Knowing When to Switch Law Firms and How to Manage the Stress of the Switch
Looking to join a new law firm while staying on top of your work at your current law firm can be stressful. And that’s sitting on top of an already stressful job as a lawyer.
Also—if you’re looking for work at another firm, your already-stressful-job as a lawyer is probably more stressful than it needs to be because of the firm you are currently a part of.
Here’s what I tell new attorneys to pay attention to about the stress connected with switching law firms: some stress helps you grow, some stress slowly kills you. You need to be able to identify when you are stressed (not hard), the category of stress (can be confusing), and know how to overcome that which is in your control.
First, here are signs of the bad kind of stress—the kinds that you need to be aware of, because they mean you need to go somewhere else. In my experience, a lawyer who consistently experiences the following are burning out and need to find another firm:
Realizing that you are always failing.
Note: not feeling like you are failing; not realizing that you failed that one time, but realizing that you are always failing. If the feedback that you are incapable and constantly doing everything wrong, that does nothing to motivate you. Lawyers are great issue spotters and always know they can do better—but it is different when the feedback reflects that you always fail. You lose confidence, motivation, and will eventually fulfill that prophecy by just aiming to meet the bare minimum. Why bother when you are always failing?
Constantly making careless mistakes.
The kind of mistakes that you know are irritating—and they are irritating because you know you are better than those mistakes, yet you keep making them. And I’m not just talking about a misspelled name or email sent to the wrong party (not that those are good). I’m talking about leaving your computer on the train, locking yourself out of your home or office, forgetting about an appointment, etc. When you are constantly making the types of mistakes that make you think to yourself “I need to get it together”, you are burning out.
Despite your regular sleep schedule, you’re exhausted.
Usually, more sleep is the cure to feeling stressed. But if lack of sleep is not the cause of your fatigue, then the cause is probably something more serious. While this can be caused by circumstances outside of work, be honest with yourself if the reason you are feeling exhausted despite a good night’s sleep is because you simply do not want to go to the firm. Lawyers who are excited to go to the office, see their colleagues, and contribute to their teams know how big a difference is when the stressors that cause them to burn out are removed.
We all have our bored moments. If you’re a lawyer, and you’re bored, then we have a problem. If you’re bored because you don’t have work, that is probably because there are issues with your work quality that need to be addressed. On the other hand, if you feel bored but you have work to do, your feelings about the work are clearly greater than the pressure of getting them done. This is a classic sign of burnout.
This does not mean that all of the stress goes away when you are somewhere new. In fact, you likely still have to navigate the recruitment process and transition while still working.
Of course, if you’re working with us, we remove a lot of these stresses and ensure you have a streamlined, clean transition. But if you are navigating your own process, here is how I advise you navigate this sensitive—and stressful—phase:
Be proactive rather than reactive.
At your current firm, resolve the issues under your control, and avoid the issues completely outside of your control. Take the concrete, constructive feedback that you can use to improve your work product. Optimize your time and habits. Remember that some of your colleagues and supervisors will likely communicate with your target employer, so continue to perform at your best, and continue to make progress.
While being considered at other firms, prioritize making an honest, strong first impression that you can be proud of. While you do not have control over how others will perceive you during this period, you can control how prepared you are, how you present yourself, and how you are actively taking steps to improve the trajectory of your career.
Put yourself in a positive physical state.
When you are powerless, weak, failing…your body shows it. You slouch. Your voice weakens. Your breaths become shallow. This affects the level of attention you can give to ensuring quality work—and also how you present yourself to others.
Adopt a regular, quick practice of putting yourself in a positive physical state. Some attorneys I know have what they call a “wake up” routine, where they quickly get their heart pumping and lungs breathing so that they are physically able to support their mind through a tough spot:
First, they close their eyes take at least three deep breaths, holding their inhales for a few seconds, and then exhaling. Second, they take a quick walk around the office—or do a couple of jumping jacks. Finally, they rotate their ankles and stretch their calves quickly from their seats, and stretch their arms above their heads as if they just woke up.
That entire routine can be done in less than five minutes—and in less than five minutes, you can quickly refresh yourself, and feel “warmed up” to make the right impression or tackle your next task—without the jittery feeling of a sugar rush.
And if you find yourself feeling weighed down, get back to your breath. When we are under stress, our breathing instinctively slows down and becomes shallow. That decreases the oxygen running through our bodies, which heightens the nerves, increasing the risk of mistakes and errors. Whether you are feeling overwhelmed by an assignment, or simply need a second to collect yourself before the interview—just take a breath.
When advocating for our clients, we spare no resource and will wake up our network. When advocating for ourselves, we have a habit of not asking for help—even from those who want to and can help us. If you are a nervous interviewer, ask a trusted colleague or friend to rehearse and practice with you. Talk through what you are nervous about with someone you trust, and get feedback on what they think you can do to present yourself better.
Obviously, consider reaching out to a recruiter. We take the stress out of this process.