With lackluster bonuses paid out by most firms in 2010, it is not surprising that many associates will be job searching for a new law firm - and some will be fortunate enough to secure a new position. Since most law firms have trimmed the "fat" and reduced the number of attorneys on its payroll, many associates have been working harder and billing record hours. Therefore, for the first time since the recession began, firms may actually be disappointed when one of its associates gets hired at another law firm, and are more likely to present these associates with tempting counteroffers.
We all know the studies and employment reports: it costs a firm more to hire new employees than to retain current employees. This fact is especially true with firms operating with fewer associates and an increased amount of work projected in 2011. It is important to be prepared and know how to react when presented with a counteroffer. Consider some of the following pointers if you receive a counteroffer from your current employer:
I. Evaluate your current employment situation and remind yourself why you were job searching in the first place.
Reassess your experience at your current firm and look at the main reasons why you decided to look for a new job. Some of the issues or concerns might be the following: work load; quality of work provided; personal growth/partnership potential; firm/practice viability; firm dynamics; co-workers/partners you work with; benefits; salary/bonuses; etc. Also, don't forget to review the intangible reasons: Do you feel appreciated at work? Is your work at the firm fulfilling? Are you satisfied with the work-life balance at your current firm?
By reviewing the reasons that instigated your job search, you will then be in a position to analyze all of the negative features of your current firm. Now ask yourself: Does the counteroffer address all of those issues? If you don't mesh well with your current firm's culture, it is highly doubtful that the counteroffer will change that. Maybe you are a lone wolf who prefers working at a firm that fosters individuality and personal achievements. Or maybe you are a team player who thrives in a team-oriented environment that rewards firm or group performance. Either way, you will be kidding yourself if you think the firm will change its culture to retain you. Odds are, there are multiple reasons why you are unhappy at your current firm. By considering all of these reasons in its totality, you won't be blinded by the dollar figures or other perks of a counteroffer.
II. Assess what the new firm is offering you and determine whether it addresses the issues/shortfalls of your current firm.
After you evaluate the shortcomings of your current firm, you will have better points of comparison. For many attorneys, getting the first Biglaw job was a new and stressful experience. From the outside looking in, most law firms looked the same - the attorneys at each firm had similar credentials, each firm had nice offices in prime locations, and the websites at each firm had the exact same spiel about employment opportunities and firm prestige. Throughout law school, you probably heard random stories and opinions from fellow classmates about law firms, but you still had difficulty differentiating between firms. Now that you are a few years into your practice, you know more about each firm, and more importantly, which firms to avoid. Additionally, you have actual experience in a law firm and know what features are important to you.
Once you are aware of these points, you know what aspects of a job to look for and what questions to ask. If you never want to have a child, you probably don't care about the firm's maternity leave policy. If you are a transactional attorney, you probably won't care about the firm's great litigation training program. On the other hand, if you drive to work, you probably want to know about the firm's parking policy, and if you are pressed for time outside of the office, you will probably appreciate the firm's concierge services.
In addition to these perks, also look at some of the unique opportunities the new firm is offering. For example, if you are a litigator and your current firm is not giving you real litigation experience, the new firm may be giving you a better offer by immediately making you second chair. Or if you are worried about partnership chances and you are always stuck behind the scenes at your current firm, is getting immediate client contact at the new firm a better offer? You probably already considered all of these attributes before you even interviewed at the new firm, so this exercise might be just a review for you. Regardless, it is important to remember all of the problem areas at your current firm and see how the new firm stacks up.
III. Carefully analyze the counteroffer of your current firm and see if it is really better than the new offer.
Take some time to evaluate the counteroffer from your current firm and determine if it is really the best option for you. Does the counteroffer really fit in with your long-term goals (e.g., 5, 10, and 25 years down the road)? Don't be short-sighted and only look at the dollar figures of the offers; view the entire offer at each firm as a package, and then determine which firm is a better opportunity. If the counteroffer is purely financial, add up all the negative features of your current firm and give it a price tag. Stay if the counteroffer really trumps your current offer; go to the new firm if it doesn't.
Also, be sure to look at the context of the counteroffer from your current law firm's perspective: you went behind their back and tried to get another job while working for them. While no one is expecting you to be loyal to one law firm for the rest of your life, your current firm has reason to question your loyalty in the near-term. So ask yourself whether this counteroffer is legitimate, or a stalling tactic. Is your current firm "playing nice" because it needs you to finish an important project? Will you be the first one out the door if your firm needs to conduct economic-based layoffs? Will partners trust you with sensitive or long-term projects now that they know you are a potential flight-risk? There may be several other issues that are specific to your situation that you will need to assess before you accept a counteroffer.
IV. Consider the ramifications, both tangible and intangible, of accepting the counteroffer and reneging on the new firm.
In the legal community, your reputation is everything. Whether it is gaining new clients, working with opposing counsel, or even getting a new job down the line, if you have a reputation for being flakey or for backing out of agreements, you will face an uphill battle. While it is unlikely for a firm to sue you for backing out of a job offer, firms do talk to each other, especially when it comes to client referrals and attorney recommendations. If someone recommended you for the job, you also need to consider his or her reputation as well. That person might have gone to bat for you and now that person looks like he or she makes questionable judgment calls.
V. Recognize buyer's remorse for what it actually is – fear of the unknown.
Odds are, if you are given a counteroffer by your current firm, you are probably very good at what you do. You know the writing style that is particular to partner X, you are the "go-to" person for an important legal issue, and you know which hallways to avoid if you want to leave the office before 7:00 p.m. You may be complacent with your routine at your current firm, but you are obviously not happy with your employer choice - or you wouldn't have been looking for a new job in the first place. In addition to any financial perks of a counteroffer, you may also be attracted to the familiarity aspect of your current job.
In looking at the new job offer, you are probably worried about starting at the bottom and not being the superstar you are at your current firm. These concerns are normal and you need to recognize them as your fear of the unknown. While you may not become the "go-to" person at the outset of your new job, you have skills that are important to this firm (or you would not have been hired in the first place). Just like your first day at school, you are going to have to get used to your new surroundings and be confident in your current skills and abilities. Being afraid of new challenges or starting over should not hold you back from better and more fulfilling opportunities. Be sure to talk to your friends, people in your professional network, or recruiter; you may need the perspective of an outsider, or even just a pep talk. Sometimes the emotional connections to the current firm may get in the way of rational thought and decision-making. Use the people you trust to bounce off your concerns and feelings – you don't have to give them the details of either job offer, but they might give you a better perspective throughout this process.
Hopefully these pointers will assist you in case you are ever put in the unenviable (or maybe enviable) position of dealing with a counteroffer from your current firm. If you have questions about seeking new employment opportunities, or would like a professional recruiter to assist you in your job search, contact any of the recruiting professionals at Lateral Link. Be sure to check out other articles and the firm profiles on the Career Center website for additional job searching resources.