All posts by Lateral Link

The Cost of Law Firm Associate Turnover

A client recently asked me an interesting question. 

“How much should we counteroffer an associate who has given notice?”

Many factors may play into that calculation. Some are specific to the particular associate. For example, how good is this associate’s work product? Other considerations are broader. Assume the firm makes a strong counteroffer for this associate. Will that set a precedent that encourages other associates to go out and get offers from rival firms?

But the core factor should be how much money the firm will lose if the associate leaves. Losses from lost billable hours, investments in the associate, and potentially turning away work. Add in the lost time spent recruiting and hiring on their own and a firm will face a larger cost than expected.

Lost billable hours loom largest

The most significant cost to a firm when an associate departs is lost billable hours. First are the hours lost from the departing associate. Practice groups run both lean and at full (if not above) capacity. And rarely do remaining associates have capacity to pick up hours without sacrifice. The result is a mixture of revenue loss and unhappy burned out associates.

Second are the less obvious loss of billable hours spent replacing the associate. Hours of billable time recruiting and interviewing candidates by partners and associates alike. Reviewing resumes. Conducting interviews. Taking candidates to lunch. Assessing conflicts checks. Training the replacement associate. The list never ends. Hours lost that could otherwise have brought in a new client or billed a current one.

How much does an associate departure cost?

The answer to this question depends on the seniority of the associate and how busy the group is at the time. Losing a key senior associate working a full plate that can’t easily transfer is the worst-case scenario. Losing a junior associate with spare hours will not be as costly.

A 2017 NALP Update on Associate Attrition pegged the cost of replacing an associate between $200,000 and $500,000. That may sound like a lot but a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that it doesn’t take much to reach $200,000.

Let’s assume that on an annualized basis the firm is collecting on 1600 of the associate’s billed hours, at an average rate of $750/hour. That generates annualized incremental gross revenue of $1.2 million. Also assume the associate’s compensation and benefits cost the firm a total of $400,000. If none of the associate’s hours transfer to others and the position was vacant for a year, the firm would lose $800,000. It only takes three months to hit $200,000 in lost profits. Next add lost revenue from partners and associates hiring instead of billing. Plus a potential signing bonus in a tight hiring market for certain practices. The NALP range not only becomes plausible, but likely.

Mitigating lost revenue

So, how much to counter offer? The answer is variable, but a strict cost benefit analysis shows it can be a lot. But what about the hidden downstream cost? Will an effective counteroffer incentivize other associates to seek out their own counteroffers? Will the associate leave in a year anyways? If the answer is not an emphatic ‘no’ it may actually be more cost effective to replace them. That’s where a firm working with a trusted recruiter can bring the cost down substantially. A firm may take four months or more to replace an associate—let alone bring the new hire up to speed. If a recruiter has the trust and backing of the firm, and fills the vacancy in two months, that’s a great deal for the firm. Increasing fees offered to recruiters reflects this basic economic calculus. Associate turnover is a part of life at law firms. A knee jerk decision to throw money at a departing associate may be the wrong move. Instead, firms should carefully and rationally weigh their options to determine the least costly path forward.

Female Representation in Biglaw Partnerships — A Long Way to Go

Disproportionate attrition of female attorneys in Biglaw is hardly a new problem. As a 2019 ABA and ALM report on the issue noted, “entering associate classes have been comprised of approximately 45% women for several decades.” Indeed, at 5 of the top 20 Am Law firms (by gross revenue), female lawyers now constitute a majority of associates:

Firm% of Female Associates
Baker McKenzie53.4%
Norton Rose Fulbright53.0%
Morgan Lewis50.8%
Hogan Lovells50.1%
Jones Day50.1%

But when it comes to partnerships, representation of women is substantially lower. Among those top 20 Am Law firms, here are the four with the greatest proportion of female partners:

Firm% of Female Partners
Ropes & Gray31.8%
Morgan Lewis28.8%
Baker McKenzie27.9%
Jones Day27.3%

Ropes & Gray is the standout performer, as the only top 20 firm with greater than 30% female representation in its partnership. Interestingly, unlike the other firms in this table, Ropes & Gray does not rank especially highly for female associate representation: only 44.8% of the firm’s associates are women.

