Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

Junior lawyers should avoid ‘job hopping’

The next generation of leaders in law may have been increasingly predisposed to ‘job hopping’ in recent years and for myriad reasons. However, recruiters say that such practitioners should be wary of vocational movements too frequently – particularly in the current climate.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 29 August 2023 Big Law
expand image

Job hopping – the act of moving jobs more than twice in a row within 12 months of starting a new role – is certainly not a new concept. According to Bloomberg, Millennials are increasingly seeing the benefits of such movement, and as reported by New York Times, job hopping may have lost its stigma amongst younger workers.

The dynamics of job hopping in the legal profession, Carlyle Kingswood Global director (in-house, legal and governance) Phillip Hunter opines, are “complex and multifaceted, reflecting broader societal changes in attitudes towards work, career progression and personal fulfilment”.

Such vocational movement, Dovetail Legal Secondees & Recruitment managing director Andrew Murdoch muses, is understandable – for lawyers and non-lawyers alike – as it pertains to emerging professionals discovering who they are and what they want from their careers.


“Conversely, as we age, we become more confident about career choices and move less frequently,” he reflects.

Earlier this year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the number of people who had changed jobs in the previous year, with 14.9 per cent of those aged 1524 having done so, followed by 11.2 per cent of those aged 2544.

It is important to note, Mr Murdoch pointed out, that current job mobility rates are well below those from the mid-90s (in 1996, 24 of 15–24-year-olds were moving roles), but job mobility this year stands at its highest rate in a decade.

Job hopping in law can be a double-edged sword, continues Mr Hunter.

“On one hand, it offers opportunities for diverse experience, increased salary potential, networking and finding the right fit,” he says.

“On the other hand, it can lead to reputation risk, challenges in relationship building, limitations in knowledge and skill development, and potential impact on clients.”

To this end – and to the extent that the next generation of leaders in law are engaged in job hopping – how wise is it to continue down such a path?

Are emerging practitioners engaging in job hopping?

Burgess Paluch Legal Recruitment partner, Belinda Fisher, said she is seeing junior lawyers job hopping in ways they may not have done pre-pandemic.

There are many potential reasons for this, she lists, including that, “through no fault of their own”, some juniors lost jobs at the start of the pandemic; they did not receive the offer of their preferred ‘seat’/area of law after their graduate program concluded, and moved in order to practice in their preferred area of law; some moved in order to take advantage of that salary bump when they may not have moved previously; and juniors were able to move more readily in a candidate-driven market, in which “employers needed to pay more for those lawyers”.

Beacon Legal director Alex Gotch backed this latter point, noting that salaries are “rising at record levels – which is enough to turn the heads of most people”.

With such salary increases and such a bounty of job opportunities, he notes, the already-common movement between jobs for lawyers is “exacerbated” up from its standard frequency.

Elsewhere, Ms Fisher goes on, the market of 2022 “allowed lawyers to move up a title banding (without currently holding that title) which was usually impossible pre-pandemic”, and “the hybrid week was introduced due to the pandemic, and junior lawyers have enjoyed WFH and are now moving for greater flexibility in order to WFH”.

Mr Murdoch also points to various environmental factors to account for a potential increase in job hopping, including the low unemployment rate and a backlog of lawyers who didn’t change roles during the pandemic, and who are now seeking change.

He also hypothesises that social media’s growing influence may be playing a part.

“If you look online, are all your friends working awesome jobs ‘killing it’ in cool start-ups and appearing as if they are earning twice as much as you? Or is it another social media mirage?,” he asks.

Mr Hunter says that while he hasn’t necessarily observed a marked increase in traditional job hopping, there has definitely been a “nuanced shift” towards roles with NewLaw outfits that offer contract/short-term placements.

“It’s worth noting that most of these individuals are also actively seeking permanent roles concurrently. This trend reflects a broader change in the employment landscape, where flexibility and adaptability are becoming more valued,” he explains.

Naiman Clarke managing director, Elvira Naiman, also hasn’t seen more job hopping since the pandemic: “I think it looks like that on paper because a good proportion of lawyers new to the industry during the pandemic found it hard to get a foot in and accepted roles they wouldn’t have otherwise, so have moved beyond those roles as soon as they could,” she says.


Job hopping may be slowly being destigmatised, as NYT reports, but for the legal profession in Australia, this may not always be the case.

While it is commonplace for lawyers to switch jobs after two to three years, Mr Gotch notes, there remains “positive weight” attached to CVs which demonstrate loyalty and continuity.

“Generally, one or two moves before reaching senior associate level is normal and does not raise questions, but three or more moves within your associate years as a lawyer can cause issues when job searching and you will often need justifiable reasons for these moves,” he submits.

Most partners and firms, Ms Naiman argues, “really take issue” with an applicant that looks jumpy without good reason.

“I ask candidates to try to commit to each role for at least 18 months. Part of the reason I think the stigma exists is that it is actually really expensive to onboard a lawyer, and many under senior associate level take a good three months to actually become profitable to the firm,” she explains.

“In the circumstances, and especially if a recruitment fee has also been associated with the candidate, the firm would want to know that their ‘investment’ will pay dividends.”

That the stigma remains, even to some extent, is unfortunate, Ms Fisher goes on, given some pandemic moves are through no fault of the employee.

But while pandemic and post-pandemic reasons are justifiable and can be explained, she details, it is in the employer’s best interests to hire someone who will stay with them.

“They do not want an employee who will move on just for an increase in salary. Employers see numerous moves in one’s CV as a red flag,” Ms Fisher says.

