For the next few issues of the Lateral Hub Newsletter/Blog, we’ll be exploring a key question: when is the right time to lateral?
I’m excited about this series of blog posts because it’s based on collaboration with several experts in the field – I’m a member of the fantastic PD Providers Group, a group of legal professional development providers from certified career coaches to legal writing experts to productivity gurus. During one of our monthly Zooms, I raised the question for the group to weigh in – when do you think is the right time to lateral? I gave my initial thoughts and opened the floor.
The discussion got the group excited, since this is something that every attorney has thought about. Many of the factors that were raised on the call seemed obvious, but were not. When someone was able to articulate it, it moved it from an abstract concept in the back of an attorney’s mind to a key factor in the front of an attorney’s mind when making a career decision. Sometimes you have a sense for something but can’t put your finger on it until someone describes it out loud.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the conversation (and more to come on a lot of this):
— To use law school jargon, working hard is an assumption for the hypothetical. The analysis of whether to lateral assumes that you are working a lot, consistent with the typical experience of an associate at a top-tier law firm.
— With this mind, my first idea to the group is a concept I like to call “learning per hour” (LPH for short). Assume you are working a lot of hours – but how much are you learning per billable hour?
— Other factors that the group members articulated: What percentage of the work excites you? How is the job affecting your personal well-being? Do you enjoy working with your colleagues? Do you see yourself in the shoes of those attorneys that are more senior than you? Are the partners invested in your professional growth? There are several more.
— The factors themselves are important, but also how these factors work together. For example, is the work interesting enough? Why not? Would the work be more interesting if the deadlines were more manageable? If your well-being is suffering, is it tied to the work, the schedule, the people, or something else?
— And, if you realize from these factors that your experience can be improved and it may be time to lateral, first ask yourself – can these improvements be made without switching firms? Often times, figuring out how to improve your experience within your current firm should be done before deciding to lateral.
In the upcoming issues:
We’ll explore the concept of “learning per hour” in more detail and some key examples of low LPH that causes associate attrition.
We’ll hear from Val Federici, certified career coach and co-founder of Level Up Legal
(a brand-new legal coaching course offering and community launching in September) to dive into the factor of how much of the work excites you and how to slow down, assess that, and make changes.
We’ll hear from Jessie Spressart, founder of Optia Consulting
and attorney well-being expert who speaks for law firm attorneys around the country, to dive into the factor of well-being, how to assess your well-being, and how to pinpoint the areas for improvement, based on an established well-being framework published by the American Bar Association.
We’ll also explore how to look into improving these factors within your current firm before deciding to lateral.
If you are a law firm associate starting to think about when your next step should be, this is a great time to be a Lateral Hub newsletter subscriber. (It’s always a great time to be a Lateral Hub newsletter subscriber.)
Also a great time share with friends and colleagues.
Don’t wait until the “right time” to start thinking about these ideas. Being thoughtful at all times about when to make a career change before you feel like you “need to” is important – it is easy to get on auto-pilot and realize you wish you had made a move earlier. Or, the opposite, you may decide abruptly to make a move without keying in on why, only to realize you wish you hadn’t.