And here are the four with the lowest female representation in the partnership:

Firm% of Female Partners
Gibson Dunn20.9%
White & Case20.8%
Simpson Thacher20.2%
Davis Polk17.9%

Gibson Dunn is an interesting case in that the firm last year elected its first-ever female Chair, Barbara Becker. Gibson Dunn’s announcement of the appointment emphasized diversity and inclusion, noting that Ms. Becker created the firmwide Diversity Committee. It will be interesting to see if Ms. Becker succeeds in boosting the firm’s female partner representation above the current below-average level.

Any way you cut it, Biglaw certainly has a long way to go. Should that be cause for despair? Not necessarily. The good news is that firms are well aware of the problem and at least some of them are making a strong push to fix it, even if progress is slower than we would wish.

How to increase female representation — and retain female partners

There are a number of ways that law firms are pushing to increase female representation in their partnerships. Flexibility is a key theme. Many female Biglaw attorneys are working mothers with other schedules to meet outside of work. A one-size-fits-all approach to hours expectations (including office presence, billable hours, and business development targets) can disproportionately drive away women. We speak to many high-powered female attorneys who feel compelled to leave the law firm grind because they also want to raise a family, and they have concluded that it is impossible to succeed at both. When law firms incorporate more women- and family-friendly policies firmwide (not just for partners!) it paves the way for female associates to first rise to the equity partnership and then succeed there — both inside and outside the office.

Increasing female representation in partnerships is not enough. Law firms must also offer a solid support structure so as to not leave women high and dry once they attain equity status. Providing adequate and equitable associate and administrative support goes a long way in retaining female partners and promoting their longevity. In addition, establishing vibrant Women’s Initiatives with strong leadership and defined budgets is one way to support female partnership (and all female attorneys).  And don’t forget the men — they need to be involved!  Male participation in Women’s Initiatives is crucial in demonstrating that the entire firm stands behind a diverse partnership and supports female advancement.  

Pitfalls to keep in mind

Law firms should be careful not to simply promote women to non-equity partner status and assume that’s good enough. Not all partnership roles are created equal. These days, so many firms have deviated from the one-tier structure of partnership, such that non-equity partnership often amounts to what used to be called Counsel. When there are several tiers of partnership, it creates additional obstacles to attaining the ultimate goal of equity.

Law firm leadership should also be aware that non-billable requirements often disproportionately take women away from billable work as compared to their male counterparts. For example, for some reason female attorneys are especially likely to participate on committees. Women’s Initiatives and other firm programs are important, but they present a Catch-22 that must be acknowledged and monitored. Firms should be careful not to unfairly assign a disproportionate amount of non-billable tasks to female partners or just assume they will take on an extra load. This is something we often hear our female candidates complain about, and it is an easy fix once the problem has been identified. But firm leadership must first be cognizant of the pattern.

Dreaming of an In-House Gig? Don’t Make the Jump Too Soon!

In-house counsel positions sound like the promised land for many Biglaw attorneys. A better lifestyle and no billable hours, plus decent compensation. Who wouldn’t want that? To what extent the in-house grass is in fact greener is a matter of debate though. Experiences vary greatly from one company to another. But for many lawyers, the in-house track can be a good long-term fit.

However, as I discussed on a recent episode of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers, there is tremendous risk in making the switch too soon. Risk that many law firm associates don’t realize when they jump at the first in-house role they can get. A premature exit from the law firm track can severely stunt an in-house counsel’s career growth. When companies make in-house offers to relatively junior associates, they tend not to warn candidates that entering at a junior level will probably prevent them from being on the General Counsel track in the future. Armed with this knowledge, associates must educate themselves about in-house career trajectories. If they do accept an in-house role, they must do so with correct assumptions.

