Top 5 reasons lawyers switch law firms

By RedLaw | 15 Jun, 2017

This month, RedLaw Consultant Raj looks at the drivers which motivate lawyers when considering a move. Read his fill blog here:


Whilst every lawyer’s individual drivers in both their personal and professional lives will be different, over the years we have found that some combination of the following five factors will usually be in mind when considering a move.

Top 5 Reasons Lawyers Switch Law Firms:

1.      Money

Many people assume that greater financial rewards are the primary reason for most lawyers to move but in fact this alone is rarely the number one factor in a search. Of course, it is a well-trodden path for lawyers from smaller UK firms to make the move to larger UK firms or for those at larger UK firms to move to US firms where lawyers can often find themselves working similar hours for substantially increased pay-cheques. The lure of a higher salary however tends not to be enough on its own for most lawyers to move on and there are usually a number of factors at play. Those attracted to Magic Circle firms are obviously also attracted to the fantastic quality of work and training whilst those drawn to US firms may enjoy working in smaller teams where they have higher levels of responsibility and client contact. Salary is obviously always an important factor in moves but rarely the sole motivator.

2.      Work/Life Balance

It should come as no surprise to anyone that work life balance is becoming a more important factor in many lawyers’ career considerations. Many people (in law and other professions) are making conscious decisions not to pursue the highest salaries in the market and instead are placing a premium on time outside of the office with family and friends or to pursue non-work interests. Lawyers looking for a more manageable workload will often look to move to slightly smaller firms where clients may be less demanding and busy periods will be less frequent. Chargeable hours targets can be a good indication of work life balance at a firm but often mean very little in practice so it’s a good idea to speak to a knowledgeable consultant who can give you a realistic picture of likely hours expectations.

Whilst hours are probably the most important factor here it’s also notable that many firms are beginning to experiment with things like agile working. Even though overall hours worked may be similar, for many people the opportunity to work from home one day a week or leave the office at a set time to pick up kids from school before logging on remotely in the evening can be invaluable. Again, a good recruiter will be able to advise on which firms and teams might be amenable to such arrangements.

3.      Type of work

Many lawyers who are looking to move have no issues with their firm/ team/ salary/ hours etc. but simply want to shift the focus of their practice. This could be to do more or less of a certain type of work (for example a corporate lawyer looking to do less ECM or more Private Equity, an employment lawyer keen to develop some contentious experience) or change sector focus (to work with fewer financial institutions or more TMT clients for instance). Lawyers in a practice area will likely have an idea of who the major players in a particular sector are but a good recruiter can still help to uncover opportunities which might not be widely known about or help give an insight into specific teams.

4.      Long term career planning

It’s crucial for lawyers, even at a junior level, to be thinking about their long term career goals and whether their current firm is a good platform for these ambitions. This needn’t be restricted to those who see their long term future as partners in private practice. Many associates plan to move in-house at some point in their career yet don’t appreciate the level of competition they will face for any good positions. In-house roles tend to be filled by candidates at firms known to the hiring organisation and often such moves happen off the back of secondments. It’s important for lawyers looking to move in-house to ask themselves whether they are getting exposure to the right sort of work and clients to facilitate such a move or whether they could better their chances of securing that dream move by making an initial switch in private practice to a more prestigious or more relevant practice.

For those who do see themselves as partners one day it’s essential to consider things like team structure, how important one’s practice area is to the firm future growth and whether associates at the firm are encouraged to get involved in business development and cultivating client relationships. Whether one decides to make a move or not, the most important thing is for this to be a conscious decision rather than simply the default option.

5.      Culture

Everyone knows that culture is an important factor for anyone considering a move but what does this actually mean? Given that ‘culture’ is such a broad term that tends to mean different things to different people, it can sometimes be tricky for firms to clearly communicate what their own culture is like or for candidates to explain what they like or dislike about their current firm culture. An added difficulty for firms is that because what constitutes a good or bad culture can often be highly subjective, defining a firm’s culture in any meaningful way has the potential to dissuade as many potential applicants as it encourages. Almost every firm talks about themselves having a collegiate culture and very few lawyers (if any) would say they want to work in an un-collegiate environment. In reality though what one lawyer finds to be a supportive and collegiate environment another might find to be overly stuffy and traditional with not enough opportunity to get involved in business development or a ‘face time’ culture. Conversely what some lawyers might describe as an overly competitive or harsh environment others might find to be dynamic, entrepreneurial and meritocratic. Another point to make about firm culture is that, at large firms especially, whilst there might genuinely be some firm wide cultural traits that percolate through all departments and teams, more often it’s of greater importance to get a feel for the culture of specific teams within firms as this can vary widely. At the end of the day, whether one is happy or unhappy with their working environment will have more to do with the personalities and working practices of those in their specific team than the reputation of the firm as a whole for being friendly or otherwise. Finding a position that constitutes both a good professional and personal fit can be difficult and so working with a knowledgeable and well connected recruiter is vital as they will be able to advise you of specific cultural traits and ensure that you can gain a strong insight into a firm from the outset.

Ultimately there are myriad reasons that lawyers might consider moving firms and usually there will be a combination of factors to take into account. Working with a good recruiter can help lawyers to clarify in their own minds what their priorities in a move are and assist in identifying the most suitable opportunities based on individual circumstances. At RedLaw, we are highly consultative and would welcome a confidential discussion to talk about your personal career aspirations and plans for progression and development.