Is Your Firm a Long Term Fit with your Career Goals?
By Warren Smith
Previously posted in Lawyers Weekly
I was recently working with a partner who was struggling to determine whether his current firm was the ‘right fit’ for his clients and him. Instinctively, he knew something wasn’t quite right, despite having been with the firm for many years, and enjoying the friendships he had built over the years . When we sat down to discuss his career objectives, the disconnect became more readily apparent once he was able to articulate his current career goals against his current firm offerings. Here are some of the key questions which led him to this revelation:
1. What are Your Three Most Important Career Goals in the Next Five Years?
Our starting point was a discussion on his current career goals, and also how they had shifted in the past few years. As his practice matured, so too did his career objectives. Articulating his current goals was a key step in identifying what he needed from his firm platform in the medium term. One helpful tool is to rate your current environment on a scale of 1-10 based on these identified goals, while also determining what the minimum level your goals need to be in order for you to feel like they are being met, wherever you continue to practice.
2. How Effective is your current firm at helping you achieve these goals?
Next, we examined how his current goals matched up against his current platform. For example, one of the key areas he needed increasing help with was marketing and client outreach – as he wanted to continue to expand his footprint in his market and specialization. Whereas his earlier goals had been around skills development, as he became more confident in his skill set, this was replaced by a priority around profile – an area which his firm was notably deficient in.
3. What would it take to meet or exceed these goals at your current firm?
In examining any discrepancies between your firm’s current offering and your needs – the next step is to consider what would it take from your firm to close any gaps. Often, these issues can be addressed through consultation with the firm’s leadership and/or practice group leaders – but having a plan and being able to identify your needs are critical in helping the firm adapt to match your practice demands. Moreover, by flagging these gaps for your firm, should they not prove able (or willing) to address these shortfalls, should you end up needing to make a move, the firm is less likely to be surprised (which is frequently the root of anger/poor treatment by partners on exit).
4. What other options exist in the market to achieve your goals?
Finally, should there prove to be any significant gaps in practice needs and platform, it may be helpful to assess other options in market in determining how best to move forward. It may be that the combination of needs your practice requires (resources, skills development, supporting practice areas, regional/national/international reach, for example) – may simply not be reasonably found in your current market – if that is the case, you may need to consider whether your current firm offers the best practical option in market, or whether you are prepared to undertake greater/different risks in achieving your most important practice objectives. Whether you use a recruiter or rely on your professional network – understanding the realities of your local market relative to your current position can be helpful in assessing whether staying or moving is the best next step for your practice.
In the end, the key here is to ensure you are making a conscious decision to assess your current environment against your future needs. Maintaining a proactive approach to these issues can greatly mitigate the potential of reaching a level of frustration with your firm where a rational plan may seem no longer possible.
Warren Smith is the Managing Partner for Smith Legal Search. He was the first Canadian to be elected President of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC), North America’s leading legal recruitment industry association, and is a past recipient of Business in Vancouver’s 40 under 40 award. You can follow him on twitter @lawheadhunter