Different learning curves

At a top law firm, the knowledge you gain is on the cutting edge of your practice area. You work for clients who bring their most pressing issues to you to solve. Whether handling novel issues in bet-the-company litigation or providing counsel on eye-popping deals. Clients rarely pay expensive outside counsel billing rates for routine matters. In-house attorneys, by contrast, work for a single client. The matters are more often routine and more cost effective if done on the company payroll. They can provide the allure of a broader range of subject matters than your experience at a law firm. But when cutting edge issues do arise, the company will tend to send them to external counsel.

The upshot is that the knowledge base you bring with you from law firm work will be critical. It can be the key ingredient in your competitiveness for in-house leadership roles. Companies promote attorneys who can more cost effectively solve problems in-house. The more high-end experience you have the more problems you can solve. But a third-year associate moving in-house will have a smaller knowledge base than someone more senior. You will churn out relatively easy and repetitive work on a small number of problems. That is more akin to a staff attorney, and staff attorneys are not on track for internal advancement. Worse yet every minute you do not realize this it hurts your long term career. Should you decide you would be better off back in private practice you may find returning to the law firm track challenging. Firms do not value in-house and private practice experience as the same. You will be behind your class year. A class year cut is a possibility, but firms prefer not to deal with that — they would much rather hire a lateral candidate from another law firm.

When to make the switch

So when is the optimal time to make the jump? It depends on your practice area and the company in question. As a general rule though, five full years practicing is a good benchmark. As a sixth-year associate, you will bring real substantive experience to the table. You will have put in your 10,000 (billable) hours. You will have dealt with clients, taken on leadership roles, and be able to tackle more problems. Most important, you will more likely hit the ground running at the company. Your in-house leadership will have confidence to assign you greater responsibility. Your position on the GC track will be more secure. In certain transactional fields where in-house work is very similar to outside counsel work — tech transactions, for example — you can make the switch a year or two earlier. But even in these niches, you will want to wait until you have solid mid-level associate experience.

There is also a silver lining in waiting. You will have a greater appreciation for the various legal career paths. Not only will you have a clearer sense of what law firm partners do (and don’t do). You will also have worked directly with clients and seen the realities of in-house work. This increases the likelihood that you will make the right decision for you. Whether that means shooting for the partnership or joining an in-house team. It also gives you greater optionality in case you make the wrong decision. A former sixth-year associate can pivot back to the law firm track after spending a year or two with a company easier than a third year. Lawyers with this profile are often strong candidates for law firm counsel positions.

In-house careers can be a great option for many attorneys. But if you’re eager to trade law firm life for an in-house gig, make sure you understand the tradeoffs. You may not relish spending an extra couple of years in the Biglaw grind, but that investment is likely to pay real dividends when you finally make the in-house switch. Measuring your career in decades you would be smart to take a long-term view.

Are You Working for a Laggard Firm? How Biglaw’s Wealthiest Stack Up on Associate Pay Raises

From a pay perspective, the current Biglaw market offers associates some incredible opportunities. 2022 has brought not one, but three increases to the associate base salary scale. Milbank kicked things off, only to be outdone by Davis Polk, which was itself overtaken by Cravath. As exciting as the first-mover jockeying has been, the varied responses of other top firms have also been fascinating to watch. If you’re a Biglaw associate, obviously you want your firm to (at least) match the top of the market. But there’s a meaningful difference between a follower firm that dutifully announces a quick match and one that inexplicably drags its feet. Even if the latter firm ultimately ends up in the same place as its peers, nobody would prefer to work for a laggard.

With the dust on this round of increases finally settling, now seems like a good time to take stock of how the wealthiest firms performed. Was your firm a leader or a laggard? If you find yourself at a laggard firm, you might want to reflect on whether you feel appropriately valued. As we at Lateral Link can attest, the lateral market remains hot, so you very likely have other options.

Comparing top firms’ performance

To provide a snapshot of relative performance, we sorted firms into four buckets:

  • Gold: the firm was a first-mover in the 2022 salary raises, and to the extent another firm subsequently outbid it, the firm matched the new top of market; 
  • Silver: the firm matched the most recent (Cravath) increase in the same week that Cravath announced it;
  • Bronze: the firm matched Cravath, but with some delay (not in the same week that Cravath announced); 
  • Wooden Spoon: the firm had not matched Cravath as of end of day March 16.

