My Rotation is Over – Now What?
Completing the rotation system/unassigned period is one of the most important milestones for young lawyers as the decision about which group to join will have long-term implications for their career. While there is no right or wrong answer, these decisions should be made carefully and with the necessary forethought on your part.
Q: What should I be thinking about as my rotation/unassigned period comes to an end?
A: When deciding on a particular practice area, consider the substantive skills needed to be successful in that practice over the long term. It’s easy to be encouraged (or discouraged) by the role junior associates play on their matters, but it is important to look past the initial few years to see the roles and responsibilities of the successful senior associates and partners in a particular group. Also, consider the learning curve and development trajectory, which will vary for each practice. Hitting the appropriate benchmarks for your class year is crucial to your development and job security, so learn what these benchmarks are for the practice area you are considering, and understand what a real strategy for success in this practice area looks like.
Q: Does it matter whether my potential group is a marquee practice of my firm?
A: How much influence a particular group has within your firm is one of the most important factors you should be considering as you prepare to make your selection. Strong practices are busy, which leads to better training and job security. Also, strong groups are lucrative for the firm and create more opportunities for promotion. Partners in these groups will have more leverage to support and protect their associates which can have real consequences as firms and individual practices weather cyclical slow periods. And, as discussed below, it will also impact the types of opportunities that are available to you down the road.
Q: Will my choice impact my exit options?
A: The market’s perception of your group matters. A well-known platform will lead to better exit options because your training and client base will be a known quantity to other firms and potential in-house employers. Additionally, attorneys in certain legal practices generally have more options than others. For example, M&A lawyers and corporate generalists typically have the widest array of options while lawyers in niche practices need to be more nimble to find positions.
Q: Can I just keep rotating?
A: Most firms do not permit perpetual rotations, and for an obvious reason – their clients are paying top dollar for specialized expertise. Associates at firms with continuous rotations can be successful within their own system if partnership is their ultimate goal, but once they enter the lateral market and compete against associates in their class year with more solid practice area experience, they may find themselves at a disadvantage. There are always exceptions to the rule but it’s a common observation we hear from associates and clients.
Q: What if I plan on relocating?
A: Not all practices are created equal and not all practice areas are prevalent in every legal market, so before you select a permanent group, do some research if you think a relocation is in your future. For example, finance is robust in New York City, Chicago, Charlotte and Los Angeles while entertainment and corporate tech/startup practices are more robust on the West Coast. Educate yourself on the relevant markets as well as the practices and clients that typically thrive in such markets. Relocating to a new office within your firm may also be an option but you should investigate before making a choice to ensure that the group is sufficiently well established in your desired market.
Q: What are common pitfalls I should avoid?
A: One common pitfall is placing an undue amount of weight on the personalities of the group, whether good or bad. Personalities count, and working with attorneys who invest their time and energy into your development is crucial to your success. But focusing on personalities alone is short sighted. Long after you part ways with the personalities that initially appealed to you, you’ll continue to trudge through a practice you may not be passionate about. Instead, focus on maximizing your skill set and understanding how your choice will help you achieve your long- term goals.
Q: What if I made the wrong choice?
A: If you’re ultimately unhappy with your decision, think about whether it’s the work you don’t like, or if you’re just with the wrong firm. Associates are frequently surprised by how different life can be at another platform. Once you are sure you want to change practice areas, consider an internal move within your firm first. This may be easier than changing firms as a “retool”; however, there may be political consequences that haunt you later in your career. Changing firms and practice areas is possible in certain circumstances, but it requires the proper messaging, preparation and networking.
Your professional development and success are solely in your hands, so be thoughtful in your analysis and strategic with your choices.