All posts by David Lat

Will We See A Wave Of White-Collar Litigation?

…And what implications might that have for lateral hiring in the white-collar world?

When we talk about practice areas that might actually benefit from the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, bankruptcy tops the list. And this makes sense, given the big-name bankruptcies that have been filed in recent weeks, including J. Crew and Neiman Marcus.

Here’s another practice that might benefit from current events: white-collar work, both criminal and civil. The space has been a little sleepy in the past few years, as the more robust enforcement agenda of the Obama Administration gave way to a more pro-business, less aggressive approach by the Trump Administration. Just last year, Jack Newsham wrote in the New York Law Journal about a “white-collar slowdown,” fueled by a dip in white-collar criminal prosecutions to their lowest level in 33 years.

(Note: although pundits love to blame President Trump for what they view as an overly lax pursuit of white-collar criminals, it should be noted that the downward trend in white-collar prosecutions began under the Obama Administration. Federal white-collar cases peaked in 2011 under President Obama, and they’ve been declining ever since.)

In the wake of the pandemic, is white-collar work poised for a boom, or at least an increase? From a piece by Tom McParland for the New York Law Journal:

New York lawyers are bracing for a surge of white-collar criminal and civil cases stemming from market volatility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, former prosecutors told the New York Law Journal this week….

David Miller, a partner at Greenberg Traurig and former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, said investigations of pandemic-related misconduct were likely already underway, but additional cases also would arise from prior acts that are just now being brought to light.

“I think you’re going to see a combination of both criminal and civil law-enforcement actions,” Miller said. “Either way, I think you’re going to see an uptick in civil and criminal enforcement work later this year.”

Growth areas could include prosecutions of False Claims Act and fraud cases related to government aid programs launched in response to the pandemic, insider trading stemming from bigger swings in the stock market, hoarding and price-gouging of personal protective equipment (PPE) under the Defense Production Act (DPA), and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cases resulting from attempts to procure PPE in foreign markets.

We are already seeing increased activity on these fronts. As reported by Law 360:

U.S. Attorney General William Barr in March directed the creation of a task force to focus on COVID-19-related market manipulation, hoarding and price-gouging, to be staffed by an experienced attorney from each U.S. attorney’s office.

New York federal prosecutors made waves in recent weeks with a number of criminal cases brought against individuals as part of the nationwide crackdown, including the first-ever charges under the DPA since President Donald Trump signed an executive order invoking the law in response to the pandemic.

And it won’t be exclusively federal. State prosecutors play a significant role in pursuing white-collar crime, and defense lawyers told Law360 that they expect to see increased state prosecutions as well.

(A caveat, though: the pace of these new cases could be a bit slow. Prosecutors are working from home, agents aren’t making as many arrests as usual, and although grand juries are still meeting in some jurisdictions (like the Southern District of New York), jury trials and sentencings are generally on hold.)

What could a pickup in prosecutions mean for the market for white-collar lawyers, both firm-to-firm laterals and lawyers coming out of government, such as U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Main Justice? Once firms return to recruiting as usual, the market should be better than it has been. That might not be saying much — in 2019, the market was so challenging that even assistant U.S. attorneys from the legendary S.D.N.Y. had a tough time of it — but any improvement would be welcome.

But white-collar lawyers should keep their expectations modest, and not pop open the champagne just yet. To borrow a term from the real estate market, there’s a lot of “shadow inventory” in white-collar — lawyers who aren’t on the market right now, largely because it hasn’t been a great market, but who will put themselves on the market once it improves. I predict it will still be a buyer’s market, at least for a while.

Which white-collar litigators will be best positioned to get hired? For partners looking to switch firms, the two top factors will be book of business and actual trial experience. For prosecutors looking to enter private practice, trial experience is also critical; it’s a big part of why firms hire former prosecutors, who tend to get far more trial experience than Biglaw attorneys.

