Integration into 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 search and negotiation phases and continues throughout your first several months, or more, on the job.
- Manage expectations. 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, title and years to partnership consideration (if appropriate), lines of reporting, marketing, hours requirements, and so forth, should be thoroughly discussed and, if a match is made, memorialized 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 expectations.
- Do some introspection. A new job is a chance to make a fresh start. Take this opportunity to honestly review your personal and professional performance in your last position. Go over your old performance reviews. Ask yourself where you can learn to 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. Learn from your past mistakes and make some resolutions for the future.
- Handle logistics. Once you arrive at the new firm, take care of all administrative paperwork and set up your workspace as soon as possible. Bring some personal items so you feel comfortable, but take a cue from the office décor of others in the firm. Get organized and make sure you have all the resources you need at hand, or know where to find them. Seek training as soon as possible on the firm’s technology and timekeeping system. 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 as quickly and efficiently as possible so you can get to work!
- Look and listen. Keep your eyes and ears open and mouth shut until you’ve figured out the true lay of the land. You want to discover the firm’s unwritten rules, power structure and pecking order, alliances, conflicts, social or political “in-groups” and outcasts. It is also important to determine which partners, practice areas, and clients are most valued at the firm, and where the backwaters lie. (See: Working Smart)
- Get mentoring. Finding another lateral to mentor you through the initial few months is often helpful to orienting yourself to your new firm. It is best not to form any lasting allegiances until you have the real structure of the firm figured out, however. Once you have an idea of where the power lies, you can begin to establish your mentoring network. (See:Building a Mentor Network)
- Adapt style. You want to adopt the new firm’s style as quickly as possible. Every firm has its own way of doing things, which includes preferred methods of communication, language, writing style, dress code, particular clients with preferences in the way their work is handled, and the like. 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.
- Reach out. Work hard, but get out of your office and meet as many of your new colleagues as possible. 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, but when chatting, refrain from saying anything negative about your previous firm or colleagues. 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. You should be clear with them about how you prefer to work, as well.
- Join team. Present yourself as part of the team. Get on all appropriate e-mail and distribution lists so you learn of relevant committee, 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, etc, so that others get to know you and your work. Join in the firm’s pro-bono and charitable projects and sports teams. But, do not over commit yourself, keeping in mind that your primary objective is to produce many hours of excellent work.
- Prove yourself. Remember that you will need to prove yourself to your new colleagues. Your first few assignments may be less sophisticated than 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. Likewise, you may expect to see your work edited more at first, until you adapt to your new firm’s style. Ask to see the firm’s form files so that you can conform as quickly as possible.
- Integrate work. 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. Let your new colleagues know your expertise and clients, and explore cross-selling opportunities, inviting them along on client meetings and marketing calls. Respect their relationships with their clients, and 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.
Being proactive when integrating into your new environment will enhance the success of your career move.