As the pool for our analysis, we took the top 50 firms by revenue per lawyer (RPL), based on the most recent Am Law RPL ranking. We used RPL because this metric best captures the economic health of a firm. To put it bluntly, a top 50 RPL firm can afford to match the Cravath scale.

Before relying on our results, please be advised that our source of data on salary increases is AboveTheLaw’s tracker, as of end of day March 16. The tracker is updated based on insider tips to AboveTheLaw and therefore may not be comprehensive. We excluded the top firm by RPL, Wachtell, because the Wachtell pay scale has long been distinct from the rest of the Biglaw market.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s see how the firms stack up. Note that within each category, the firms are listed from highest to lowest RPL.

GoldSilverBronzeWooden Spoon
Davis PolkKirklandGibson DunnSullivan & Cromwell
CravathSimpson ThacherWeilFish & Richardson
MilbankRopes & GrayFenwickWilson Sonsini
SkaddenCooleyFragomen
CahillWilmerHaleMorgan Lewis
DebevoiseFried FrankSteptoe
Quinn EmmanuelProskauerPillsbury
Paul WeissAkin GumpCrowell & Moring
LathamWillkieAlston & Bird
Paul HastingsSchulte Roth & Zabel
Sidley AustinKing & Spalding
O’MelvenyGoodwin
McDermottKramer Levin
Vinson & ElkinsWinston & Strawn
OrrickMorrison & Foerster
Covington & BurlingCadwalader
ClearyDechert
White & CaseSheppard Mullin
Arnold & Porter

In our laggard watch, we have to give a special shoutout to Sullivan & Cromwell, the second-highest ranked firm by RPL, after Wachtell. With RPL approaching $2 million in 2020, there is no doubt that SullCrom can afford to pay the new Cravath scale. And, realistically, there is no doubt that the firm will match — eventually. But there’s no good excuse for leaving associates in limbo when all of your peer firms matched relatively promptly.

Another notable laggard is Gibson Dunn, the wealthiest firm in the Bronze category (#14 by RPL). Gibson Dunn matched on March 14, a full two weeks after Cravath raised the bar. The firm’s associates surely noticed the delay, given that the large majority of Gibson Dunn’s peers near the top of the RPL ranking had confirmed their Cravath matches within a few days. Considering the firm also lagged in PPP growth over the past decade, ambitious Gibson Dunn associates may be asking some tough questions.

Implications: consider your options

Even though some, or perhaps all, of the “Wooden Spoon” firms will eventually announce full matches, being a laggard can have real consequences for a firm’s associates. Time value of money matters. When a laggard firm eventually matches and pays out the increase retroactively, any associate who left the firm in the interim will not receive the retroactive bump. And even for associates who don’t incur a material financial hit from the delay, the uncertainty imposes a psychological cost.

The good news for associates at laggard firms is that the healthy lateral market makes this a great time to switch firms. If the way your firm has handled the salary increases frustrates you, why not do something about it? It never hurts to explore your options. And who knows? Maybe you will end up joining a firm that treats its associates with more respect.

The 100 Pointer Law Firms: PPP Growth Outperformers Over the Past Decade

If you’re a high-performing associate with aspirations to make partner, you have many choices in the current booming lateral market. If and when you do ascend to the partnership, you would certainly rather do so at a firm with a strong profitability growth trajectory. Law firm success tends to beget success, and if you’re going to work as hard as Biglaw requires, you might as well do so at a firm that is firing on all cylinders.

To help provide a quantitative indicator of firms’ relative momentum, Lateral Link analyzed growth in profits per partner (PPP) over the decade from 2011-2020, drawing on data published in the Am Law 200. This exercise is instructive both for identifying firms that have outperformed in profitability growth and also for identifying firms that might have been expected to outperform, but didn’t.

The outperformers

Let’s start with the positives. Sixteen firms in our data set more than doubled their PPP over the decade from 2011 to 2020. We’re designating these firms “100 Pointers” — their profitability trajectories have been the envy of the industry.

