Can I apply for another law firm job without alerting my current employer that I'm searching?
September 6, 2006 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Can I apply for another law firm job without alerting my current employer to the fact that I'm searching for another job?

I'm an attorney at a large law firm in a mid-sized market. I'm one year into my practice, and I'd like to switch firms and departments. But I'm concerned that applying to another firm will alert my current firm to the fact that I'm searching. How should I handle this? Is it possible to apply for another job while remaining relatively certain that the potential employer won't contact my current employer without my permission?

I assume that this is a routine problem, and that there's a procedure for dealing with it, but I don't know what that procedure is. Thanks in advance.
posted by gd779 to Work & Money (7 answers total)
Best answer: Well, the recruiting agencies will redact your resume when referring you (saying "large firm candidate). If you're interviewing on your own, the hiring partner will ask you outright, "does the firm know you're looking?" At which point you say, "no" and then they will say "at what point can we tell them?" and you say "if you're extending me an offer contingent on my references confirming I've worked there, you may call my current firm."
posted by crush-onastick at 6:38 AM on September 6, 2006

If you follow crush's advice, I would suggest you tell your current employer that you've been looking and to expect that call for references. I doubt they'd appreciate learning from your new employer that you're about to quit.
posted by Joe Invisible at 6:56 AM on September 6, 2006

If you provide any information about your current employer, you open yourself up to having them called unexpectedly (see several previous AskMeFi questions about asshole employers that called candidates' current employers when specifically asked not to do so). Either you need to redact your resume yourself -

"2004-present - worked at major law firm, did some stuff"

- or you need to inform your boss.
posted by jellicle at 7:14 AM on September 6, 2006

Word might get around but also keep in mind that associates leave firms all the time. It could result in one of two helpful scenarios: (a) your current employer offers you more cash to stay, tries to address your concerns and seeks to find you a better spot in its office or (b) it helps to find you a position with one of its clients. (or maybe neither...)

That being said, I would keep it on the down-low. At the end of your cover letter, a phrase like "Your discretion in this confidential matter is greatly appreciated" might help.
posted by greedo at 7:22 AM on September 6, 2006

Crush-onastick is correct. If you tell the hiring firm not to call your current firm until you say it's okay, they'll wait. It's pretty common for a lawyer-applicant to request that the hiring firm not contact the current firm at all, or if they insist upon it to only do so after a contingent offer is made (at which point you have to tell your employer to expect the call, as Joe Invisible says). Sometimes word gets around especially if the hiring process is long, e.g. a few months.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:25 AM on September 6, 2006

If your new employer merely needs to verify employment, you might direct them to your firm's website (assuming it has one). Most law firm sites have bios of their associates (and sometimes pictures). That would be an easy way for them to do a pre-check of employment, but you should still follow greedo's advice regarding a request for discretion. If they look at the site and then wanted to confirm that you still work there, they could just call the firm and ask for you by name. Good luck!
posted by Lockjaw at 9:28 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: I'm a fourth-year associate, and having recently done the exact same thing I would strongly caution against letting your current firm know anything about your intention to leave. Should your interviewing result in no offer, you will find yourself in a position where your current firm knows you want to leave, but you have nowhere to go. That can get very messy.

In my experience, most firms won't ask for a reference, knowing the situation is awkward. In my case, they DID ask for a reference, which meant spilling to beans to one more senior attorney who I trusted not to tell the whole world. It was still a touchy situation, but by directing them to one person to give the reference, I was able to navigate through the danger zones with relative ease.

Two others things to consider:

1) Who/where are you thinking of moving to? If the new firm is a competitor, be more tight-lipped. If you're moving out of field and/or out of area, I'd still be tight-lipped, but not as strictly.

2) Think long and hard about moving in your first year and a half of practice. Especially at bigger firms, this is a warning sign of someone who is not ready to make a commitment, and if you do manage to secure a new position, make sure you stay for at least several years before making another change. Employers definitely don't like to see that you've moved around a lot.

Hope this helps.
posted by saladpants at 11:43 AM on September 6, 2006

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