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September 2016

Compensation in the Open Market

Compensation for attorneys can be determined by a number of objective and subjective factors including tenure, quality of work product, profitability, and information gathered from salary studies. You may know how your compensation stacks up to others at your firm or even what people make at other firms, but do know if it is comparable to what you would make in the open market?

A lot of attorneys have no idea if their compensation measures up to their true market value. By true market value, I am referring to how much you could expect to earn if you decided to explore other options in the legal market – not what a typical attorney makes after so many years of experience. Some people are actually making more than they would in the open market because they are currently being rewarded for factors that are not given the same consideration by prospective employers. Yes, loyalty and teamwork is valued by all employers, but it is often measurable attributes such as business generation and working receipts that carry the most weight in the open market. This is especially true in a post-recession economy where the ability to generate revenue is becoming expected of all.

If you are working hard to generate business and starting to see real revenue growth as a result, you should ask yourself how much of your potential income is going to others who are not as productive (especially those who make no effort). There may be other factors that make your current work experience so positive that the potential of lost income is okay, but if you could have a similar experience and make considerably more money elsewhere it might be worth your time to explore your true market value.

It’s time to think about what you actually DO as an attorney

“I’m an attorney. More specifically, I’m a litigator. Even more specifically, I’m a products defense attorney.” Great – that’s the type of law that you practice, but what do you DO?

The general type of law that you practice is important to start a discussion about a new job, but it doesn’t answer the question of what you do – which is imperative to think about when contemplating a job change.

As a legal recruiter, we always ask exactly that – what do you do? It’s an insightful question that often goes overlooked by candidates.

Thinking about your job in terms of what you actually do is important because it forces you to evaluate your specific skillset when considering a new position. It can force you to see deficiencies in your resume and can get you out of a career rut.

We recently worked with an attorney at a big firm. She is a litigator at a large, national firm and for the past seven years she has been comfortable doing what she has been asked to do – reviewing documents and researching case law. She was recently passed over for partnership and is now wondering why she isn’t attractive to other employers. She never stopped to ask what she actually did. She assumed she was a litigator. She assumed that other firms would always want to hire her because she was “litigating”. Because she never really thought about what a litigator actually does (compared with what she actually did on a day to day basis), she never thought to expand her skillset to make herself more marketable. She also learned a powerful lesson (and the topic of a future blog post) – don’t rely on your firm to advance your career; YOU need to make sure that you have the skills you need to advance.

Had this attorney taken some time to reflect on her career – that she was still doing important work, but not increasingly complicated work on litigation matters, she would have realized that what she was doing was a thin slice of what a litigator does. She was not, in fact, a seasoned litigator and her value to other firms was severely diminished as a result.

What could she have done? Maybe she could have taken on more responsibility at her firm. Maybe she could have tried to market her practice to get some of her own clients (of which she could have taken on a larger litigation role). Maybe she could have realized that her firm was making her increasingly unmarketable and tried to find a new job earlier. Whatever the case may be, the best time to think about what you actually do is NOW – not later.

Another very common example of how not understanding what someone DOES can affect their chance at career change comes in the legal resume. Too often people let their job title stand alone on the resume, not putting ample thought into parsing out what skills they have learned and what accomplishments they have had in their current (or past) roles. Simply putting “litigation attorney” on your resume doesn’t make you competent in all facets of litigation. Think about all areas of your practice and make sure they are clearly laid out in the resume. Essentially, this is forcing you to answer the question of “what do I do?”.

As many of us ramp our work schedules up with summer (sadly) behind us, take some time to really think about the question of what you do if you want to advance your career!

You Don't Have To Settle

You spend most of your day (and too often a good part of your evening) at work so why settle for a job that does not fulfill your professional or personal objectives? There are constant reminders in the news and in our personal lives just how short life can be so do yourself a favor and at least explore opportunities that might be more fulfilling.

Yes, there is always risk involved with a job change but rarely is there true reward without taking some chances. Too often people fall into the trap of complacency because they don’t think things could be better elsewhere or are “comfortable” with the dissatisfaction of their current job versus the uncertainty of a new job. Of course, every new job posting does not contain the golden ticket for happiness or even necessarily address everything you seek. However, if you are 25% happier in your job and your work constitutes the majority of your waking hours, then even a seemingly marginal change can make a huge difference in your overall happiness.

It is very easy to get caught up in the minutia of your job and just ignore the frustration that you experience on a regular basis. The answer to finding more happiness may be out there but you will never know if you are willing to settle for less.