How do you know when it’s the right time to change jobs?
Before joining Lucas Group, I spent ten years in legal practice as a litigator and in an in-house role. I’ve switched positions several times, and each time I wondered, “Will I regret leaving my current position, or if I don’t, regret a missed opportunity?”
Now, I work with many legal professionals who find themselves at a similar crossroads. Often, they’ve envisioned their career looking like this: go to law school, learn all the things, land a great job with a great salary, and climb the ladder to partner. But what happens next? Law school teaches plenty of theory, but not as much practice. That first year can be overwhelming, and it’s natural to question whether firm life is for you. Once you get your bearings, even thinking about leaving for another position and starting over can feel risky. Sometimes, it feels safer to stay where you are even if you’re unhappy.
As a legal recruiter, part of my job is to help candidates think through what’s next. When a candidate is unhappy with their current role but also hesitant toward the unknown, I encourage them to focus on these three areas:
Identify the source of your frustration. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed or upset with a job without completely understanding why. It’s just a general feeling of unhappiness. When a candidate says they’re feeling that way, I ask them to identify the root cause. Is it the hours? The location? A specific person? The type of work they’re doing? In some cases, the challenge can be fixed internally. Perhaps your company would let you work remotely a few days a week, which could solve an issue around location or an unpleasant coworker. Knowing the reason for your discontentment also helps when looking at other opportunities.
Don’t generalize based on one experience. Recently, I spoke with an associate who graduated from a top law school and has been at a top law firm for 11 months. He’s on track to bill about 2,400 to 2,500 hours this year. When he’s not in the office, he’s never away from his phone in case he needs to take a call or head back into the office. He told me, “I don’t think I can work at a law firm.” After less than a year at one firm! The problem wasn’t law firms in general. He was skeptical about this specific one. It was draining his mental health and he felt every other experience would be similar. I’ve been working to place him at smaller boutique firms. They may have a bit lower pay (~10-20% below Big Law market in Chicago), but they also expect employees to bill 1,700 to 1,900 hours annually. It’s the difference between hustling and then taking a break versus hustling, hustling, hustling — with no end in sight.
Keep an open mind. In a previous role, I worked in-house at Allstate. I encourage job candidates to take a similar mindset as you would when shopping for insurance. It’s a best practice to assess your auto insurance every six months, so why not do the same for your job trajectory? Knowing what else is out there is critical for career longevity and mental health. Simply seeing other options does not mean you’re “cheating” on your current company. You could very well come back and decide, “nope, what I’ve got here is great.” Or maybe you’ll realize there’s a better fit elsewhere. But you won’t know unless you keep an open mind to exploring what’s possible. That’s why I try to avoid calling client and candidate conversations “interviews” because both sides should be evaluating each other. When the two align, it truly is the perfect match.
Have you switched positions recently? Let me know how your experience went in the comments below.