If you’re a litigation associate in Biglaw, I commend to you this excellent essay by Joshua Libling of Validity Finance, Up or Out: Why Litigation Associates Need to Make a Decision by Their Fourth Year.
You should read the whole piece, but here’s the core of Libling’s argument:
The litigation associate track at Big Law firms is badly structured to the detriment of associates…. The key structural problem is the combination of two facts: (1) You will find out if you are going to make partner somewhere in your seventh to 10th year out of law school; and (2) you are at your most marketable somewhere around your fourth or fifth year out of law school.
The problems those two facts create should leap off the page, but here are two big ones. First, you need to make the decision about whether you want to try to make partner before you have a good sense of what that even means or how likely you are to get it. Second, every year beyond the fourth or fifth that you are committing to try to make partner at your firm is a year you are decreasing the ease with which you can transition to another job if you do not make partner. Put differently, as your job security decreases because you get closer to an up-or-out decision, your flexibility in replacing that job also decreases.
This is why, when I recently wrote about what elite litigation boutiques are looking for, I mentioned “[b]etween two and four years of experience at a top Biglaw firm” — i.e., not less than two and not more than four years of experience.
Fifth-year litigation associates are still somewhat marketable, but for litigation associates at large firms, your best window of opportunity for a lateral move is as a third- or fourth-year associate. There are relatively few opportunities for litigators who are more senior than fifth-years (unless they happen to be litigation partners with seven-figure books of business).
But if you happen to be a senior litigation associate (or counsel) with superb credentials, here at Lateral Link we have an opportunity that might be of interest. It’s an unposted opportunity — not on the law firm’s website, not on LinkedIn or any other job site, not on Leopard Solutions — at a firm with whom we have an excellent and longstanding relationship.
This Am Law 200 and NLJ 500 firm seeks a litigator with at least seven years of experience, for a position in its New York office as a senior associate, counsel, or (non-equity) partner, with compensation and title to be determined based on the qualifications and experience of the candidate. It’s a superb firm where litigation is the largest practice group and core to the firm’s success and profitability, i.e., not playing second fiddle to the transactional practices. This means that litigators at the firm have a real chance at partnership — which is unfortunately not the case at many of the top Wall Street firms, where litigators often make up 20 percent or less of new partners.
There’s no shortage of senior litigation associates in New York who are looking for exit options. So a competitive candidate for this rare opportunity will have credentials like the ones sought by elite litigation boutiques:
And if you’re a junior to midlevel litigation associate, read Joshua Libling’s Law.com piece if you haven’t done so already. You have an important choice to make — so choose wisely.
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a Managing Director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners, and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.