First and foremost, I am not certain you did yourself any favors by being so loyal. No good deed goes unpunished, as they say. And who is to say that your firm ever will recognize the fact you stayed with them for two years too long simply because you were loyal. Loyal to a firm where you have been unhappy for two years? Oh, come on. At some point you have to be loyal to yourself and your own career. A mid- to large-sized firm is not going to thank you for staying on for two miserable years, if they even notice.
So now, here is where you find yourself…a fifth year associate trained in a highly specialized practice area who not only wants to move to another firm but also wants to change practice areas. Perhaps sometime in those last two years when you were so miserable you might have been able to be retooled into a new practice area. Unfortunately, several things have changed since then.
First of all, you are no longer a junior associate; you are well-trained in your practice area and perhaps a bit past the time when firms are willing to move you into a new practice area. If you had wanted to move into a transactional practice two years ago, this might have been a realistic goal for you because firms were desperate for corporate attorneys and happy to retool junior associates. However, the economy has changed and there are not as many openings today for transactional attorneys as there were last year.
Secondly, that C on your transcript really can be a deal breaker, especially when you are asking to change practice areas. I know this may be hard for you to believe but a C - even just one - is a grade that law firms do not like to see when considering lateral associates.
Given these two facts - the desire to change your practice area along with the C on your transcript - I would suspect you will garner the same reaction from other recruiters you might try to use. I suggest you start your search on your own and give up the idea of using a recruiter to find a new job that will allow you to change practice areas.
I don't think this will be an easy task but if you are tenacious and cover every possible lead and networking aspect possible, you may very well find yourself interviewing for a transactional job with a partner willing to train you in that practice area. There are firms out there willing to interview people without seeing their transcript first and many people will be impressed that you have been at your firm for five years. Once you get yourself in front of these interviewers you will have to sell yourself to them on why they should hire you and retool you into this new practice area. The pressure is on you but if you want this enough, you will be up to the challenge.
This is certainly one situation where I believe you are better off without a recruiter. Get out there and pound the pavement on your own. But stop thinking about how unhappy you are and staying at the firm simply out of loyalty. There is no percentage in this kind of activity and the clock is ticking! Best wishes.
Ann M. Israel