Other important factors include a supervisory title and experience, since this helps in garnering clients and press coverage; expertise in the right areas, such as securities, FCA, or FCPA work (more valuable than, say, drug or gang experience); and diversity, which firms are, to their credit, focusing more on in hiring. Having worked on a famous case also helps a lot. See, e.g., the lawyers who worked on Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, who landed at such firms as Gibson Dunn (Zainab Ahmad), Paul Weiss (Jeannie Rhee), Cooley (Andrew Goldstein and Elizabeth Prelogar), Jenner & Block (Andrew Weissmann), and WilmerHale (Bob Mueller, James Quarles, and Aaron Zebley).

If you’re a white-collar lawyer at a firm who’s thinking of a move or a government lawyer thinking of entering (or returning to) private practice, please feel free to drop me a line. I’m happy to chat with you about the market in general and what you can do to position yourself best for a move once hiring returns to normal and the white-collar market (hopefully) picks up.

Lawyers See Coming Surge in White Collar Criminal, Civil Cases Stemming From Pandemic [New York Law Journal]
COVID Crimes: White Collar Cases To Expect From The Crisis [Law360]

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. David Lat is 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.

The State Of Biglaw: 3 Thoughts From David Lat

Greetings, it’s David Lat here. As many of you know, and as I mentioned here last week, I recently engaged in a weeks-long battle with the novel coronavirus. I was hospitalized for 17 days, including about a week in critical condition in the ICU, when I was hooked up to a ventilator. But I’m happy to report that I made it through — thanks in no small part to the support of the Above the Law community — and I’m now recovering comfortably at home (or actually my parents’ home in suburban New Jersey, which is a bit more spacious than my Manhattan apartment).

I am (slowly) getting back into the saddle as both a legal recruiter and a legal journalist, currently working through a large backlog of communications. Apologies if I owe you a message. If I do, please feel free to try me again; I’m now more on top of my correspondence than I was while in the hospital.

During the few weeks that I have been away, Biglaw has been transformed. Law firms have implemented many different measures to deal with the economic fallout of COVID-19, including delaying or reducing partnership draws, reducing salaries of associates and staff, furloughing associates and staff, or postponing non-essential spending.

Making predictions is a dangerous business. Who would have guessed, two months ago, that we would be where we are today? But with your indulgence, I will offer a few…observations about the current state of Biglaw. (To the extent that these are predictions, please take them with a veritable shaker of salt.)

1. Law firms are responding very intelligently to the current crisis.

As I said in recent interviews with and Bloomberg, I believe that law firms are doing a good job in responding to the downturn — especially compared to how they handled the Great Recession.

I had a front seat to how Biglaw responded to the Great Recession, given Above the Law’s close coverage of events in Biglaw during that time. Back then, firms basically had one tool — layoffs — and they used it indiscriminately.

This time around, law firms are being more creative — and more fair. They are using a variety of measures to economize, and some of these measures, such as delaying or reducing partnership draws, hit partners as well as associates and staff. In other words, law firms are spreading the pain, instead of inflicting it upon the people least able to bear it.

2. We are only at the beginning of this retrenchment.

If you look at the list of law firms that have adopted cost-cutting measures, you’ll be struck by how many firms are not on the list. Compare this to the Great Recession, where it seemed that practically every firm, including some of the most prestigious and profitable, did something (e.g., layoffs, delaying start dates, etc.).

But the list of firms cutting costs in the current crisis grows every day and every week. So it’s not particularly bold of me to predict that it will continue to grow, especially as the economic downturn continues. The lockdown or stay-at-home orders in many jurisdictions will likely remain in place for quite some time, which means that the economic damage these cause will continue for some time too. As clients suffer, their law firms will suffer along with them.

3. Associate hiring has slowed down, but partner hiring will continue.

Many law firms have put associate hiring on hold — which is not surprising, considering that work is slowing down in many practice areas. And of course firms that are laying off or furloughing associates, or thinking about layoffs or furloughs, generally aren’t going to be eager consumers of lateral talent.

But as in the last recession, partner hiring continues. This makes sense: as the pie shrinks, the way firms can maintain or grow revenue is by getting a bigger share of the smaller pie. And the way to do that is to hire lateral partners with big books of business.

So here at Lateral Link, we still have many partner candidates interviewing with firms (using tools like Zoom and Skype). Closing deals can be tricky right now — firms generally want a face-to-face meeting before bringing aboard a new partner, and those can be hard to set up right now — but activity is taking place.

