Concept of successful businessman in a finishing line

When is it a good time to move to a partner role in another firm, and when should you stay put? This was the recent question that I was asked. This is the answer I gave:

Does your current firm make you happy?

It can be very tempting to jump ship for a partner role in another firm. Before you consider the job offer, take time to analyse what is going on for you at your current firm. What prompted you to seek out this opportunity? Or did the headhunter approach you out of the blue? Be honest with yourself, if you were entirely happy at your existing firm, would you even be taking the recruiter’s call? When you know what is not working for you at your current firm, it’s time to understand whether this is a firm specific issue or something which will go with you to the new firm. After all, if you are going to come up against the same brick walls in the new firm then it’s not worth the upheaval. It’s also an opportunity to work out whether the problems are fixable in your current firm. If they are fixable, do you really want to throw away all your history in your existing firm?
For example, one of my clients took up a partner role in a new firm when she realised her current firm were not set up to win the kind of work she was uniquely placed to win. As a result, she was finding it difficult to win work in her niche and being pulled more and more into a generalist type role. Her new firm had the right infrastructure and people in place to highly utilise and leverage her specialist skill set. She’s now really enjoying her new firm AND being very successful as a result of the move.

How blocked is your route to partner at your current firm?

I’ve often seen senior associates and directors contemplate a move to a new firm when their route to partnership seems blocked at their current firm. However, very often the route isn’t exactly blocked and it is within the individual’s control to open up their way to partnership.
It’s not uncommon for me to hear about lawyers who have made partner by taking a junior partner role in a new firm. Whilst this is one way to make partner, it comes with a huge amount of pressure to quickly win work. As a new partner who is a lateral-hire in a new firm, you won’t have the luxury of an established internal network to supply you with a pipeline of work and opportunities whilst you wait for your restrictive covenants to come to an end. I can’t remember the statistic exactly, but at least third of all new lateral hires at partner level do not stay beyond two years.
For example, a client of mine came to work with me after realising that until he increased the size the client portfolio, and his ability to win work he was going to struggle to make a lateral move. In fact, if he did move to a firm offering him a partner role, he was going to be making a rod for own back if he didn’t have a loyal client following who would come across with him.

Is the new firm a great fit culturally and aspirationally?

Sometimes the adage “better the devil you know” is true when it comes to moving firms. All firms have their quirks, dysfunctional partners and pockets of unhealthy sub-cultures. That’s the reality of working in a professional practice. Whilst it all may seem rosy from the outside, remember that you’ll only really find out exactly what the firm is like when you’ve been there for a few months. No-one in the recruitment stage is going to be totally honest with you and fully air the firm’s dirty laundry. If you sense that you are not going to fit in and struggle to belong in the new firm, this is a good sign that this move is not for you.
As always with these things, do your due diligence on yourself and the firm you may be joining. There is no point in jumping from a poor role into another poor role.

Are you excited by what’s on offer?

As they say, a change is often as good as a rest. I’ve seen established partners have a new lease of life after they change firm. Does the prospect of what is being offered to you make you excited? It is very easy to get seduced by the package being offered and the job title. (Finally, you get partner on your business card.) However, you need to look beyond these things and ask yourself whether you will make a success of the role AND it helps progress your personal career plan. At the end of the day these are more important than the package and title on offer.

How profitable and stable is the firm you are moving to?

If you are joining the firm as a fixed share or full equity partner you will be required to put some capital into the new firm you are joining. (Even if you are not joining as an equity partner you should still consider this.) Therefore, you need to fully vet the potential new firm to see whether your capital will be at risk for the long term. There are still traditional partnerships around which are not LLPs or LLCs. Do you really want to be liable for some other partner’s mistakes? Particularly if you were not even part of the firm at the time the mistake was made?

Has the new firm merged recently (or likely to merge in the short term)?

It is still very much merger season for accountancy and legal firms in the UK marketplace. Firm mergers, whether a euphemism for ‘acquisition’ or a happy marriage, bring uncertain times for a firm. It can take years for firms to properly integrate after a merger and for a new normality to be established? Do you want to be part of the power struggles and restructuring that inevitably happens before, during and after a merger?

Remember that if one firm is interested in you another probably will be as well

If you are a senior fee earner, whether or not an established partner, and you have a loyal client following then there will always be another firm who will consider hiring you. You don’t have to take the first job offer on the table.
The lack of talent in the accountancy marketplace in the UK at the moment is meaning that it really is a candidate’s marketplace. It is not quite as bad in the legal marketplace, but if your skill set is in demand (which most are) then there will be more job offers if you carry on looking. Don’t feel you have to move just because there is a job offer on the table. If you move it has to be the right role. There is no point in moving from the frying pan to the fire.