FirmPPP multiple (2020 vs 2011)PPP in 2020 ($m)
Davis Polk2.76x6.35
Fenwick & West2.46x2.85
Cooley2.33x3.18
Nixon Peabody2.31x1.63
Choate Hall & Stewart2.31x3.24
Fried, Frank2.29x3.62
Nelson Mullins2.21x1.32
Ropes & Gray2.20x3.37
Debevoise & Plimpton2.19x4.55
Vinson & Elkins2.17x2.94
Kilpatrick Townsend2.15x1.36
Fragomen2.06x3.23
Polsinelli2.05x1.11
Robins Kaplan2.05x1.59
White & Case2.05x3.02
Kirkland & Ellis2.03x6.19

Some of these 100 Pointers will come as no surprise. For example, the outperformance in recent years of the Davis Polk and Kirkland — the only two firms on the list with PPP over $6 million — has been well documented. But even among those two we find an interesting nuance: although Kirkland had materially higher PPP than Davis Polk in 2011 ($3.05m vs. $2.3m), Davis Polk’s remarkable outperformance — close to tripling PPP over the decade — saw it overtake Kirkland by 2020. (David Polk also outperformed Kirkland in Revenue per Lawyer growth during this period: 1.52x vs. 1.46x.)

The strong performances of Fenwick and Cooley also make sense, in the context of a market that has offered rich targets for firms that focus on technology clients. On the other hand, fewer readers might have expected Nixon Peabody to have outperformed so impressively. It is interesting to see that despite the general market narrative of the richest Biglaw firms getting richer, it’s not just the highest PPP firms that have made strong relative gains.

The laggards

Just as some less renowned firms made the 100 Pointers list, some high-prestige firms turn out to be relative laggards. In a decade in which transactional work grew at a torrid pace, the strongest predictor of a firm’s PPP growth underperformance seems to be its reliance on litigation. Some of the weakest performers in the data set include Boies Schiller, Jones Day, and Curtis, Mallet. Each of these firms had a lower PPP in 2020 than in 2011. DC litigation specialist Williams & Connolly achieved slight PPP growth (2020 PPP was 1.19x 2011 PPP), but its RPL declined (0.89x). The largest pure litigation firm, Quinn Emmanuel, also delivered only modest PPP growth (1.12x), though its RPL growth was more respectable (1.42x).

Among the firms with more diversified offerings, it’s interesting to see some firms that have a reputation for growth turn in relatively mediocre performances in this analysis. For example, Gibson, Dunn grew its PPP over the decade by 1.67x, the same multiple achieved by Blank Rome and Stoel Rives. That’s a solid performance relative to a firm like Jones Day, but considering Gibson’s narrative of having grown into a true national powerhouse, it is striking to see the gap between its PPP growth and that of the 100 Pointer firms.

Implications: know your market value

If you are a current or future partner, the difference between being at a firm with strong PPP growth versus being stuck at a firm that is flat or declining is highly significant, to the tune of several million dollars over the course of your career. Simply put, if you are a partner at a firm on the upswing, you will attain outsized rewards. If you are at a flat firm, you will likely not realize the rewards of building your practice, as you will mainly find yourself feeding others. And if you are at a declining firm and you stick around too long, you will have left a huge sum on the table, which you will never recoup. Given that you are likely to work equally hard in all three scenarios, it’s not difficult to see which one is preferable.

Bottom line: it pays to understand how your firm is doing relative to your other options in this active lateral market. The time it takes to get ahead of the trends and learn your market value is time well invested. If you find that your current situation undervalues you, now is an opportune moment to make a move to a firm that is on a more promising trajectory.

Record-High Demand for Environmental Attorneys

The increasing concerns about climate change and the rising prominence of broader Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors have become dominant themes in business. Around the world, both private markets and governments are intensely focused on sustainability. Blackrock CEO Larry Fink captured the mood in his 2022 Annual Letter to CEOs, predicting: “The next 1,000 unicorns won’t be search engines or social media companies, they’ll be sustainable, scalable innovators – startups that help the world decarbonize and make the energy transition affordable for all consumers.”

