Most attorneys are interested in working for better and more prestigious law firms. The whole idea of moving from a “lesser” to a “greater” firm can become an obsessive pursuit, regardless of loyalty or salary. Nevertheless, if you’re focused on joining an elite firm, no matter your level of experience, you will find it helpful to consider these ten guidelines.
1) A Special Skill and Practice Area Can Make Moving to a Better Law Firm Easier
The more niche an attorney’s experience, the better their chances are of making the transition to working for a better law firm. For instance, practicing in specialized areas law such as Native American affairs or patents in high tech fields can make a job candidate very attractive to law firms.
2) The Longer You Practice, the Better Your Chances Are of Working for a Better Firm
The fact that so many attorneys are either pushed out, decide to leave, or burn out means that there are fewer attorneys available to fill these vacant positions. Firms respect the attorney who is willing to tough it out, to remain motivated and who desires to move up the ladder and eventually become a partner.
3) Business is Crucial
Any attorney with a large book of business is employable. It is difficult for law firms to reject candidates who network well with potential clients and can bring in a substantial amount of business. Although there is always a job for hard-working attorneys with great legal minds, attorneys that have a proven track record of salesmanship and marketability can be a trump card.
4) Your Performance with Other Attorneys is Important
Academics may get you hired, but good work gets you noticed. For example, working opposite one of a firm’s top attorneys during a major trialcan get the firm’s attention if you demonstrate your abilities and create a strong impression. Many times attorneys are hired by big law firms because they were worthy opponents in a prior legal proceeding.
5) Your Outside Writing and Speaking is Important
Attorneys that are passionate about a specific area of law should become an expert. It’s not uncommon for an obscure area of the law to suddenly be thrust into the limelight. Your work on the subject can lead to well-received articles in respected legal publications, speaking engagements, and the opportunity to work with a prestigious firm looking to break into the innovative area of law in which you have great expertise.
6) Timing is Important
An attorney’s ability to move up can often be a product of time and place or of supply and demand. In periods of change like 1999 through late 2000, or 2008 through 2009, external economic forces impacted many practice areas of law in different ways. Like any economic period, there will be unpredictable upturns and downturns. Despite an attorney’s best efforts to make the best career decisions, there will always be elements out of their control. The key is making informed decisions, being resourceful, and hoping for a stroke of luck at the right time.
7) An LLM Can Help
The Master of Laws (“LLM”) degree confers a specialized postgraduate level of expertise in one field, often in international or tax law. Obtaining an LLM does not automatically guarantee a big law firm job, but firms needing expertise in a particular area of law may hire someone who has a requisite LLM in that legal practice area.
8) Latching on to a Partner at a Less Prestigious Firm
Moving up with the partner may be more a matter of luck than skill, but if you are happy in that partnership, stay with it. A “lesser” firm traditionally will not pay as much money, but with legal careers lasting forty years or more, you could find yourself on the very lucrative end of an acquisition by a top tier law firm.
9) Working with a Firm on the Rise Can Help
Law firms that are growing quickly generally become merger partners within a few years. If you join a law firm that’s on the rise, the odds are almost certain that the firm’s growth will attract the attention of larger, more prestigious law firms. When a merger happens, many of the attorneys will be asked to move as well. As a result, it is wise to continue working hard and maintain close personal and working relationships with all of your colleagues.
10) Geography is Important
Always consider the following questions when looking for a legal job: (1) Where is the market good? (2) And which firms have enough work? Despite having a fondness for a particular place or having one’s heart set on going home; always remember to look for work in places where law firms want attorneys more than attorneys want jobs. Remember to be adaptable, flexible, and open-minded when searching for a job.
Conclusions and Thoughts About Working in “More Prestigious” Law Firms
Being in the presence of high-profile people with extreme levels of success is not the ultimate measure of self-worth. It may define you, and in professional high-stakes arenas, that may be perfectly appropriate. However, attorneys are charged with providing protection to their clients and making them feel secure when they are under attack or have been wronged. Truly great attorneys should have internal self-confidence that is not dependent upon a connection to something or someone outside themselves.
Attorneys who are strong will not be intimidated by attorneys from larger law firms and instead will be secure in their abilities. In the end, it does not matter with whom you associate – it matters who you are.
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