It's Q4. I'm A Junior Associate.
Q: What should I be focusing on?
A: It’s a common misconception that your first years at a firm should be spent focusing primarily on getting work, and getting it done. That’s simply not the case. This is especially so in Q4: your managers are making assessments of your performance, and you should be doing the same of theirs, as well as your own. Focus your analysis on four primary areas: the quality of your training (are you busy? do you have a full plate of challenging work?); the degree of responsibility you’re being delegated (do you have the opportunity to take on more substantive tasks?); your level of satisfaction (are you doing the kind of work you’re passionate about, e.g., public v. private M&A; lender vs. borrower representation in finance deals; white collar vs. general commercial litigation?); and whether or not you’re getting the mentorship you need to grow (do the partners and senior associates invest in you and take the time to provide guidance?).
Q: Why do these considerations matter?
A: There is no such thing as “too early” when it comes to asking yourself the critical questions that will have an enduring impact on your career, especially in light of new market realities and the impact those realities are having on partnership structures and in-house opportunities. Simply put: the competition for coveted positions in the legal industry is fierce, and your platform and experience will matter. If you keep your head down and let these years pass without taking control of the building blocks of your practice, you’ll eventually wake up to find that you’re a dissatisfied mid-level without a road to a partner or counsel title and, perhaps even worse to some associates, that things like that awesome in-house job legal role are out of your reach. If you want to excel, and if you want to have as many future options as possible, you can’t afford not to think about your career development early and often.
Q: Can I move?
A: If your platform and experience aren’t checking all the boxes, you need to determine whether or not the problem lies with your level of proactivity, or with the limitations of your platform. If it’s the latter, there may be lateral opportunities in the market, but it’s important to be able to articulate a solid story as to why it would make sense to move. That is one of the most important questions that a potential new firm will ask: why do you want to move? Your answer could make or break your chances at even landing an initial interview.
Q: Should I move?
A: There are pros and cons to making an early lateral move. Certain considerations are more compelling for an early move: a more prestigious platform; better training; a more specialized practice as opposed to, for example, general corporate; a broader finance practice as opposed to, for example, exclusively lender-side acquisition financing. It’s important to be informed about what other firms' practices look like, including their culture. Contrary to popular belief, firms and practice groups are not identical, and it is worthwhile to learn about the differences to determine which firms could deliver the experience and training that will bring you greater professional and personal satisfaction. Talk to a professional who makes it a priority to learn about you and your career goals, and based on that knowledge can provide informative color on the key relevant differences among firms. Once you lateral to another firm, you’ll want to stay there for at least 2-3 years, so it is a significant decision – and worth taking the time to be thorough and inquisitive.