I need some advice. I am an associate at an international law firm in Tokyo and have been for some years. Things aren’t terrible for me right now, and I’m not looking for a quick out, but I am starting to wonder whether there may be opportunities out there that are more challenging, rewarding, or offer better career advancement prospects.
I wish to start exploring my options but my concern is that word may get back to people in my firm. The legal industry is not so big here and I sense that gossiping isn’t uncommon.
What do you think is the best way to approach the market? Alternatively, should I just wait until I really need to leave my firm?
Afraid of Gossip
Firstly, I commend you for starting to deliberate on your career. Career change is a big decision and can be risky. Nevertheless, it never hurts to stay informed about your options, and you may find that some opportunities are worth the risk.
To answer your second question first, I strongly advise against waiting until you absolutely need an exit. There are a number of reasons for this, but most importantly, you will be limiting your options to what may be available at your moment of need. While many firms are always on a look out for quality talent, they may not always have the headcount to hire in your specific practice area.
So then, what about word of mouth?
You are certainly not alone in being concerned about gossip. With various networking events, lawyers acquainting themselves with attorneys on opposite sides of transactions and people changing firms, it isn’t outlandish to be afraid that word of mouth may spin out of control.
That said, a job application is a strictly confidential process. When dealing with recruiters, you will undoubtedly be required to share your resume at some stage. However, any respectable and properly professional recruiter will never share this to an outside party without your approval. This way, you will be able to stay on top of exactly who is in possession of your personal information and is aware of your interest to explore.
It is also in the interest of any hiring firm’s to keep everything under wraps. If word gets out about an application and that jeopardises the person’s standing within their present organisation, this will substantially impair the firm’s ability to recruit quality talent in the future.
Never forget that people do talk. If you wish to involve friends and/or colleagues for second opinion, make sure you can trust them to keep a secret.
As for how to approach the market, be open with your recruiter.
If you are looking for something specific in your next firm, let the recruiter know, so that he/she can make inquiries to clients about these points on your behalf, often on a confidential basis (i.e. without disclosing your name, firm, etc.). If there are attorneys or organisations that you feel are too closely connected your present firm, be clear about your intentions to hold off on such applications.
Another potential option is to ask for a casual meeting (i.e. not a formal job interview) as a way to start discussions with a potential employer. This way, in case word does get out you were meeting another firm, it can be under the pretext that you were simply networking. Having gathered information directly from potential employers, you can limit your formal job applications to those that truly pique your interest.
Be mindful however that this avenue is not always open. Taking this approach may make you appear only lukewarm to the idea of considering their firm. Hiring partners typically have demanding work commitments and they may be reluctant to meet applicants who are not ‘all in’. Recruiters with good relationships with firms or partners can often open such doors, so it never hurts to ask.
Finally, approach any ‘casual’ meeting like you would a formal interview.
Partners will help you learn further about the opportunity on offer, but they take the opportunity to assess your qualifications and fit for their team as well. Make sure to make the best first impression.
Best of luck! Wishing you a drama-free exploration of the job market!