How to Put Your Best Foot Forward at a New Firm

Published: Jan 03, 2018

Article image

After what can be a lengthy interview process, coupled with vetting an offer and triple checking that you are making the right move, it’s time to kick back and relax, right? Wrong. Transitioning to a new law firm is a great experience, but also something that requires thought, skill and planning. Here are some pointers on how to exit your former firm and how to start your new job on the right foot.

Out with the Old

  • Don’t burn any bridges: Be professional when leaving your old firm. Give the requisite two weeks notice, make sure all your matters are tied up or reassigned and leave on a positive note (even if you don’t think you have any positivity to give to your soon-to-be former employers). Nothing is gained by leaving people with a bad taste in their mouths about you and you never know when you may need to call upon someone at your former firm.
  • Take some time off: This one is huge. Do your best to take two weeks off in between jobs, if finances and your new firm allow. Having some down time to recharge and reset is paramount in ensuring you are fresh for your new position.

In with the New

  • Introduce yourself: As a new face in the firm, it is your responsibility to introduce yourself. Say hello to your office neighbors, paralegals, legal assistants, mailroom people and basically everyone and anyone you will be interacting with. Actively make sure you meet everyone and don’t wait for people to come to you.
  • Meet the big cheeses: If there are particular partners that you would like to work with, pop into their offices to introduce yourself within your first few weeks of work. Let them know that you would be excited to work on any of their matters and also offer to help in writing articles, client pitches, or any other type of business development efforts.Coming in with a concrete idea of business development activity is even better. Set Google alerts for pertinent news relating to these partners’ practices, so that when something newsworthy breaks, you can suggest you write a client alert or article on it.
  • Don’t say no (yet): The bad news about starting at a new firm is that you have to rebuild your reputation. The good news is that people already like you, or you wouldn’t have gotten the job. In order to reaffirm people’s initial positive impressions of you, try not to turn down work for the first few months. Of course, if you are quickly getting overloaded you should speak up so that you don’t become a doormat. But expect to work a little harder than you normally would at first, as it will go a long way to engender the good will and trust that you had at your former firm.
  • Do your best work: It’s obvious that you should turn in your best work product when you start at a new firm. However, this can be harder than expected when you are navigating new personalities and the unknown preferences and quirks of your superiors. When you get an assignment from a new partner, ask as many questions as you need to get clarity. Then go a step further and talk to other associates, paralegals and/or assistants who work with the partner to find out how he or she likes things done. Maybe they hate Times New Roman, maybe they hate the word “therefore,” or maybe you always need to drop off a hard copy on their chair to ensure they read it. Gathering this intel before you complete an assignment assures that  you’ll turn in the right kind of work product.
  • Gossip with caution: Commiserating with work friends is so common it should have its own billing code. However, be careful gossiping at your new firm, since you don’t know who can and cannot keep a secret. For the first few months at work, operate under the assumption that anything you tell anyone will get escalated to the managing partner. Feel free to listen to and absorb all the firm gossip you can handle, but don’t contribute to it.
  • Don’t live in the past: think of your former law firm as an ex, and talk about it accordingly. Try to stay away from things like “well at my old firm our copy center was open until 11:00pm” or “at my old firm we had free Diet Cokes in the fridge” or “at my old firm…” you get the point.

Remember that the process of making a successful lateral move can feel like you are on a roller coaster at times, so remember to keep a positive and open attitude and enjoy the ride.

Erica Gartenberg is the President of Rocky Mountain Legal Search LLC. She places attorneys in roles ranging from law firm associates to general counsels, and works with law firms in all sizes and scales, corporations and start ups. She also is a career consultant, helping attorneys maximize their career goals. Erica can be reached at erica@rmlegalsearch.com.