be in the cards. Ultimately, this allows you to retire earlier, take more vacations, and have more peace of mind.

Compensation could include salary, bonus, equity, benefits, paying for licensure, and company perks. Keep in mind that compensation is relative and should be proportional with the size of firm you’re with.

Things to Consider:

– Where does your firm fall on the spectrum of market salaries?
– Have you gotten a raise in the past year?
– Do you like a steady income or would you want to consider higher potential, such as at a plaintiff’s firm?
– Are you being paid at the top of the market right now, or are there opportunities for you to take a step up in income elsewhere?
– Have you been rewarded for going the extra mile?
– Are you currently making enough money given the cost of living in your area?
– Does your bonus reflect the value that you add?

There is a lot to think about when it comes to your career, and this is one framework for evaluating your current situation and a tool to guide you when it’s time to consider other opportunities.

Don’t wait until you’re backed into a corner to examine whether your job is moving your career forward. Don’t wait until you are miserable to consider a change. Know that a good job is one where you have a work-life balance, great training, room to move up, open doors, and fair pay. Strive for that, and if you have one now, take a minute to be grateful for it!

Previously from Lateral Link:

Planning For A Legal Career Overseas (Part II): Language Skills, Caveats, And What You Can Be Doing Now
Planning For A Legal Career Overseas (Part I): Picking The Right Practice Area And The Right Firm
The Top 5 Reasons Attorneys Move
5 Tips To Maximize Your Lateral Compensation Package
25 Things All Young Lawyers Should Know In Order To Not Screw Up Their Legal Careers


Lateral Link is one of the top-rated International Legal Recruiting Firms. With over 14 offices world-wide, Lateral Link specializes in placing attorneys at the most prestigious law firms in the world. Managed by former practicing attorneys from top law schools, Lateral Link has a tradition of hiring lawyers to execute the lateral leaps of practicing attorneys. Click ::here:: to find out more about us.


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