I am nearing the end of my first year of law practice at a large west coast law firm. I am seriously concerned about the time commitment demanded of me by my job and how it affects my personal life. (I am married and planning a family soon.) I am considering making a move. My questions are: 1) is it too soon to change jobs, and 2) will leaving because of the time commitment reflect adversely on me?
Bill: Many associates change jobs after their first year of law practice. In fact, a study done by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) showed that many associates set out in law firm practice only expecting to make a one-year commitment and that 43 percent of associates left within their first three years of practice. You clearly would not be alone in making such a decision. That being said, I personally don't like seeing a one-year stint on a resume, particularly if it's the first entry. It always raises questions of commitment. Big firm practice is demanding, but it is valuable training and a permanent and positive addition to your resume. No one should stay in a job that they absolutely dread going to each day, but if your displeasure is short of that, I suggest you do yourself a favor and put in two years before making the leap.
In another NALP study, associates who changed jobs were asked what influenced their decision. In descending order, the factors most commonly cited were 1) professional development; 2) practice interests; 3) financial incentives; 4) work environment, and 5) work/life balance. In fact, a significant 25 percent cited the work/life balance (or imbalance) as a factor. So, once again, you would not be the first associate to change jobs because work left little time for other priorities.
In an interview situation, would I cite that as my main reason for seeking other work? Probably not. Even employers who understand the unusual rigors of large law firm practice may be troubled by the fact that a potential future employee regards his job as a secondary concern. Certainly other factors (professional development, practice interests, and work environment) play into the concept of a balanced work life, and I would emphasize these. In other words, assuming you would not apply to another large firm with the same time expectations, emphasize that you are seeking a smaller, more collegial work environment or that you are seeking the breadth of exposure in-house practice affords. You don't want to raise a red flag that it's the practice of law you aren't interested in. Emphasize instead your commitment to the profession in the context of a desire to find the environment that best allows you to achieve your professional goals.
Bill Seaton is the co-founder of EmplawyerNet, which offers the largest legal jobs database anywhere, with over 6,000 job listings. To ask Bill Seaton a question, read his message board, or check out past articles, visit Bill Seaton central.