The lateral move playbook

When starting a new job, keep your door open to visitors, invite a colleague to lunch and treat people with kindness

In the past few years, I’ve been stunned to witness so much lateral movement in the legal community. I don’t have the hard data, but if all the LinkedIn announcements — not to mention the spike in poaching throughout Big Law — are any indication, lawyers have likely changed jobs in record numbers amid the pandemic. Over the course of my own career, I’ve started a new job on more than one occasion, so I know how difficult it can be to smoothly transition to another workplace. But I’ve learned a lot along the way. Allow me to pass on some of those lessons, so that, when you make your next career move, you do more than update your LinkedIn profile.

First and foremost, when starting a new job, it’s important to introduce yourself to your colleagues. In my opinion, that means putting in face time. And I’m talking about the in-person kind, not the iPhone kind. If you can, go into the office regularly and meet with as many people as possible. Over the coming year, as we continue our gradual return to pre-COVID times, more people will be back at their desks during the workday. When that happens, you want them to know that you’ll be on hand when they need you.

While you’re at the office, make it a priority to build relationships. Keep your door open to visitors. Set up coffee meetings. Invite people to lunch. During those conversations, treat everyone with kindness. Take an interest in the people you’re with by asking about their lives outside of work. And above all, don’t simply talk about yourself.

At the same time, be humble and respectful. While getting to know your new colleagues, don’t complain, gossip or engage in off-colour humour. Once friendships develop, you can loosen up a bit, but only when the time is right. Be careful until you get to that point. If you make a poor first impression, it can stick with you for a long time.

Next, familiarize yourself with the inner workings of the organization. Dedicate yourself to learning the systems and processes that are in place. If you’re not offered formal training, find the right people and politely ask them to show you how things work. You might be busy with substantive work at the outset, but it’s still crucial to make time to learn the ropes.

On that note, remember that you are there to adapt to your new employer, not the other way around. If you feel that things ought to be done differently, don’t be too quick to voice those concerns. After your initiation period, there will be an appropriate time to offer constructive feedback. But while you are still new, learn how things are done and try to keep your opinion to yourself.

The respect you show should extend to everyone in the office, not just the people above you. Treat everyone equally, especially your subordinates and support staff. You may outrank those people, but they have been there longer than you, so show them the same respect that you’d expect to receive.

Moving laterally into a new workplace will always present its own challenges, and it’s often tricky to fit in at a place where people are already established. So make sure you take steps to adapt and show deference to your new coworkers. If you approach it the right way, you’ll soon find your place at your new home.

Daniel Waldman is a commercial litigator at Dickinson Wright LLP. He writes about career satisfaction and business development for Precedent.