Leading food supplier Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) recently announced its intention to offer early retirement packages and make some modest adjustments to its workforce by June 30. I think it is unlikely that ADM’s legal department will shrink, and I have no inside information on whether any existing in-house attorneys are taking early retirement.
ADM is a strong, financially healthy company, and this is a reminder that reductions-in-force occur routinely in all macro-economic environments. The rest of this column is not about ADM, but rather the chord this news struck with me. It prompts me to offer advice that I have offered to many attorneys directly over the years.
Play offense! If you have hit a ceiling of any kind with your employer, don’t sit tight. Don’t quit, of course, especially if you like your employer and your job. But put yourself quietly into the market while you are doing so from a position of strength. It may take a year or more before you find a better situation, but that’s ok. You are mentally strong. You can be happy where you are AND play offense. You will only move when the next opportunity is truly exciting to you, rather than moving because you have to take what you can get.
I recognize this is advice that is very easy to give, but very challenging to actually follow. If you feel secure and like what you do, then finding the mojo to job search and interview is hard. It is not, however, as time consuming as you think. Because you will be looking selectively, and only interviewing when it’s an exciting opportunity. When something is exciting, all of a sudden, we gladly make time for it.
Healthy companies adjust their workforces (including the law department), human relationships are not static, and not everyone in your department is valued equally. The toughest part of playing offense is looking in the mirror and being truthful with yourself. Are you “politically in favor” and ascending? Or are you running in place?
Don’t wait for a RIF if you can smell it coming. As for early retirement packages: they can be a generous and a life-changing positive development for some. It’s case by case, person by person. But most in-house lawyers of a certain age are in their intellectual prime, physically fit, and not seeking an exit strategy. If you are in the cross-hairs of any kind of reorganization, then you are playing defense. You will get through it and you will be ok. But it’s hugely stressful. The only way to avoid playing defense is to play offense early and often throughout your career.
The most important take-away from this column: Always know where you stand, and be honest with yourself about where you stand.
Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Visit www.everslegal.com. His firm also offers experienced in-house counsel to companies on an adjunct basis.