But who knows if this will continue? The bottom line right now: the only certain thing is uncertainty. We are experiencing an unprecedented social and economic disruption, whose consequences will not be fully understood for quite some time.

To help lawyers and legal employers navigate this challenging environment, Lateral Link is launching our COVID-19 Bridge Program. The Bridge Program will connect lawyers who are seeking work with employers who are seeking temporary assistance — and, as an inducement to encourage employers to work with us, we are offering our attorneys at no cost for two weeks (newly-placed attorneys only).

If you are an attorney interested in participating, please register with us, and we will email you with additional details. If you are an employer interested in hiring top temporary talent, please contact my colleagues Jaclyn Genchi and Carolyn Brenner. If you are an employer interested in hiring document review attorneys, please contact my colleague Craig Brown.

The Bridge Program also includes, for employers, outplacement services for their furloughed or laid-off lawyers –and the first 20 hours of counseling are free. If you are an employer interested in retaining us to provide outplacement services for your lawyers, please contact my colleague Amy Savage.

These are difficult and trying times. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or to any of my colleagues at Lateral Link for help. We will get through this — together.

5 Issues On The Minds Of Managing Partners

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” in the famous words of Shakespeare. Applied to the world of law firms, it could be translated as follows: “It’s not easy being a managing partner.”

Managing partners have a lot on their minds these days. And last Thursday, at a lively panel at the annual meeting of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), five law firm leaders let us into their world.

Skillfully moderated by my colleague Craig Brown, Managing Principal of Bridgeline Solutions (Lateral Link’s temporary staffing arm), the panel featured Daniel Connolly, Managing Partner of the New York office of Bracewell; Louis DiLorenzo, Managing Member of the New York office of Bond, Schoeneck & King; Ronald Shechtman, Managing Partner of Pryor Cashman; Marc Landis, Managing Partner of Phillips Nizer; and Richard Scarola, Managing Member of Scarola Zubatov Schaffzin. The featured firms run the gamut in terms of size from Bracewell, a Biglaw firm with 400 or so lawyers; Pryor Cashman, a midsize firm with just under 200 attorneys; and Scarola Zubatov Schaffzin, a boutique with a dozen lawyers.

What did the panelists discuss? Here are some highlights (with thanks to Jack Newsham of for his excellent write-up).

1. Managing millennials.

Like it or not, in less than a decade, millennials will make up about 75 percent of law firm staff. So managing partners need to know how to manage millennials (and it won’t be long before millennials themselves are managing partners of major firms, since the oldest millennials are approaching 40).

According to Daniel Connolly of Bracewell, there is some truth to the view that millennials value work-life balance more than their predecessors. Sabbaticals, family time, and flexible-work arrangements all appeal to millennials — and, to be honest, who can blame them? But in a client service business, this does have implications for the business aspects of law firms — a topic the panel also tackled.

2. Developing business.

It’s harder and harder to be a “service partner” in this day and age. Ronald Shechtman said that at Pryor Cashman, 40 percent of partners originate $1 million or more in business, and two-thirds of partners originate $500,000 or more. While the need for a $4 million or $5 million book of business may be exaggerated, firms definitely want partners who can at least “pay for themselves.”

3. Keeping up the culture.

In the words of Shechtman, “The greatest management challenge for our firm is to maintain the culture that we have.” And I suspect that many managing partners would agree with him.

Of course, “culture” will vary from firm to firm (although every firm will claim to be “collegial”). At Pryor Cashman, for example, collaboration is key — which translates into a culture that values presence in the office. The firm also has low leverage, a partner to nonpartner ratio of about 1:1, which Shechtman credits for the firm’s strong retention.

But other firms have very different cultures, and they also manage to succeed. For example, an increasing number of Biglaw firms accommodate working remotely, which can help firms attract and retain talent (e.g., lawyers with significant family responsibilities).

4. Planning for the future.

Law firms are, to their credit, increasingly focused on succession planning. So it should come as no surprise that the topic came up at the managing partner panel.

Some firms have a mandatory retirement age, which they believe helps encourage (or even forces) older lawyers to transition business to the next generation. At the same time, in an age where people are living longer and healthier lives, some older lawyers can and want to remain very active.