Growing recognition of a business imperative for ESG has sharply increased demand for environmental attorneys. ESG has been a part of the corporate landscape for years, but until recently, environmental and social issues were largely limited to law firm specialty practices, such as environmental groups. In contrast, today we see a broadening of ESG-related legal matters across numerous practice areas including M&A, litigation, and regulatory.

A “whole of government” approach

With President Biden regularly emphasizing the importance of climate and ESG issues, federal agencies are taking a “whole of government” approach. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) established a Climate and ESG Task Force in March 2021, which has focused both on issuers’ disclosures about ESG and climate matters and on compliance programs for registered investment advisers marketing ESG funds. The SEC is considering new rulemaking in this area, with the aim of ensuring consistency and comparability in public company disclosures and facilitating investment managers’ ability to evaluate potential ESG investments. Speaking in July 2021, SEC Chair Gary Gensler advocated the benefits of corporate disclosure of climate-related risks and stated that he had directed SEC staff to develop a mandatory climate risk disclosure rule proposal.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established an interagency task force on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), noting that “global phasedown of HFCs is expected to avoid up to 0.5 °C of global warming by 2100.” The taskforce seeks to combat the illegal trade, production, use or sale of HFCs, and is taking measures to support the transition to HFC alternatives, reclamation, and recycling. The Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice has sought to address climate change in part by bringing Clean Air Act cases related to the use of flares to burn off volatile organic compounds, toxics and other pollutants in waste gases.

Growing public demand and awareness

Though the regulatory developments are of central interest to attorneys, it is also important to note the rising support for ESG principles among the broader public. This is reflected in extraordinary growth of investor interest in ESG-focused products. Morningstar data shows that in the first three quarters of 2021, over $54 billion flowed into ESG funds, eclipsing the total for all of 2020. The 2020 flow of $51 billion was itself a record, more than doubling the total flow in 2019. Environmental justice topics are increasingly the subject of media attention, helping to drive greater public awareness. Corporations must be cognizant of this broader trend in the public mood as they formulate their business strategies and anticipate potential risks.

Ideal conditions for environmental attorneys

Now, more than ever, clients and law firms need environmental attorneys who can navigate an expanding and fast-changing maze of environmental laws. The eruption of client demand has created a surge of new positions for environmental attorneys at all levels, from junior environmental associates to senior environmental partners. Firms and clients are seeking lawyers who understand the Clean Air Act, in particular, but can also advise on a wide array of Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance issues.

In the current market, environmental attorneys are uniquely positioned to take their practices to the next level. With more environmental matters to pitch to clients than ever before, the opportunities to expand are everywhere. Robust demand for environmental attorneys is enabling lawyers with experience in this field to make impressive lateral moves, either to more prestigious firms or to higher-ranked environmental practices.

Lateral Link has experience placing environmental attorneys across the top practices in the field. We are happy to offer our advice about your individual circumstances, even if you are not ready to make an immediate move. We welcome you to contact Amy to discuss your options.

Business Planning for Senior Associates: Laying the Groundwork for Revenue Generation

If you’re a mid-level or senior associate with aspirations to remain in private practice long term, you already know that business development will be a factor in your ability to advance in the profession.  The early associate years are primarily about acquiring the core legal skills that enable you to practice competently and with relative independence.  But as you approach the window for promotion to counsel — and, ultimately, partner —  a solid legal toolkit is not enough.  Your firm must have confidence that you can make a material contribution to generating new business.

The good news is that business development doesn’t have to be intimidating.  If you lay the right foundation, it’s something that will start to happen naturally.  But the foundation is critical, and it requires a proactive investment on your part.  Business development planning is an iterative process, so the sooner you give it serious attention, the better placed you will be when your firm is considering you for promotion.  Do not wait until you are up for Counsel or Partner to get started.  To that end, here are some helpful tips.

Write a business plan and update it regularly.

Even as a mid-level associate, you need a business plan.  This is a living document that you should update at least annually.  Don’t wait until you are in the promotion window to do this!

