AHLA's Speaking of Health Law

Conversations with Leadership: Navigating Your Career in Health Law, Part 3 - Assessing Opportunities and Transitioning to a New Law Firm

July 24, 2019
AHLA's Speaking of Health Law
Conversations with Leadership: Navigating Your Career in Health Law, Part 3 - Assessing Opportunities and Transitioning to a New Law Firm
Chapters
AHLA's Speaking of Health Law
Conversations with Leadership: Navigating Your Career in Health Law, Part 3 - Assessing Opportunities and Transitioning to a New Law Firm
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 3 of the series, Wronski advises attorneys on how to assess opportunities and make a successful transition. 



DC:
0:02
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 back, Tom.
TW:
0:55
Thank you, David.
DC:
0:55
Tom, for those who are just joining us, please give us some background about yourself and what you do.
TW:
1:01
Of course. My name is Tom Wronski. I have been recruiting partner-level lawyers and groups for law firms since 1998. My company is called Thomas Wronski and Associates. It is a boutique legal search consulting firm that focuses on health care and life sciences law. We're active in all major U.S. markets.
DC:
1:25
In our first podcast, Tom, we discussed the decision to change firms or in some cases to transition out of the government.
TW:
1:33
Yes. What you do in your legal career is important, David. As we talked about in the last podcast, where you do it is equally important. This is especially true for health care lawyers. For a lawyer to reach her full potential, she must be at a law firm that has the platform and capabilities that are the best possible match for her clients' needs. She must be at a firm where she trusts the firm's management and where she's confident in the abilities of her colleagues.
DC:
2:07
In our second podcast, we discussed the interview process.
TW:
2:11
Yes. Every law firm handles the interview process a little bit differently. Sometimes the process can move quickly. Sometimes it moves slowly. If a lawyer is considering changing firms, she should use time to her advantage and thoroughly vet and explore her options.
DC:
2:29
We also talked about developing a narrative.
TW:
2:32
Yes, this is very, very important. Resumes and law firm bios are nice, David, but it's absolutely critical that a lawyer develop a career narrative. You need to be able to articulate in three or four sentences how you can help a law firm better serve its current clients and how you can help that firm develop new clients and serve your clients. Law firms do not hire lawyers - whether associate or partner level - for the heck of it. They hire lawyers to better serve their clients and to develop new ones. These are the key and unalterable facts that any candidate must keep in mind during the process of consideration of changing firms.
DC:
3:17
And you can help a lawyer develop his or her narrative, right?
TW:
3:22
Absolutely. It's the most important thing a recruiter does. Think of it this way: a real good real estate agent makes sure that a home is properly staged before it goes on the market. No matter how beautiful the mansion or the penthouse in downtown Chicago or San Francisco, if it's messy, unorganized, it won't get the right market value. A good recruiter will make sure that a lawyer's narrative is well conceived and well staged before that lawyer starts interviewing at law firms.
DC:
3:57
Great, Tom, this is all good advice. In today's podcast, we will discuss assessing opportunities and transitioning to a new law firm. So, Tom, let's say that I've gone through the interview process, and it's time for me to make a decision. What factors should I be thinking about?
TW:
4:14
Well, contrary to popular opinion, the most important factor by far is whether you like and trust the firm's management. What does your gut tell you? How have your personal interactions with members of the firm's management team been? Do they understand and value what you do? You learn these things during the interview process. The second factor is your colleagues at the new firm. Do you like them? Do you trust them - personally and professionally? Would you feel comfortable asking them to do work for one of your clients? Again, these are the things you should be listening for and learning about during the interview process. The third factor is whether the firm has the right platform for you and your clients. Not just the clients you have now, but the ones you plan to develop in the future. If you represent medical device innovators, does the law firm that you're considering have an FDA practice? Does it have a practice at CMS? Does the firm represent clients that will help or hinder your long-term practice development plans? Don't make a decision based on where your career is right now. Think about where it should be in five years or 10 years.
DC:
5:38
That was a lot of thought-provoking questions, Tom. But could you drill down a little more? What do you mean? What do you really mean by that?