“An employer wants to be assured that the lawyer will consider the employer based on the merits of the role and what the employer can offer careerwise. Job hopping does not reflect this consideration.”

Mr Murdoch supports this: “Lawyers are trained to be sceptical, and the profession is based on precedent (i.e., your work history). In the absence of another reason, they will assume it was for the wrong reasons – they were not technically up to scratch, couldn’t draft well, or didn’t get along with team members/stakeholders.”

This all said, Mr Hunter says, the stigma around job hopping is “diminishing, and rightly so”.

The key, he says, is to discern the underlying reasons for a candidates movement.

“If they are changing roles to seek new challenges and growth, it reflects positively on their ambition and drive. However, if the movement is erratic and without clear purpose, it may raise concerns. Thorough research, including reference checks, is essential to understand the context of their career decisions.”


In Ms Naiman’s view, unless there are very good reasons for moving, candidates will likely not be able to take full advantage of their training and learnings if they leave within 1824 months.

“They are not getting continuity with client files and getting a really good deep understanding of the way a particular client and partner likes to work. Also, regardless of whether some or all the profession remains conservatively predisposed not to look at candidates who have moved around a lot, there will always be employers who view the job hopping as a negative character trait,” she posits.

“If the difference between getting your dream job in 10 years’ time or not is whether you had stayed an extra six months at each of your roles, then I would want to have been the person that did those extra six months.”

Junior lawyers may, Ms Fisher says, be considered “fickle” if they have moved around too much, in addition to a potential presumption that one’s technical abilities are lacking.

“It will be very difficult to move when one has ‘job hopped throughout their CV. We receive this feedback from our employers a great deal, saying, ‘We will not take this candidate forward as they have moved too many times throughout their career’.”

Furthermore, Mr Murdoch notes, the recruitment process is always relative to other applicants.

“Place yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes: one applicant has six years of experience gained at two firms/companies, and the other has the same total experience but from six firms/companies. Which lawyer would you choose to interview?”

Ultimately, Mr Hunter espouses, the legal community values stability, commitment and continuity – especially when it comes to client relationships and ongoing cases.

“Frequent job changes can disrupt this continuity, affecting client satisfaction and long-term career growth,” he warned.

Why stay longer

Generally, Mr Gotch advises, a “clean CV” with relatively few moves is preferential for potential employers.

“If you are at a firm you like, enjoy your work and everything is going well, there should be a compelling reason to make a lateral move and this should not be solely motivated by a relatively small increase in pay,” he says.

“Remember, the grass is not always greener, and weight should be placed on loyalty and the equity you have built up with your current employer.”

Longevity in one’s tenure, Ms Fisher says in support, can be crucial in being considered for a role, particularly with prospective employers that could be career-defining.

“This is even the case when you might have very justifiable (and explainable) reasons for your various moves. Losing out on a career defining role given movement in your CV is devastating,” she notes.

“An employer wants to be assured that the employee is moving for the right reasons, and for the merits of the employer and the role (not just for an increase in salary and/or title). When the market becomes an employer-driven one (e.g., during a recession), it is important that our CV is not jumpy and that the moves throughout our career are as limited as they can be.”

Ms Naiman said: “Outside of bullying, unsustainable workload, a genuine lack of work, discord in the team or with the partner, cultural misfit issues or a role being inaccurately described, there should be no dangling carrot that should move a candidate to their next role within 18 months.”

“It can’t just all be pull factors (the attraction of moving to a particular job) there have to be enough and valid push reasons for leaving (things pushing you out of your current role). Like most things in life, timing is everything and the reasons for moving need to be valid and meaningful – there is no getting around that,” she warns.

Of course, Ms Fisher adds, one cannot stay in a role where one is completely unhappy or where the culture does not align with one’s values.

Thus, Mr Gotch outlines, if there is a meaningful reason to make a lateral move, “you should consider this carefully by doing a cost-benefit analysis against staying in your current role, which should include future implications, whether you were to move or stay put”.

As Mr Murdoch puts it: “No job is worth your mental or physical health.”

“Before leaving a role, think about what it is that you like/dislike and try to change your position within your current organisation – and if necessary, ask expressly for it. If you still can’t get what you’re looking for, perhaps it’s time to look for another job,” he suggests.

What to do if you have been job hopping, and other guidance

Of course, there may be some junior lawyers who have already engaged in job hopping, and – upon reading this story – may be concerned about their future prospects.

For those practitioners, Mr Murdoch stresses that one shouldn’t fret, as there are ways to manage.

One’s resume should not only have references from previous managers to give hiring managers peace of mind, but should also explain why one moved on from a role.

“This removes the doubt and the questions from the hiring manager’s mind. One example that springs to mind is a junior lawyer I met who, on his CV, had moved three times in three years. When asked about the moves, it was because the partner he had worked for rated him so highly that she had asked him to move with her,” he recounts.

“In this example, the job hopping was an advantage, but it needed to be explained in the CV!”

Moreover, Mr Murdoch advises, one should grasp the nettle.

“In the interview, explain why you have moved jobs; even if they don’t ask, they are thinking about it, and it’s better to deal with it proactively than have them raise it and become defensive,” he suggests.

Mr Hunter offers multi-pronged advice to junior practitioners: “Understand your career goals, evaluate growth opportunities, consider culture and values, balance financial considerations, build relationships, avoid reactive decisions, assess reputation impact, seek professional guidance, reflect on personal fulfilment, [and] be transparent and ethical.”

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member for free today!