How to know when it’s time to move on

To some extent, we’re all guilty of status quo bias. This is the tendency to let things remain the way they are, even when we should rationally do something about it, simply because it’s easier to do nothing. It’s perfectly understandable: disrupting the status quo requires change, whereas maintaining it requires no action at all. However, in failing to act, you impact your future as much as you would by making a change. After spending seven or eight years in the same firm, it can be hard to look past the day-to-day to the bigger picture and your own professional development. By now, the routine you have established will be set in stone and the relationships you hold with colleagues and clients will be fully-fledged: moving on might seem like a daunting and risky path. 

You certainly wouldn’t be alone in this feeling. Remaining loyal to a firm for several years is common practice within the legal profession – in fact, recent figures from LVE suggest that UK workers stay with the same employer for an average of five years. As a newly qualified solicitor, it’s logical to stay with the same firm at which you trained due to the familiarity of both the firm and the staff. If climbing the ranks is on the cards, an ambitious legal practitioner would fare well in sticking with their current employer.  

However, if your “dream job” is not living up to your expectations, it could be time to consider your options. Fleeting stints of short-lived employment are often seen as a concern to hiring managers, but is there a magic number of years a solicitor should stay with a firm? Staying put and holding on for the next step up in your current firm may be a good idea in theory, but in the long-term, it could see attractive opportunities from outsiders pass you by. So how can do you know when it’s time to move on?  

No clear career progression 

While junior legal practitioners may rely on the same firm for those first few years of formation, a key issue facing many senior solicitors is the relative lack of a clear and transparent progression track. Without obvious promotion criteria and concrete aims, it can be hard to feel a sense of direction or purpose at your firm. The ultimate career ambition for most solicitors in private practice is to achieve partnership, but in the time it may take to reach this goal, you may have already missed out on fast-track development at a competitor firm.   

No work-life balance 

When you find that you’re spending less time with your family because of work, or you cannot commit the necessary time to your job, you should consider looking elsewhere. While long hours are synonymous of the legal profession, you should still be able to maintain a healthy work-life balance while performing to the best of your ability. Lack of downtime can, in fact, be detrimental to your productivity levels, so if you’re forever burning the candle at both ends, it might be the right time to look elsewhere.  

New opportunities on the horizon  

The legal profession is in a state of flux, with changes to regulation and advances in technology powering a new era for solicitors and their clients. According to new research, there are now over 800 lawyers working for ‘virtual’ law firms in the UK. Couple this with the 300 firms registered as an ABS in 2016/7 alone and it’s clear to see a market that is primed for innovation and ripe with new opportunities. While you may receive a comfortable salary from your employer, keeping in touch with your trusted recruiters from time to time will allow you to keep abreast of potential opportunities in your practice area. If one of these opportunities happens to pique your interest, it won’t harm you to find out more information. That way, you’ll know whether the time is right to take the next step in your legal career.