Bracewell balances these considerations by having what Daniel Connolly described as a “mandatory but discretionary” retirement age — which encourages lawyers to make way for the next generation, but allows for some exceptions. All older partners must develop a plan for handing off business to their younger colleagues, however, regardless of when they plan to retire.

5. Advancing diversity.

The lack of diversity on the panel did not go unnoticed. As Marc Landis of Phillips Nizer put it, “You’re looking at five white men.”

But how — and how quickly — will law firms change on this front? Alas, that is the subject for another, much longer discussion.

Best Practices In Law Firm Business Development And Marketing: An Interview With Deborah Farone

For better or worse, Biglaw is more of a business than it ever has been. It’s no longer the case that you join a firm after law school, work hard and make partner, and remain at the firm until you retire or die. Instead, partners regularly part ways with their longtime firms, in search of better platforms — and bigger paychecks.

In this environment, it’s more important than ever for lawyers — and not just partners, but counsel and associates as well — to understand and excel at business development and marketing. If you want a long and successful career at a law firm, you need to be not just an excellent attorney, but also a talented marketer.

How can you become a Biglaw business-development whiz? It’s not easy; many major rainmakers will tell you that it took them years to master the art. But you can definitely give yourself a head start through reading and research.

My recommendation: Start with Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing by Deborah Farone, published earlier this year by the Practising Law Institute (PLI). Farone, the founder of the Farone Advisors consultancy and former chief marketing officer at two of the nation’s finest firms, Cravath and Debevoise, interviewed numerous Biglaw business generators, as well as other industry experts, to learn the secrets of their success.

I recently spoke with Deborah Farone about her book and about Biglaw business development more generally. Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

What inspired you to write the book?

I felt that there was a real need in the marketplace to study the best practices in business development. I knew there was keen interest in two related subjects: One was in learning what it was that certain law firms were doing to consistently drive profitability and foster a positive culture, and the other was the curiosity about the habits of great rainmakers.

Around this same time, as I was thinking about starting a consulting practice, I was approached by PLI to write a book on legal marketing. Although I knew a lot about the world of large law firms and their operations, I always wanted to learn about best practices and innovation in other sectors of the legal profession, including midsize firms and boutiques. Conducting the research with academics, technologists, and other thought leaders and writing a book was an ideal opportunity to do this.

As I know from my own experience, writing a book is a challenging and demanding endeavor. What did you think of the process?

I gave myself a year to write it and I finished within that year. I mapped out a series of deadlines and devoted every morning from 6 to 11 to work on the book, assuming I wasn’t traveling to a client’s office. I interviewed more than 60 people for the book, so it involved a lot of juggling of schedules. I had to attack it in a very organized and disciplined way to complete the project.

Your book isn’t just a primer on business development, but it’s also a portrait of Biglaw over time. I love the opening, where you paint a vivid picture of what Debevoise was like back in 1989. What would you identify as the single biggest change in this world over the past three decades?

One big change that reverberates throughout many parts of the profession is that general counsel are in the driver’s seat more than ever before. Compared to their predecessors, today’s GCs are very sophisticated consumers of legal services, command larger departments, and have more tools at their disposal. In the past, if the GC had a new legal problem, they’d immediately look to their outside law firm. Today, they might turn to hiring additional lawyers in-house at a lower cost or using an alternative legal services provider. They’ve also acquired technology to address reoccuring issues and, as we’ve seen by the rise in influence of CLOC, brainy experts in legal operations are also there to help protect the company and manage legal costs.

What ramifications does this have for legal marketing?

When marketing their services, firms need to ask themselves: are we doing something that adds value? Are we providing a service that a GC can’t simply do in-house? This thinking requires law firms to be more strategic in their offerings and in their branding. It is why many more firms are developing strategic plans for key practices or for entire firms. They are working to identify the areas where they can provide exceptional value and differentiate themselves from the firm down the street.

Have law firms risen to the challenge? Have they gotten better at business development and marketing?

Some have. In the book, I focus on innovative firms — firms like Orrick and Gunderson Dettmer, to name a few — and what they’re doing to succeed in business development. Marketing has to be involved, of course, but so does management. The focus needs to be all hands on deck, focusing on the client.