TW:
5:46
Well, sometimes candidates are distracted by a law firm's overall appeal, capabilities, and profile, and they don't look closely enough at the things that really matter to his or her own practice. Let me put it this way: a law firm that builds skyscrapers in Dubai might be cool, and it's probably very profitable, but it may not be the best platform for a health lawyer who does Medicaid reimbursement work at $700 an hour.
DC:
6:19
So now let's talk about compensation. What about compensation?
TW:
6:24
Well, David, we talked about this in the first podcast. Compensation is very important. Money is very important. That's why we do this. But it does not stand alone. If you're at the right firm - where you trust the management and you trust your colleagues and it's a place where you can build your practice - compensation naturally follows.
DC:
6:48
So, should a candidate ever pass on the highest offer?
TW:
6:53
Absolutely. In a perfect world, if all things are equal, take the highest offer. But in the real world, things are rarely equal. If the basics are there, if the firm has the capabilities, if it has the rate structure that you need, if you can serve your clients, then that's the firm for you regardless of what the initial offer's going to be. Sometimes the highest offer, like I said, it might dazzle you, but if you're not on the same page as your firm's senior management and you're not on the same page as your colleagues and you don't trust them to work through your clients, then you won't be there very long and all the money in the world won't change that.
DC:
7:39
People talk a lot about law firm profits per partner. What role should that play in a candidate's decision?
TW:
7:46
Profits per partner was all the rage around 1998. Everybody was talking about breaking the $500,000 profit per partner measure, and now everybody talks about breaking the million dollar profit per partner measure. And some firms are up in the $2 million profit per partner measure. And it's a measure of a firm's overall financial strength, arguably. But for an individual candidate who's considering a change of firms it isn't necessarily an applicable measure. Law firms where health law, particularly regulatory work, is central to the firm's existence do not generally have extremely high profits per partner. Hourly rates in the health regulatory space just simply don't allow for this. So if you go to a law firm and your rates are in the seven hundreds and they want partner rates to be north of a thousand, it's not a long-term sustainable good place for you.
DC:
8:51
Good advice. Thank you. Thank you, Tom. Are there any other intangible things candidates should think about when assessing opportunities?
TW:
9:02
Okay. Are you ready?
DC:
9:03
I'm ready.
TW:
9:03
Love.
DC:
9:07
I wasn't ready for that. Love? What do you mean, love?
TW:
9:13
Well, with apologies to John Lennon, love may not be all you need, but it's darn important. Pay attention to the law firm that shows you the love. The one where senior management - the partners - take a personal interest in you during the interview process. The one that calls you back and tries to change your mind when you say no. The one that keeps contacting year after year after year in trying to convince you that that's the best firm for you. It might very well be the best firm for you.
DC:
9:49
Okay. So I've decided on the firm, the one that has shown me the most love.
TW:
9:55
Yes, love, David.
DC:
9:56
And I decided to accept the offer. How do I break the news to my old firm?
TW:
10:05
Once you've accepted the offer, you should notify your current firm as soon as practical, and you should handle the departure with the highest degree of professionalism, fully living up to your responsibilities and duties to the firm or to the government, if you're coming out of the government. David, changing firms nowadays is a fact of life. It does not have to be a fight, and it should not ruin relationships. This is especially true, for example, if you're moving from a general practice firm to a law firm that focuses on health law. In fact, you might be able to refer work to your former colleagues that your new firm either cannot do or doesn't want to do, and your former colleagues might be able to refer work to you that they can't do. Find ways to make the best of the change, and make it best for everyone. Don't make it confrontational. Don't make it a zero sum transaction because it shouldn't be.
DC:
11:05
Well, Tom, this has certainly been an interesting series of podcasts about Navigating Your Career in Health Law. We discussed deciding to change law firms, deciding to leave the government, the interview process, and assessing opportunities and transitioning to a new law firm. I've learned a lot, and I hope our listeners did too.
TW:
11:27
Well, thank you, David, for this opportunity.
DC:
11:30
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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