by Catherine Carleton, Founding Director of Carleton Legal



Changing law firms can feel like a game of Russian Roulette with stakes higher than a James Bond stunt scene, but it doesn’t have to if you take the right approach.


As an ex-City lawyer turned legal recruiter, I know all too well how important being in the right law firm is and the less rosy consequences of an ill-thought out move.


I also know how much time you’ve invested in your career, the hours you spend at work and that fulfilment sometimes hinges on far more than your pay check.


So here are my top tips, garnered from years of working with candidates who have successfully made the jump, for ensuring that moving law firms will be the best, not the worst move of your life:


1. Know Your Values

Knowing who you are and what you want is essential to positive change. Before you consider what kind of firm you’d like to move to, ask yourself what gives your life purpose and meaning, in and outside work.


Your values might range from money, work-life balance, family, meeting new people, team work to having fun. If you’re unsure what drives you, ask yourself what you dislike in your current job and turn this on its head. If it’s working long hours which leave you with no time for socialising, it may be that work-life balance is top of your list. If working in a large corporate firm left you feeling like a faceless robot, you may be better suited to a small or medium sized firm. Equally, if you love the collaborative, open-door policy of your current team, your future firm’s corporate culture may be an important factor in your day to day happiness.


So take some time to work out what your values are, which are the most important and which aren’t currently being met. Once you know what’s important to you and what’s driving your desire for change, focus on firms which meet your needs and maximise your chances of fulfilment.


2. Harness Your Strengths In Your Search

We all have different learning styles but lawyers are often theorists. This gives you strong analytical and research skills, a structured approach to problem-solving and a good grasp of the detail as well as the bigger picture. In other words, the perfect combination for identifying your dream firm. My most successful candidates are resourceful in harnessing these strengths, helping them narrow down their ideal workplace, prepare for interview and seal the deal.


If you’re struggling to find the time or perspective to research what kind of firm you want, reach out to a trusted advisor, whether recruiter or career coach. They’ll help you find the right fit and help you move from where you are now to where you want to be. A good legal recruiter should have the inside scoop on team dynamics, retention rates, responsibility levels and opportunities for promotion, saving you time and ensuring you know all the variables before considering a move.


3. Prepare for interview

Whether you’re a rising star or a Mensa child, intellectual skill and charm are no substitute for interview preparation. The most common pitfall for candidates is being unable to communicate a firm’s unique selling points, why these resonate with them and how their experiences set them apart.


Avoid this by investing time reading the company’s website, articles published by key stakeholders and talking to any contacts you may have. If you don’t know anyone inside the firm, arrange a coffee with someone at your level (ideally in the team of interest) and subtly glean what you need to know. Remember to treat any meeting, no matter how informal, like an interview, as details of the rendezvous may well feed back to partners.


Maximise your interview prowess by identifying questions you could be asked and practising your answers with a trusted advisor or friend. Ensure you can talk concisely about relevant matters you’ve worked on (think 3 key bullet points for each answer), outlining the situation, what you did and the result. Also consider any stand-out work that sets you apart, key business development contributions and resilience you’ve shown in the face of challenge. Be sure to show-off commercial awareness by reading up on legal and market changes and tailoring a question around these.


Finally, don’t forget to research your interviewers’ backgrounds on the company website, LinkedIn and any articles they’ve published. Prepare questions on notable cases they’ve worked on, any stand-out features in their work history and anything else which is important to you whether corporate culture, team ethos, responsibility levels and opportunities for promotion. This will show you’re genuinely interested in the firm and hungry to progress.


4. Trust Your Instincts

Just like the dating game, the interview process is a two-way street. You can read all you want around the firm but there’s no substitute for face to face gut feel. So be mindful of your instincts through-out the interview process. Many firms will invite you to meet the wider team after interview so make this count by asking any surplus questions you’d like the answers to, for instance, how top heavy the team is and how often associates are promoted. If you’d like to make partner soon, this could be a deal-breaker. Pay close attention to body language and if you have a good gut feeling, trust it. If you don’t, ask yourself which of your core values aren’t being met and whether this is a deal-breaker.


While you don’t want be too quick to pass up an offer because you’re not a mad fan of a particular team member (they may, of course, move firms), if you’re warned about a draconian head of department who works people to the bone and you’re looking for greater work life balance, jumping ship may be more regressive than progressive.


In short, know your values, do your research, prepare for interview and trust your gut. If the move feels worth the risk, it probably is.


Catherine Carleton is the founder of Carleton Legal, a boutique legal recruitment consultancy specialising in the appointment of high calibre lawyers across a range of practice areas in leading City law firms and beyond. If you’d like to arrange a meeting or find out more, please contact her in confidence on 07984 336892 / http://carletonlegal.com.