Based on your research, can you offer some advice on how Biglaw partners can work most effectively with their Chief Marketing Officers and marketing teams?

Marketing can’t be a back-office department that works somewhere in the Ozarks. Marketing folks need to be involved in the strategic direction of the firm. For example, when a firm hires a lateral partner, the marketing department should have a hand in everything from helping to think about how the lateral will fit into the business, what services they will bring to clients, and what the firm can do to ensure there is support for the lateral to succeed in their practice. The CMOs I’ve met are incredibly talented, but at times they’re under-utilized by their firms when it comes to their strategic capability.

Firm leadership needs to be in regular communication with their marketing group to let them know not only the state of the firm and what is transpiring, but to communicate that their work is central to the operations of the firm. At Cravath, both Evan Chesler and Allen Parker met with my department regularly to let us know about new opportunities and their goals for the firm. This conveyed to the marketing department that they were an integral part of the firm and on the same team as the lawyers.

You mentioned integrating lateral partners, a subject of great interest to me these days. Have firms gotten better about this process?

Again, some have, and some haven’t. Today, many have a well-run integration program set up well before the partner even accepts the offer. They are thinking: Which clients will potentially use this partner? To which clients should the new partner be introduced, and by whom? Firms shouldn’t just count on lateral partners spinning gold from their own contacts when they arrive. If firms truly collaborate with new partners, the new partners are much more likely to stick. Close to 50 percent of lateral partners end up leaving the firm after five years. It’s expensive to bring on a lateral, so it behooves the firms to think seriously about how the partner will fit into the firm culture and business.

Speaking of law firm culture, how does it affect marketing and business development?

Firm leaders are so busy that they don’t always have time to stop and think about culture as a vital factor in the firm’s success, but if you think about it, culture is often the reason that firms maintain clients and talent, and grow revenue. If you have a culture where partners genuinely like each other, collaborate on bringing in new matters and serving their clients, you’ll have a much more robust business.

Dr. Heidi Gardner of Harvard has demonstrated this in her research. She found that if a client is served by more than one practice, there’s more of a chance of what she calls “stickiness,” and the firm is much more likely to retain the client. This requires a culture where partners like working with each other and have a compensation system that rewards this type of behavior. If you don’t pay attention to culture and just “let things happen,” you lose an opportunity to develop a stronger firm.

Turning to associates, I personally think it’s good for them to start thinking about and understanding, early in their careers, how the business of Biglaw works (and Above the Law aims to help on this front). Do you have any recommendations for associates on what they can do in terms of BD?

I agree. It’s never too early to start thinking about how you’re going to develop a practice, whether you’re planning to stay at your current firm or head someplace else. And that means building relationships. Associates need to work within the paradigm and rules of their own firms, but there are steps most can take.

Foremost, associates should develop relationships amongst themselves — their officemate might be a GC someday — and outside of the firm as well. This might involve using LinkedIn to stay in touch with business contacts, getting involved in leadership roles within bar associations, or serving on the board of a nonprofit in which you have an interest. I was on the board of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York for many years and from that experience, I met a host of people in various areas of business and industries, including banking and pharmaceuticals, who I would not have necessarily met in my marketing role.

And what can firms do to encourage and support their associates in these efforts?

Many firms provide forums for their associates to get to know colleagues at their level at the client, whether through substantive legal work or social activities. Some give associates a budget to take the client to lunch or an event. This helps create a “zippering effect,” where the firm has contact with the client at all different levels, and it also allows the associate to develop their business development skill.

Firms often tell associates, “Your job is to learn to be a great lawyer.” I agree, but I don’t think this is mutually exclusive with teaching them client and business development skills. If you don’t give associates training and exposure in business development and client service, you end up with a class of partners that has never done it before. Then you are in a position of having to train folks to acquire new habits and break old ones. The new partners have also missed out on years of making valuable connections.

I have been to a number of firms to speak with partners and senior associates. They want to learn how to develop business and they are interested in knowing how others in the profession do this. Lawyers tend to look for precedent, and I think by providing examples of behavior that has worked elsewhere, they are able to think about and incorporate what will work for them,

What about business development and diversity? How do these concerns relate to each other?

