AHLA's Speaking of Health Law

Conversations with Leadership: Navigating Your Career in Health Law, Part 1 - Deciding to Change Law Firms

July 24, 2019
AHLA's Speaking of Health Law
Conversations with Leadership: Navigating Your Career in Health Law, Part 1 - Deciding to Change Law Firms
Chapters
AHLA's Speaking of Health Law
Conversations with Leadership: Navigating Your Career in Health Law, Part 1 - Deciding to Change Law Firms
Jul 24, 2019
Thomas Wronski
AHLA's look at how to manage and handle your career in health law.
Show Notes Transcript

Nothing is more important to your career than where you work. AHLA’s latest podcast series on Navigating Your Career in Health Law will be invaluable to any attorney thinking about switching law firms. Thomas Wronski, of Thomas Wronski and Associates, a national legal search consulting firm, specializes in working with health care and life sciences lawyers and placing them at law firms. In Part 1 of the series, Wronski discusses an attorney’s initial decision to change law firms.



DC:
0:00
Hello. I am David Cade, Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Health Lawyers Association. The AHLA offers a wide variety of podcasts to our members, most of which focus on aspects of the practice of health law. However, this podcast offers something new. Rather than addressing an aspect of the practice of health law, this podcast series is designed to address a more basic need of our members – Navigating Your Career in Health Law. Our guest for this series is Thomas Wronski, of Thomas Wronski and Associates, a legal search consulting firm that specializes in working with health care and life sciences lawyers and placing them at law firms. If you are a health care lawyer, you have probably heard from Tom at some time or another. Welcome Tom.
TW:
0:50
Thank you, David. It's a pleasure to meet you.
DC:
0:55
Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself.
TW:
0:59
My name is Thomas Wronski, and David, as you know, I have been recruiting partner-level lawyers and groups for law firms since 1998. My company's called Thomas Wronski and Associates. We're a boutique legal search consulting firm that focuses on working with health care and life sciences lawyers as well as intellectual property and related technology (for about four years), but we're active in all major U.S. markets.
DC:
1:27
Great, Tom. So, how did you come to specialize in working with health care and life sciences lawyers?
TW:
1:33
Well, I started off 20 years ago or over 20 years ago as a generalist recruiter, but my focus has always been on the intersection of the law with governments and technology, and over the years my interests and my client base has narrowed to health care and life sciences law. You might say that my firm is a boutique firm. We prefer to go deep and specialize in a specific area, rather than be general.
DC:
2:01
So do you operate on a geographic basis or on a practice basis?
TW:
2:07
Definitely on a practice basis, David. I recruit health care and life sciences lawyers in every major market. If you're a health lawyer and you're considering changing firms, I can help you assess your options, and I can alert you to opportunities at other law firms that might be of interest to you.
DC:
2:27
It probably doesn't hurt your business that health care accounts for almost 20% of the U.S. economy, and that the practice of health law has been booming for as long as most of us can remember. It won't slow down anytime soon.
TW:
2:43
No, and it doesn't hurt at all. But the truth is that it's a fascinating area of the law and an important and growing sector of the economy. I can't think of any other practice of law where technology and government intersect so closely. What's more, health law has a real impact on pretty much everyone in this country, so I take great pride in working with the lawyers who make it all come together.
DC:
3:09
So our topic today is deciding to change law firms. Why do lawyers change law firms, Tom?
TW:
3:20
As Tolstoy wrote: "All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." It's like that for lawyers and law firms; every lawyer who changes firms has his or her own reason.
DC:
3:35
Can you give me a few examples?
TW:
3:37
Yes. People change law firms because they have conflicts. David, they might have rate pressures or they might have a basic difference with their firm's management or the management of their practice group. Health law is a difficult practice. Some law firms are well suited for it. Some are good platforms for it. Some are not. Some firms that were big players in health law, say, 20 or 25 years ago have faded away, and other firms have moved to the front rank just in recent years. The key is to be at the right place for the type of law that you want to practice and where your client's legal needs can best be met.
DC:
4:21
That sounds really good, Tom, but you are a headhunter, right? Isn't it all about the money?
TW:
4:28
Well, it is and it isn't. Don't get me wrong, David, compensation is very, very important. Compensation for the people I place largely determines my compensation, but compensation by itself never stands alone. If you're at the right law firm where you have the right platform and the capabilities that you need and where you trust the firm's management and your colleagues - and that's so important to have trust with your management and your colleagues - then compensation naturally follows. Compensation is part of the overall package, but it does not stand alone.
DC:
5:08
Do you ever advise lawyers that they should not change firms?
TW:
5:13
