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Navigating Your Legal Career: Signs It Might Be Time for a New Role

Navigating Your Legal Career: Signs It Might Be Time for a New Role

written by Toby Aiston

In the ever-evolving landscape of the legal profession, the decision to transition to a new role is a pivotal one that demands careful consideration. Whether you're a seasoned legal professional or a relatively fresh face in the field, recognizing the signs that suggest it's time for a change can be instrumental in shaping your career trajectory.

1. The Three-to-Five-Year Itch

Reaching the three-to-five-year mark in your legal career can be a transformative moment. At this stage, you find yourself in a unique position—experienced enough to work independently but still relatively cost-effective for employers. This juncture often opens the door to tempting job offers that may diminish as more years of practice accumulate. If you discover yourself at this crossroads, now might be the opportune time to proactively explore new possibilities.

2. Jumping off a Sinking Ship

In the dynamic world of law firms, fortunes rise and fall, and individual practice groups may face challenges. Even if your firm is thriving overall, your specialized area, such as trademark law, might be floundering due to market competition. Opting to explore new opportunities during such times is not disloyalty; it's a strategic move to ensure your professional growth and stability.

3. Partnership Offer Dilemma

Climbing the partnership ladder is not universally attainable. Some firms have an impenetrable proverbial "glass ceiling." If you haven't secured a partnership within seven years of post-qualification experience (PQE), considering partnership opportunities at another firm becomes a viable option. However, this move requires client loyalty, emphasizing the importance of cultivating strong client relationships early in your career.

4. International Opportunities Beckon

Around the 3-5 year PQE mark, the legal world often opens doors to international opportunities. These positions are highly competitive, sought after, and serve as excellent CV boosters. Whether it's a corporate law position in New York or Hong Kong, embracing such opportunities can mark the beginning of a career-long adventure, particularly for corporate, finance, and banking lawyers.

5. Battling Burnout

The legal profession is often referred to as a "jealous mistress," demanding significant time and energy. If burnout becomes a reality after several years in practice, it's crucial to consider alternative roles. Many in-house positions with corporate legal departments offer lucrative salaries combined with reasonable 40-hour work weeks, providing a healthier work-life balance.

6. Lack of Challenge or Progression

The legal field thrives on challenges and continuous growth. If your current role fails to inspire or lacks opportunities for professional advancement, it might be time to polish your CV. Exploring firms that offer a greater breadth of work or specialize in areas that resonate with your passion can reignite your enthusiasm for the law.

7. Inflexibility and Well-Being

The benefits of remote work have become invaluable for many legal professionals. If your current job impedes work-life balance and your firm is unwilling to accommodate flexibility, it's essential to evaluate whether your current situation aligns with your desired lifestyle. Recent years have seen many law firms adopting flexible working measures, responding to the demand for a more balanced approach to work.

8. Salary Discrepancies

Understanding your worth in the current economic climate is imperative. If you find yourself being paid below market rate for your PQE, and there's no indication of improvement, it might be time to explore opportunities that better appreciate your experience and skillset.

Considering a Lateral Move

The traditional trajectory from associate to partner is undergoing a paradigm shift. Associates are increasingly exploring lateral moves for various reasons, whether to shift their practice area focus, find a better platform for non-law firm moves later in their careers, or simply seek a more supportive work environment.

Using Recruiters Wisely

Legal recruiters can be invaluable allies in your job search. With strong connections and a deep understanding of firms' specific needs, recruiters can help identify opportunities that align with your skills and expectations. They also assist in reviewing application materials, preparing for interviews, and negotiating offers on your behalf.


Deciding to make a career change is a deeply personal choice that involves both professional and personal considerations. Trusting your instincts and prioritizing your well-being and happiness are essential factors in making this decision. As you navigate your legal career, it's crucial to strike a balance between professional aspirations and personal fulfillment. Your first career move often serves as the hinge upon which the remainder of your career turns, so choose wisely and embark on a path that aligns with your priorities and aspirations.