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6 Mistakes People Make When Moving Firms

Posted by Alison Humphries

We know that moving firms can be a great way to progress your career. It’s also not without risk and many lateral moves, despite the best intentions, go wrong.

We've partnered with Heather Townsend, co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ to produce a series of webinars to help you with the transitions.

In this article, Heather reveals the classic and often career-limiting mistakes people make when they move firm.

Not enough due diligence on your new employer and why it hasn’t worked out at your current firm

Too many people move to a new firm based on hope; hope that the grass is greener in the new firm. If you don’t do your due diligence on your new firm, there is the potential that you could be swapping one version of work hell for another version of work hell. For example, what have you been hired to do for the firm? What does success look like in the new role? What are the hurdles you will need to overcome? Why have so many people left the department in the last few years?

One of the biggest reasons for lateral hires leaving within 18 months is that there is a mismatch of expectations between them and their new firm. This happened to me personally! I thought I was joining a firm to be working with two particular partners. Instead, I ended up working with someone else completely different. I left by mutual consent 3 months later! Throughout the hiring process your aim is to find out exactly what you will be doing and what success looks like at one month, 3 months, 6 months and 12 months into the role.

It’s not enough to do your due diligence on your new firm, but you also need to do it on yourself. You need to get brutally honest with yourself and examine why you are looking to move. How much of your problems are due to your firm and how much due to you? It’s never solely the fault of the firm. For example, if you didn’t get the career progression you wanted, how much did you take responsibility to drive your own career? It takes ‘two to tango’ when it comes to problems at work. In your new role, what will you need to change to avoiding bringing all your work problems with you?

When I was at…

There is nothing more guaranteed to wind up your new work colleagues than hearing, ‘when I was at x firm we did it like this’. Whilst you may be suggesting a great and potentially much-needed improvement, this often falls on deaf ears. Before you start making suggestions about how to improve things take the time to properly listen and truly understand the new world you are in. You need to earn the right to suggest improvements to how things are done. Additionally, try to avoid ever saying ‘when I was at...’.

No transition plan

Very often people’s transition plans look something like this, resign then tell the key people that need to know I am leaving that I am leaving, have ‘leaving do’, start a new job. That’s not enough! Your transition plan needs to include the following:

  • How to secure my internal and external network before I resign, particularly if I am likely to be sent on gardening leave and restricted in who I can contact
  • How to build up my network in my new firm before I start. Especially those people who I will be working with closely.
  • How to bring with me stuff which I want refer back to in my new role. For example, your personal records of your key KPIs and work-related achievements?
  • What I want to achieve in my new role and by when?
  • Which of my clients do I need to alert to my impending firm change? How best to let these clients know?

Burning bridges

The professional world is a small one. You never know who knows who and where colleagues may pop up again. I remember recently being asked about my views on a former team member who ten years ago made my working life hell. You can bet that I didn’t give a glowing recommendation! It is essential that you act professionally and avoid bad-mouthing your soon-to-be former firm as you exit. This means doing a complete handover of your current workload and leaving your affairs in good order before you exit the building.

Neglecting to build the internal firm network

It can be all too easy to get stuck into the work on your desk when you arrive at your new firm. Whilst it’s important to hit your chargeable time targets it’s essential to build a strong internal firm network as soon as possible. For example, who are the movers and shakers in the firm? Who holds the power? Who will support your career? Which partners need to be consulted or they will throw their toys out of the pram? As a new hire into a firm you have the luxury of a short honeymoon period, where you don’t have a full caseload and can meet and greet people in your firm. You will never have this luxury again in your new firm. Use it wisely!

Start as you mean to go on

Starting a new role gives you the opportunity to change how you work and when you work. In fact, the first 90 days in a role will set the pattern for how you work for this firm. After this point your working hours and style are pretty much fixed. However, most people take their bad habits with them from firm to firm without ever stopping to think about what they will do differently at their new firm. Therefore, before you start do a list of the things you want to change in your new role. What are you going to do to make this happen?

In summary

Changing firms can be a great way to progress your career as well as get more fulfilment from your role. To give yourself the best possible start in your new role make sure the role and firm is a good fit for you. And, prioritise establishing your new internal firm network.

Author Credit

Heather Townsend is the co-author of ‘‘How to make partner and still have a life’. She is the global expert in what it takes to make partner in a professional practice. In the last year her and her team of coaches have helped 7 people make partner and worked with clients from all the major continents of the world.


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