Of course, business development isn’t just an issue for diverse lawyers, it’s an issue for everyone. Firms should give everyone they tools they need for business development. We need to be sure that we are reaching everyone and spend extra time with those who need it most, regardless of their background.

Marketers can play a role in the conversation in terms of making sure firms recruit diverse candidates and retain and develop diverse lawyers. Firms are starting to track to see that diverse lawyers are being given the same assignments as everyone else. Firms need to ensure that diverse lawyers have the skills and exposure they need to develop their practices.

Looking to the future, how will technology and innovation affect marketing and business development?

Today’s legal technology is amazing, and there are wonderful tools that streamline processes that used to take lawyers a lot of time. Firms can provide equal if not better service in a more cost-effective way. Marketers can spend less time putting together reports and regression analyses and more time involved in strategic projects.

But the relationship aspect of doing business is still so vital. People want to work with people they like and trust. If the client doesn’t trust you, the innovative George Jetson environment you’ve created doesn’t matter. Skills, reputation and relationships are really everything in business.

So very true. Congratulations again on the book, Deborah, and thanks for taking the time to share your insights and advice!

3 Reasons to Embrace the Rise of Non-Equity Partners

What do we talk about when we talk about partnership? Last month, a widely read Wall Street Journal article by Sara Randazzo, Being a Law Firm Partner Was Once a Job for Life — That Culture Is All but Dead, raised this question. It also generated a lot of discussion, much of it negative, about law firms’ increasing use of non-equity partnership.

The rise of the non-equity partner has been criticized on a number of grounds. First, it lets equity partners jack up the billing rates of non-equity partners, often to north of $1,000, without having to share the wealth with them (or take a hit in the American Lawyer’s closely watched “profits per partner” or “PPP” rankings, which consider only equity partners).

Second, as argued by my former colleague Joe Patrice, it’s fundamentally dishonest: “Can’t we all just go back to a reality-based vernacular? If the attorney is not a partner in the enterprise, they are not a ‘partner.’ If attorneys want more recognition for career advancement, then do a better job of branding the importance of the firm’s counsel. This whole thing has gotten out of hand.”

There’s validity to these critiques. But since the non-equity partner role isn’t going away — if anything, it’s on the rise (in 2000, 78 percent of partners were equity partners, while in 2018, only 56 percent were) — let’s consider the advantages, to lawyers and law firms:

1. The cocktail party effect. Lawyers are obsessed with prestige — and it’s far more prestigious to be able to claim at a cocktail party that you’re a “partner,” as opposed to a “counsel” or an “associate.”

Most non-lawyers won’t know the difference. And even if the non-lawyer does know about the divide between equity and non-equity partners, it would be quite gauche for the person to ask, “But are you an equity partner?”

Sometimes you can guess, based on factors like seniority, whether someone is an equity or non-equity partner. But much of the time, it’s a secret known only to the firms (which is why it’s so hard to get good data on diversity, or the lack thereof, in Biglaw equity partnerships).

2. The business development advantage. This is an offshoot of the cocktail party effect. It’s much easier to land clients, especially large corporate clients, if you can introduce yourself as a “partner.”

As a recruiter, I sometimes work with candidates who, based on how long they’ve been practicing, could be counsels or partners. I ask these candidates how strongly they feel about title. Some say it’s not important, but others say — and understandably so — “If I’m going to build a practice, I need to have that ‘partner’ title.”

3. Greater flexibility and a longer runway.The traditional partnership model was “up or out”: if you didn’t make partner after the prescribed period, you had to find yourself another job. The new model of “partnership,” featuring the non-equity role, allows firms to hold on to talented lawyers for longer; these lawyers can continue to service clients, often in niche areas, without worrying about having or building a book of business. (Yes, counsels can do this too — but see the two other advantages of non-equity partnership, supra.)

