“Hopping” is not something that just rabbits and kangaroos do. The term is also employed by law firms to describe attorney candidates who have worked at a relatively large number of firms in a relatively short period of time. The term is derogatory, in that firms usually jump to the conclusion that “hoppers” are undesirable because they are always unhappy – or always create problems – wherever they are, and this conveniently explains why they have to change firms more often than “normal.” Unfortunately, there is no objective standard of how many firms in how much time crosses the threshold from “normal” to “hopping.” Thus, some firms may consider a particular candidate a “hopper,” while other firms may not. Nevertheless, there are some general guidelines that can help identify whether a particular attorney is likely to face this label.
In fact, the criterion for “hopper” has shifted over time. In the “old days,” attorneys generally stayed at one firm. Movement between firms was rare and often seen as suspect, such that even individuals who had a single move on their resume could be branded a “hopper.” In more recent years, of course, such movement has become increasingly more commonplace. This is due to a variety of reasons that have little to do with whether a particular candidate is serially unhappy or troublesome, but rather have much more to do with the changing nature of law firms and the legal industry itself. Put another way, while there are undoubtedly problem attorneys out there who quickly wear out their welcome wherever they go, it can no longer be legitimately assumed that a candidate who has made several changes over the years necessarily fits in that category. As a result, candidates with just one or two moves on their resume are now much less likely to be considered hoppers. But an attorney who has four or five firms on their resume – especially if within a short period of time — is still in danger of being stuck with the “hopper” label, thus cratering the attorney’s chance of an offer. In these instances, it is best for recruiters to help prepare candidates ahead of time to successfully address the “hopper” label. This can be done with carefully prepared answers to pertinent interview questions. It can also be done more aggressively with rational explanations regarding each change in firms provided up front in the cover letter. The goal is to demonstrate that the candidate left each firm for a variety of good reasons that do not reflect on the candidate’s character or fitness for a law firm. For example, a firm may have gone under or been severely shaken by key departures, work may have run out, the odds for partnership may have been nearly insurmountable, clients may have been conflicted out, etc. If the firm can be successfully persuaded that the candidate is not a “hopper” with all the negative assumptions that go with that label, then the candidate is more likely to be considered on the merits.