A solid business plan will include details on what you have achieved to date, prospects you are actively working on, and your goals for the future.  List and quantify any matters you have originated, noting which business or client relationships would likely be portable in the event you switched firms.  List your business contacts, distinguishing between those to whom you are actively marketing and others in your broader network.  You should also make a list of attorneys who may be sources of referrals.

If you’re writing a business plan for the first time, you may have little to say about your (still nonexistent) book of business.  That’s totally fine!  Focus instead on spelling out the things you are doing to build your professional profile and lay the groundwork for future business development.  What organizations are you involved in?  Which articles have you published?  What about speaking opportunities?  If you don’t yet have experience in each of these categories, commit to building some in the next six months.

Foster a strong network, both in person and online.

It’s never too early to get serious about networking.  Relationships compound over time, often in unexpected ways, so there is substantial benefit to putting yourself out there early and maintaining an ongoing presence in the various communities with which you’re affiliated.  The range of opportunities for effective networking is wider than ever, both in person and online.  Remember that networking is about meeting and talking to people, without an immediate expectation of any concrete payoff.  So try to relax and be human about it!

One easy place to network is LinkedIn.  You can do it from anywhere, whenever you have a free moment.  LinkedIn is a great platform for marketing yourself as an expert in your field and making connections with prospective clients.  Low-effort ways to get started include sharing news about your firm and commenting on your connections’ posts.  As you grow more comfortable on the platform, start sharing your own insights relevant to your area of expertise.  In the process, you’ll find yourself staying in better touch with existing contacts, as well as expanding your network with new contacts.

And don’t forget about “internal networking” within your own law firm.  Getting to know attorneys outside of your practice group is key.  By gaining exposure to different practice areas, you lay the groundwork for future cross-selling.  A colleague who knows and trusts you is more likely to introduce you to clients and invite you on pitches.

If the concept of networking gives you anxiety, set yourself some small, achievable goals to help get more comfortable.  For example, if you go to a happy hour event, commit to making three new contacts and to making one LinkedIn post about the event.  And then vow to follow up with them.  The most important thing is to get started!

Leverage your mentors and learn from their experience.

If you’re a mid-level or senior associate, you likely have at least one or two mentors whom you trust to provide career advice.  (If you don’t, you should consider a lateral move to a firm more committed to mentorship!)  Business development is a great topic to explore with your mentors.  Ask about their experience generating revenue and the strategies that have worked best for them.  Share your business plan and ask for feedback.  Ask your mentors to include you in business development activities and pitches, where possible.  If you show that you’re committed to the business side of the firm, most partners will be happy to help you build the skills needed to become a revenue generator.

In addition to a mentor within your firm, assembling a group of other advisors who know the legal market and the profession is never a bad idea.  Forming a relationship with an experienced recruiter (even if you aren’t looking to lateral at this time), who knows the market, and will check in with you every six months or so to update you and provide advice, can only help you.  A good recruiter can provide you with solid business development tips, a business plan template, and can even offer edits to your plan.

Commit to stepping out of your comfort zone.

Many associates find business development intimidating because it is new and requires you to put yourself out there and risk rejection.  However, please rest assured that these are learnable skills, provided you have the right mindset.  Start by acknowledging that you must step out of your comfort zone to achieve success and move forward.  And keep in mind that building a book of business doesn’t happen overnight.  Good luck and remember that there are many experts eager to help you put yourself out there!

Navigating Multiple Potential Offers: Timing Challenges in the Lateral Market

Annual bonuses have hit the bank accounts of many law firm associates, kicking an already active lateral market into an even higher gear. With demand continuing to outpace supply, many lateral candidates can reasonably expect to receive offers from multiple firms. Unfortunately, the offers probably won’t arrive at the same time. Candidates often must make a decision about an offer in hand before receiving an answer from one or more other firms where they interview. This scenario begs the question: what should you do if you have received an offer from a less-preferred firm but have yet to hear from your preferred firm?