In the case of laterals, if they come in as non-equity partners, they can have a longer time period (aka “runway”) to build their practice; they don’t immediately need to be super-profitable, as a lockstep firm with super-high PPP might want or expect. This lets firms “take a chance” on a lateral. If the choice is binary — “admit this candidate to your lockstep, single-tier partnership, which will immediately involve paying them $1.5 million a year or more, or pass” — many firms will simply say “pass.” I suspect many candidates would rather be non-equity partners than not at a firm at all.

So, in the end, what should we make of “non-equity partnership”? I used to be fairly negative on it, perhaps because of a youthful snobbery in favor of the Cravaths and Clearys of the world, finding the whole notion déclassé. But as I’ve gotten to learn more about the legal industry, first as a journalist and now as a legal recruiter, I now know that not every firm can be a Cravath or a Cleary (or a Davis or a Debevoise) —and there’s nothing wrong with that.

5 Tips For Having A Long And Successful Legal Career

A legal career is a marathon, not a sprint — and whether you’re a law student, associate, or partner, you always need to be thinking about the next turn in the road. You might have achieved a major career goal — getting into a top law school, landing a job as a Biglaw associate, making partner — but you can’t rest on your laurels (unless, well, you’re ready to retire). There’s always a new achievement to be unlocked.

In my new career as a legal recruiter, I have broadened and deepened my knowledge of the legal industry and job market. Based on my experience as a recruiter so far, as well as my 20 years as a practicing lawyer and then a legal journalist, here are five pieces of career advice. They’re most germane to Biglaw associates, but some of them apply to law students, partners, and even non-lawyers. I hope you find them helpful.

1. Be open to opportunity.

The job I held from 2006 to 2019, as founder and managing editor of Above the Law — “legal blogger,” “online journalist,” “digital journalist,” or whatever you might want to call it — didn’t exist when I was in law school. And when I was in law school, I certainly had no idea that I would wind up in it.

Careers take unexpected and surprising turns, often driven by luck. And you can “make your own luck” by keeping abreast of industry news (by reading ATL and other Biglaw-focused publications), networking (in person and online), and being receptive to possible opportunities (even if an opening might not initially seem like your dream job).

When in doubt, hear the pitch or take the meeting. It’s not like Persephone eating the pomegranate seeds; going to an interview doesn’t obligate you to take the job. But going to an interview, even for a job you ultimately decline or don’t get, could help you learn about a job that you do accept, make a valuable new professional contact, or land a client.

Going to a callback never killed anyone. You might get stuck in an elevator for a few hours, but that’s very, very rare.

2. Always be learning.

To paraphrase the old motivational phrase “always be closing” (made famous by Alec Baldwin’s star turn in Glengarry Glen Ross), you should always be learning, especially in a knowledge-driven field like the law. Laws change, industries change, and the only way to remain relevant is to stay on top of the changes.

If you no longer feel challenged or stimulated in your current job, or if you find yourself working on the same types of matters or performing the same types of tasks over and over again, then it might be time to start exploring. If you’re no longer learning from your job, then you’re just collecting a paycheck — and while collecting a paycheck is nice, you can do that while improving your knowledge and skills at the same time. (I can relate; a desire to take on new challenges and develop new skills drove my own recent career switch.)

3. It’s no longer all about the benjamins (or prestige).

When picking where to start their careers, many law students go for the firm offering the biggest paycheck and greatest prestige (which often just boils down to prestige, since most of the top firms pay on the same market/Cravath scale). This is an admittedly crude way to pick a firm, but it’s the approach of many students, including myself back in the day, and it has a certain logic: if you don’t know what type of law you want to practice, you might as well “start at the top” and keep as many doors open as possible.

But a few years into your career, armed with a better sense of what you actually want to do, it might be time to move to a platform that makes more sense for your specific interests. The uber-prestigious firm you picked for starting your career might not be the best place for you to build a practice based on the particular type of work you’ve selected as your specialty or the particular industry you’ve decided to focus on — perhaps with an eye to moving in-house in a few years.

4. Don’t go in-house too early.

Speaking of moving in-house, it’s the promised land for many Biglaw associates (and even some partners), and many can’t wait to make the jump. But don’t make the jump too early.

As Dan Cooperman, former general counsel of Apple, said on the Legal Speak podcast(around the 5:30 mark), the best time to go in-house is after four or five years at a firm. That’s the amount of time you typically need to become fully confident in at least one area of the law, which will serve you well as corporate counsel and help you get the best work.

