Taking a Step Down to Move Up the Career Ladder 


I want to change legal jobs, but that might require moving from my current position to a role with a lower-ranking title at another company. How can I convince future employers that I'm willing to take a cut in pay, title and responsibility in order to move up the ladder at their organization? 


While it’s not uncommon for legal professionals to shift gears and explore new career possibilities, employers may be wary of applications from overqualified candidates. The key to getting a job offer is convincing your prospective boss that you’ve weighed the options and you consider this an upward move overall. 


  1. Address the elephant in the room. Be the first to bring up the fact that you’re overqualified for the position. When hiring managers see you’re a senior legal professional applying for a lower-level position, they might assume you’re just desperate and after any job you can land. In your cover letter, make it clear that you don’t see this as a step backward, but rather a chance to pay your dues before moving up the ladder at their company. Touch on this point again at the beginning of your interview.  
  2. Focus on what excites you about the position. Your willingness to take a pay cut is evidence that you’re passionate about the work, so don’t be shy about expressing this to employers. What do you find especially alluring about the legal position they’re offering? How does their organizational culture resonate with your preferred work style, values and goals? Does their firm offer more enticing opportunities for career advancement? Come up with at least three concrete examples to discuss during your interview. 
  3. Paint the bigger picture. Show employers you’ve thought this transition through and have included it in your legal career path. For example, if you’re a contract administrator interested in moving into eDiscovery, point out that while there’s a pay cut and title drop involved, your long-term salary potential is much higher on the eDiscovery track. After all, the 2020 Robert Half Legal Salary Guide shows that the highest median starting salary on your current trajectory to contract manager is $134,500. However, in a lower-level eDiscovery specialist position, your contract administration experience can help you rise through the ranks to eDiscovery director, which has a peak starting salary of $219,750, according to the Guide. 


Accepting a lower salary and job title in order to explore new career options and move up the ladder elsewhere is a brave move. By owning it and discussing the facts openly and with enthusiasm, you can demonstrate to your future boss that you’re the perfect fit for the job and their organization.