People deal with career transitions in many ways: alone or as part of a team, calmly or with trepidation, voluntarily or due to circumstances beyond our control.
Lawyers are no different. Over the past few years, I’ve consulted with several dozen lawyers — including BigLaw associates and partners, MidLaw partners and corporate counsel at various levels — who were exploring their next career move.
They were considering job changes for various reasons, ranging from dissatisfaction with their current law firm’s strategy and management, to their law firm’s impending dissolution, to management’s encouragement to move on due to associate downsizing or lack of partnership track opportunities.
Some of these transitioning lawyers wanted to move from BigLaw to smaller firms. Others considered going solo or hoped to move in-house. Each possessed a unique background, intentions and career goals. But regardless of demographic characteristics, practice areas and objectives, any lawyer considering a job change needs to consider three issues: platform, revenue and tools.
• What factors are important to how you prefer to practice law, your personal and professional style, and what your clients want? Things to consider include: firm size; range of general and specialty practice areas; cross-selling opportunities (but ask yourself what you really mean by that term); collegiality; productivity expectations, whether measured in terms of billable hours, revenue or some other way; and means for taking and sharing credit for others’ work at the firm.
• What type of platform best facilitates interaction with your professional network? Attorneys active on LinkedIn can use LinkedIn’s professional-network mapping tool (inmaps.linkedinlabs.com) to visualize their connections and how those connections connect with each other. This tool can reveal some surprising patterns that will yield new business development ideas.
• How will apps and other emerging models make more and better legal services available for free or at a low, predictable cost? Check out RocketLawyer and LegalZoom. Take a hard look at how these services and the trends they reflect will impact client demand for your expertise over the next decade.
• Do your clients view your type of legal work as truly bespoke? Or is it susceptible to commoditization, off-shoring or near-shoring through legal process outsourcing? Read Chapter 2 of “The Path to Commoditization” in Richard Susskind’s book “The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services” and William D. Henderson’s article, “Three Generations of U.S. Lawyers: Generalists, Specialists, Project Managers,” which is downloadable from the Social Science Research Network’s electronic library.
• How do current and prospective clients define the value of your services? If you haven’t asked them recently, it’s time to do so. What deliverables or outcomes do they want? How can you provide them in a better, more cost-effective manner?
• How will you continue improving your value proposition? When a lawyer moves from a large law firm to a small firm or goes solo, clients will welcome a one-third cut in hourly fees with no drop in the quality of service or advice. But, what will you offer in a year or two, once clients have baked those new rates into their plans and budgets, and starting asking, “What have you done for me lately?” To get data on the market rate for your practice area, check out the free RateDriver app from Tymetrix.
• How will you bill clients? If you haven’t yet embraced alternative-billing structures to any meaningful degree (hourly rate discounts really don’t constitute anything “alternative”), it’s time to get up to date. Do some reading about truly alternative fee structures.
• How will you and your new firm use social networking and social media? Are these tools relevant to your target audiences? How do the firms that you’re considering joining use them? Do their social media strategies make sense for you?
• Will you blog? Blogs can be great tools for sharing breaking developments in specific areas of significant interest to clients, prospects, referral sources and the media. However, an interesting, vibrant blog requires a meaningful time commitment. A dormant blog can create the impression of a lack of commitment to the project. That’s not a good message to send to clients and prospects.
• What kind of systems do you need? It’s not just “new normal” issues that matter. The nuts and bolts of a law practice are critically important for lawyers contemplating a career move. When moving from a big firm with a robust support environment for docketing, document-management and knowledge-management systems, do you want to replicate those systems, or are you more of a do-it-yourself-type?
Each lawyer is responsible for his or her career. Whether you’ve already set the wheels in motion to make a transition, or you’re simply considering starting the process to make a career move, you’ll be in a better position to plan for the next 10, 20 or 30 years once you’ve worked through this checklist.