Your reputation in the legal industry is extremely important. I mean, beyond more important than anything you could imagine! That’s why you need to evaluate your actions, or inaction, with that frame of mind.
Over on Reddit, I recently answered the following question on the “Law School” subreddit: “Accepting a Job Offer and Continuing to Look for Another Job?” The person posting has just graduated from law school (Congratulations!) and has an offer on the table from a law firm. BUT…. it’s not their ideal job and it’s not in their ideal location geographically. This law school graduate is in a position most other law students and recent grads dream of landing in either May or December graduation months. So, they’re already in a great situation!
However, they’re continuing to talk with other firms in an area they’re more interested settling and within a practice area about which they’re passionate. They go on to ask about any consequences of: 1) accepting the offer while continuing to look for other jobs; and 2) accepting the job offer and then “peacing out” and accepting another, potentially better, job offer.
Now, if you’re a regular viewer of my YouTube channel, you’ll recall I’ve had some interviews with lawyers that found themselves facing a revoked job offer, or law firm that didn’t even exist after they wrapped up the bar exam. So, to address the first part of their question, I’ll start with saying that I think this person posting on Reddit has the right mindset. You shouldn’t just stop searching for a job just because you have an offer. You should keep searching, or going through with other scheduled interviews, up until the day you actually start as an employee. Typically, nothing prevents the revocation of a job offer unless otherwise stated in an offer.
To answer the second part of their question… You’ve been to law school, taken contracts! (haha) You know the answer. Unless someone signs or creates a contract for employment, anyone is typically able to accept a job and then decline and not work whenever they wish. If someone signs a contract, then that obviously may have other terms involved limiting their options. But, in most circumstances, just accepting an offer via email that has no additional stipulations aside from being an offer with a salary amount, I can’t see any harm.
Ensure that any decision to follow a job acceptance with a sudden rejection is done with clear, thoughtful communication.
Now, all of the above comes with a caveat. It’s very important keep in mind any damage that could happen to your reputation for accepting and then turning down an offer. If it’s a small enough firm and isn’t connected to where you’re ideally going to be practicing geographically, or in the same practice area, perhaps you will never have an issue or run into the lawyers or staff at the firm.
It honestly depends upon how close this current opportunity is to someone’s final desired location. If you plan on practicing anywhere near where this current job offer is coming from, it may not be worth pulling out just from a professionalism standpoint. Honestly, it’s not the end of the world, but it could be something that is talked about within the legal community if it’s small enough.
I doubt anyone would find out immediately. It’s not like the person you accept and then decline an offer from would have a secret candidate directory they could update and all other employers would see. However, if it’s the same practice area, there could be a listserv (worst case scenario, but also dumb if someone talks openly about another attorney on there), or just a monthly networking or social event they attend and where people talk. You never know if people are friends, so keep that in mind.
Another point to note is that it’s very common during the first few years of a young lawyer’s career to change firms or jobs. It’s understood that other opportunities might become available or you might find yourself in a practice you don’t enjoy. It’s just important to remember that too many small stints here and there can start to cause more problems than you want when someone is looking at your resume. Are you switching around so much because you don’t get along with people? Maybe there is something wrong with you that a future employer would be best to avoid. Don’t always assume the grass is greener on the other side. Find ways to build your areas of interest or practice within your current setting, whenever possible.
Don’t ghost. Ever.
Heard of ghosting? It’s basically a situation in which a potential employer suddenly drops all communication with a job applicant. Or, it is the reversal in which a job candidate suddenly drops all communication with a potential employer… sometimes even simply failing to show up the first day of work. This is a situation that 👏 should 👏 never 👏 occur 👏. Hear me! Don’t do this. Ever. Maintain clear communication and always be upfront and honest about you situation and how it has changed.
If you’re struggling with this issue, perhaps discuss with your career services office if you feel comfortable with them? Also, I’m happy to answer any questions or discuss further, so just drop them in the comments below! You can also use the comments below to share your thoughts & opinions.