(Speaking of the Legal Speak podcast, I recently appeared on it, speaking with host Leigh Jones about how Biglaw has changed over the past 13 years, the role Above the Law played in covering (and promoting) that change, and my new work as a legal recruiter. Check out the episode here.)

5. Don’t leave Biglaw too late.

The conventional wisdom is true: there’s a sweet spot for leaving Biglaw, falling somewhere between your third and sixth years. If you know that you don’t want to stick around to make a run at partnership, either because you don’t want or don’t think you’ll make partner, then figure out a good time to leave.

If everything is going reasonably well, it can be tempting to just stick around your current firm and collect a nice paycheck. And as long as you’re making money for them, your firm will be more than happy to keep you.

But beyond a certain point, your marketability will drop.

If you search for jobs based on the desired year of law school graduation — one of countless searches I have been able to run with the resources I have at my disposal working at Lateral Link — you’ll find a bell-curve distribution: not many jobs for lawyers with under two years of experience, lots of jobs for lawyers with two to six years of experience, and then fewer jobs for lawyers with six or more years of experience (although this will vary based on a number of factors, including your credentials and practice area).

(Beyond a certain point of seniority, you ideally want to be a partner with a big book of business. Partner hiring doesn’t rely as much on public job postings; instead, recruiters play a major role.)


These tips are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; the best career advice is individualized. If you’re an associate or partner at an Am Law 100 firm or elite boutique interested in reviewing your options, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, where I often post advice and opportunities, or to drop me a line by email. It’s always a pleasure to hear from ATL readers — no matter where they are in the great career marathon.

Job of the Week: Lateral Link Exclusive In-House Position – June 19, 2019

In my new role as a legal recruiter, I spend much of my time speaking with Biglaw associates and partners about their career goals and aspirations. And I have quickly come to this conclusion: everyone wants to go in-house. So I’m delighted to present a great in-house position.

An emerging growth company in the specialty pharma/life sciences/biotech space has exclusively retained Lateral Link to conduct a search for a Deputy General Counsel, to be located in the company’s headquarters in northern New Jersey. Interested candidates should submit their résumés to me via email:, subject line “In-House Opportunity.”

Reporting to the General Counsel (“GC”), the Deputy General Counsel will work closely with the GC, Chief Compliance Officer, business clients, and outside counsel on a wide range of corporate matters, including public company securities filings, corporate governance, M&A, and commercial contracts. The Deputy General Counsel will also support the General Counsel on existing business development initiatives. This is the first Deputy General Counsel role at this company, and it provides a unique opportunity for a lawyer to engage in the company’s strategic and business development efforts.


  • J.D. with excellent academic credentials.
  • 5+ years of experience with a major Am Law 200 law firm or corporate legal department.
  • Expertise in securities law, especially public company reporting requirements and SEC filings.
  • Experience with general corporate matters, including board resolutions and minutes and corporate authorization.
  • Experience drafting, reviewing, and negotiating a wide variety of commercial contracts (e.g., supply agreements, master services agreements, consulting agreements).
  • Desirable but not required: experience in the life-sciences industry, healthcare regulatory/compliance, M&A, litigation, intellectual property.
  • Willingness to roll up sleeves and be involved in all legal aspects of a growing company; candidate must be a self-starter and have an entrepreneurial spirit and cooperative attitude, sound and practical business judgment, intellectual creativity, and problem-solving skills. As a core member of the legal team, candidate should have the highest level of integrity and ethics.
  • Active membership in at least one state bar.

Compensation: Competitive base salary, bonus, stock options, ESPP plan, and benefits, commensurate with experience.

Travel: Minimal travel required.

Relos: Case by case (this search is national, although local candidates are preferred).

Bar: Active membership in at least one state bar.

Seniority Level: Senior director-level or VP-level position, commensurate with experience and ability.

If you satisfy the requirements listed above and would like to learn more about this job — or if you’d like to explore your career options more generally, including opportunities at other law firms — please submit your résumé to me via email:, subject line “In-House Opportunity.”

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you!