Lawyer Transitions: How to Succeed in Your New Job

Lawyer Transitions: How to Succeed in Your New Job

Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass
Special to
November 22, 2010

Getting off to a good start in a new work environment is as important to your success as choosing the right job. While some responsibility for integration falls to the hiring firm, a wise attorney will be proactive. The process begins during the interviewing and negotiation phases of the search and continues throughout your first several months, or more, on the job.


Many lateral moves fail because expectations on the part of either the attorney or the hiring firm, or both, were not met. Expectations should be explored and clarified during interviews and offer negotiations. Issues such as skills, job description, compensation and benefits, performance reviews, support, client responsibility and origination credit, title, years to partnership consideration (if appropriate), lines of reporting, marketing, hours requirements, and so forth, should be thoroughly discussed.

If a match is made, memorialize the salient details in writing. If you are a senior attorney, agreeing upon a business plan with the new firm during the offer stage is an excellent way to ensure a meeting of the minds regarding rainmaking expectations.


A new job is a chance to make a fresh start, learn from your past mistakes and make resolutions for the future. Take this opportunity to review your personal and professional performance in your last position. Ask yourself where you can work better with your new colleagues. Set goals for professional advancement and determine how you can go about expanding your skills and connections for career growth and business development.


Take care of all administrative paperwork and set up your workspace before your start date or expeditiously upon your arrival at the new firm. Bring some personal items so you feel comfortable, but take a cue from the office decor of others in the firm. Get organized and make sure you have all the resources you need, or know where to find them. Seek training as soon as possible on the firm's technology and timekeeping system. Understand the phone system and introduce yourself to the receptionists. Get to know the firm's resource people such as technical support, librarians and facilities managers, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Handle the logistics quickly and efficiently so you can get to work.


While doing your best to be productive, keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut until you've figured out the true lay of the land. Look for the firm's unwritten rules, power structure, alliances, conflicts, social or political "in-groups" and outcasts. Determine which partners, practice areas and clients are most valued at the firm, and where the backwaters lie. Read internal and external communications and note who and what is in the spotlight. Respect any formal or informal hierarchies within the firm.

Finding another lateral to mentor you through the initial few months often is helpful to orienting yourself to your new firm. Once you have an idea of where the power lies, you can begin to build your mentoring network among the established ranks of the firm.


Adopt and adapt to the new firm's style as quickly as possible. Every firm has its own way of doing things, which includes preferred methods of communication and writing style, dress code, particular clients with preferences in the way their work is handled, and the like. Check the firm's form files so that you can conform your work as quickly as possible. While it's not necessary to become a clone, you want to accommodate your new firm's preferences within your own style. Refrain from saying, "We did it this way at my old firm" until you are well settled and think you know a better way of doing something that will be appreciated by your new firm. Even then, you may want to suggest the alternative without attributing it to your former firm.


Work hard, but get out of your office and meet as many of your new colleagues as you can as soon as you can. If you joined the firm as part of a larger group, reach beyond those familiar faces. Connect with the lawyers who interviewed you, and fellow alumni from your law school and undergraduate institutions, as they are a built-in start to your network of colleagues.

Greet everyone you meet in the hallways. Introduce yourself and ask their names and what they do. Then, check your firm directory or website for further information. Ask your new colleagues out for lunch or coffee, and accept their invitations. If your new firm has many locations, make sure to reach out to lawyers in other offices, as well.

Be nice to everyone, especially the support staff, as they are essential to your success. Some long-time staffers can give you the inside scoop on how the firm is run and how various attorneys work. They also will provide invaluable support in getting your work done. You should be clear with them about how you prefer to work, as well.


Present yourself as part of the team. Get on all appropriate e-mail and distribution lists so you learn of relevant committee, department, practice group, or firm meetings, and attend. Participate in training sessions and social events. Make yourself available to work with as many partners as possible and volunteer for firm committees, to write for the newsletter, or to contribute to client or in-house seminars, so that others get to know you and your work. Join in the firm's pro-bono and charitable projects and sports teams. However, do not overcommit yourself, keeping in mind that your primary objective is to produce many hours of excellent work, regardless of your seniority.


You are an unknown quantity and will need to prove yourself to your new colleagues. For associates, your first few assignments may be either more or less sophisticated than what you handled at your former firm. Do them cheerfully, efficiently and well. Once you demonstrate that you produce excellent work consistently and in a timely manner, the firm will be comfortable assigning you more challenging work, or continuing to do so. Likewise, even senior lawyers may expect to see your work edited more at first, until you adapt to your new firm's style.


Especially for senior or partner-level laterals, remember that there may be some territoriality or resentment about your place in the pecking order. Be sensitive to those feelings and share work as soon and often as possible. Take the first step so that your new colleagues will be comfortable sharing business with you. Let your new colleagues know your expertise and clients, and explore cross-selling opportunities for the lawyers in your new firm, inviting them to client meetings and marketing calls. On the other hand, respect their relationships with their clients. When a colleague refers business to you, copy the originating partner on your work. Learn how new business is brought into the firm, new matters are opened, and work is assigned, and follow those procedures. Ask to meet with the firm's marketing staff as part of the interviewing process or soon after joining, so that you can start marketing the new firm to your clients right away.

Expect things to be different in your new work environment. That's why you made the move -- right? Going above and beyond the firm's established program for integrating lateral attorneys into the new environment will be well worth your effort and will greatly enhance the success of your career move.


Read articles in the "Lawyer Transitions" series:

  1. Lawyer Transitions: Money Isn't Everything
  2. Lawyer Transitions: The Art of Negotiation
  3. Lawyer Transitions: Talking About Compensation
  4. Lawyer Transitions: What's on the Negotiating Table?
  5. Lawyer Transitions: Figuring Out Multiple Offers
  6. Lawyer Transitions: Giving Notice Without Burning Bridges
  7. Lawyer Transitions: Encountering Counteroffers
  8. Lawyer Transitions: It's Time to Go
  9. Lawyer Transitions: How to Succeed in Your New Job