Actually, yes, I do all the time. A badly conceived change of firms - at the wrong time and for the wrong reason -can do great damage to someone's career. There are structural reasons why a lawyer might change firms. For example, let's say that a person's at a law firm that generally represents payers, but she has the opportunity to represent providers. Well, that's a good reason to change firms. However, I often speak with lawyers who are upset about something at their firm that is eminently fixable. Maybe it is a marketing issue, or a matter of origination credit. My advice in these situations is to try your best to work things out with your firm's management before you change firms. David, the grass is not always greener, as you know.
DC:
6:04
That's good advice, Tom. That's very good advice. You also work with government lawyers who seek to transition to private practice, right?
TW:
6:10
Yes, I do.
DC:
6:13
Okay. What can you tell us about that?
TW:
6:16
Well, in my experience, there are two distinct tracks for lawyers in government service. There are lawyers who go to work in the government to learn skills and gain experience that they plan to use in the private sector relatively quickly - say after four or five years. Then there are career government lawyers who also wish to transition to private practice upon retirement. I more often work with lawyers in the first category, although I work with both kinds.
DC:
6:45
So, let's say that I am either at a law firm - or in the government - and I decide that I want to make a change. I want to make a move. What should I do?
TW:
6:55
Well, I can tell you that the first thing you should not do is jump to a firm where your law school buddy who practices real estate is at. Your buddy might be the best real estate lawyer in town, but he or she likely has no idea what you do as a health lawyer, or as a life sciences lawyer, or the type of capabilities and services that you and your clients need.
DC:
7:21
Ok, that's a good point; I'm glad you raised it. And I do see your point. So, what should the first step be?
TW:
7:28
The first and most important thing for a lawyer who is considering making a change to do is to take a step back and really think about whether or not a move makes sense, and more importantly, what a move will accomplish. Self-examination is the key. What will be the desired end result? If you cannot formulate a clear answer then you shouldn't change firms. If you're not sure, talk to a reputable legal search consultant. And as we discussed, I regularly advise people that they should not change firms, but make sure that you know what you want to do and that what you're going to accomplish is something that's doable and that will move you forward in the long view.
DC:
8:16
Okay, so say I completed the process of self examination and my mind is made up. I believe that it is in my best interest and the best interest of my clients to change firms. Now what?
TW:
8:31
Then you should take a systematic approach, David. You don't just accept a few calls, you don't just take the first telephone call from the head hunter that's been bothering you. You use time to your advantage. Actually, the most important thing for a lawyer who's considering a change to do is to take a step back and really think about whether or not a move makes sense, and what a move will accomplish. Self-examination is the key. What will be the desired end result? If you cannot formulate a clear answer, then you should not change firms, and if you're not sure, you should talk with a reputable legal search consultant. As we've discussed, contrary to our image, we do advise people all the time that they should not change firms.
DC:
9:21
Ok. Ok, Tom, so say I have completed the process of self-examination, and my mind is made up. I believe that it is in my best interest and the best interests of my clients, to change firms. Now what?
TW:
9:35
The first thing that I do when I work with a candidate who's really decided to make the change is to help that person develop a narrative. Forget about most law firm bios that you see on the websites and the resumes that people prepare. Often these are not especially helpful, and they don't give a real flavor for what that person does or what that person's value is. I'll talk to you or another reputable recruiter will speak with you, and we'll develop a narrative as to what you really do. What do you want to do more of in the future? What are your greatest possible values and strengths that you can bring to another law firm to its clients, into its potential future clients? Based on the narrative we develop, I prepare a list of law firms that I believe would be a good match for the candidate. It generally includes at least three law firms, and I like to rank the firms in order of the ones I think would be the best fit for the candidate and the candidate's needs.
DC:
10:37
Now I have a list of prospects. What comes next?
TW:
10:43
Then I'll arrange for you to attend introductory meetings with a few of the key people at each of these firms. People sometimes say, I don't have time for that, and yes, this is time consuming, but it's absolutely not a waste of time. Many lawyers form opinions about law firms that are simply not accurate or maybe outdated. You might know "law firm x" from your experience as an associate in 1998, but the world has changed three times since 1998. You don't know what you don't know, and now is the time to find out. I helped prepare you for these interviews in these meetings, and I share feedback with you after they're done. My job is to properly vet these firms and winnow down your options and to help you make the best use of your time and the time you spend interviewing.
DC:
11:40
Well, tell me more.
TW:
11:41
That, David, is for our next podcast.
DC:
11:48
Yes, it is. Our next podcast in the series, "Navigating Your Career in Health Law with Thomas Wronski," will explore the interview process. Please plan to tune in. That was Thomas Wronski, of Thomas Wronski and Associates, a legal search consulting firm that specializes in working with health care and life sciences lawyers and placing them at law firms. I am David Cade, Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Health Lawyers Association. Thank you for tuning in.
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