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Career Resources

When to Say Yes or No to a Job Promotion

Brendan T Beery

When to Say Yes or No to a Job Promotion
PierreDesrosiers via iStock

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You’re a new lawyer who has been offered a promotion to a new position. It’s an irresistible opportunity and a no-brainer. Right? Well, maybe.

Historically, success was driven in the law profession almost completely by the external projection of drive and ambition. Declining an assignment from a supervising partner, prioritizing a weekend day with family over a chance to be seen in the office, and adhering to a work schedule tailored only to the tasks that required attention were out of the question—and turning down a promotion? Unthinkable. This mindset puts many individuals in a dangerous position for mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical health. Today’s attorneys should consider whether a promotion is in one’s best interests before blindly accepting.

Promotions Come with Considerations

In any profession, there are obvious reasons a person would decline a promotion. Maybe the timing doesn’t align with family or personal interests; perhaps more experience or seasoning is needed; maybe the new position requires lateral movement away from persons or teams you’d like to keep working with; or perhaps pay won’t adequately compensate for additional time and work.

In the legal profession, though, there may be other considerations as well, at least for those seeking that sweet spot where neither work life nor personal life overwhelms the other and where, in any event, work is a wellspring from which a person gets energy rather than a dread into which a person bleeds it. Ask yourself the following questions when considering whether to take a promotion:

Will It Change the Practice You Love?

Does the career move involve a different practice area or a different kind of lawyering altogether? It’s one thing to move among property, contract, and tort law and quite another to move among transactional, litigation, or compliance law. Consider whether the promotion will further develop the knowledge you already have or take you out of your comfort zone with a new learning curve. You should consider the skills you have refined and those you want and could develop in the new position.

Does the new position require you to be a fighter or a peacekeeper (or a peace seeker)? There is no shame in either. Some lawyers relish the fight and don’t feel alive unless they’re charging “once more unto the breach.” If a new position requires that kind of person, and that’s not you, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Conversely, if you are that fighter, think twice about a new role that lifts you out of the breach to a more sideline place.

What about Responsibility?

Are you organized and detail-oriented or more of a big-picture person? There are plenty of jobs where a detailed-oriented thinker is needed, but those may not involve lofty goal-setting or creative problem-solving. On the other hand, if you’re a big-picture thinker with a great mind for problem-solving, do not take a job where answering emails within minutes is more important than conjuring a novel solution to a complex legal problem.

Does the new position require you to take on a leadership or supervisory role? If so, have an honest conversation with yourself about whether you can flourish in that role. Not everyone is good at managing others. Management roles require patience, active listening, and the ability to empower others. If you are the type of person who micromanages or cannot effectively delegate to others, you may want to improve your leadership skills before taking on positions that require you to manage others.

As you consider each promotion or new position offered throughout your career, don’t sacrifice your peace of mind by moving hastily. Align your work with who you are, not who somebody else wants you to be.