Each situation requires a case-by-case assessment, and a trusted recruiter can offer helpful individualized guidance. However, there are a few general principles that any lateral candidate should keep in mind.

Don’t underestimate the value of joining a firm that truly wants you

The clearest indication that a firm truly wants you is a decisive offer extended shortly after interviews. This is a strong signal that the firm will go above and beyond to integrate you into the practice, setting you up for success in your new role. It should also give you confidence that bumps along the road will be more easily manageable. For example, in the event your first performance review is less than perfect, you will be in a better headspace to receive criticism as genuinely constructive, rather than wondering if they even wanted you there in the first place. Given the sometimes cut-throat nature of law firm life, knowing that the team was thrilled to hire you can be critically important in helping you stay positive and confident through the inevitable ups and downs.

If the firm really wants you and also knows that you are considering other firms, you (or your recruiter) may be in a position to negotiate a signing bonus or, in the case of non-lockstep firms, a higher salary. Obviously, this will be valuable if you accept the offer. If you have doubts about your willingness to accept, even with an added financial incentive, you should be careful about potential damage to your reputation. It’s a bad look for a candidate to negotiate a robust signing bonus (either alone or through a recruiter), only to then decline the offer.

A full pipeline of work alleviates job security concerns

A prompt offer is a strong indication that the firm has immediate work for you to take on. This can mitigate concerns about failing to meet hours in a new group where you lack established relationships. Conversely, if a firm is slow to give you a decision, there is less certainty of an immediate need. If the practice group is not currently operating at full capacity, there is some risk that the firm will ultimately decide not to approve a hire — even if your interviewers judge you to be a great candidate.

There’s something reassuring about a confirmation that the role and the need are firm priorities. Even junior associates — who have experienced a remarkably strong market for the duration of their legal careers — sometimes fear that they will be “last in, first out” should the market sour and the firm start making cuts. This is rarely a serious risk in the current market, but knowing the practice you will be joining has a robust pipeline of work should put to rest any concerns about job security.

A less-preferred firm can sometimes be a stepping stone

In some cases, a less desirable firm may be a stepping stone to your preferred firm. This is particularly plausible where a candidate is seeking to transition to a new practice or subspecialty. If the less-preferred firm is offering a concrete opportunity to gain relevant experience in the new field, it may be wise to accept the offer and then re-apply to your preferred firm in the future, with a strengthened profile.

When accepting an offer, plan to say for at least a year

With rare exceptions, it is a major red flag to leave a firm after less than a year. Keep this in mind if considering the stepping stone approach. If you cannot see yourself sticking it out for a full year or more, you are better off declining the offer and taking your chances that a more attractive option will materialize soon. Of course, how you feel about your current firm is also an important factor. If you are not desperate to leave, you can be more selective and risk-tolerant in your lateral search.

Working through these issues with a trusted recruiter can be invaluable

There is a lot of upside to working through these timing issues with the help of an experienced recruiter. Candidates often focus on the recruiter’s role in helping secure interviews, but a recruiter with strong relationships can also add value as the candidate’s advocate after interviews have concluded. For example, recruiters are typically in a better position than candidates to exert pressure when a firm is delaying its decision. Your recruiter can have a candid conversation with the firm, conveying the message that you are strongly considering other options and will soon be off the market.

In addition, a trusted recruiter can be a helpful sounding board as you weigh the various factors and come to a decision about how best to proceed. Juggling actual and potential offers is rarely easy, but your recruiter can help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible.

The Great (Law Firm) Resignation: Why You Shouldn’t Take a Counter-Offer (Part II)

This year, as the Great Resignation takes its toll on law firms, the volume of departures has been especially high. But for lawyers who haven’t been through it before, the process of resigning can be daunting. At Lateral Link, we routinely advise candidates on their resignation timing and process, so we think now is an opportune time to share that knowledge more broadly.

On Tuesday, in Part I of this two-part series, we discussed how to resign properly, while managing the emotions that the resignation decision may trigger. Today, our topic is counter-offers and the promises that accompany them. What should you do if your employer responds to your resignation announcement with a seemingly attractive offer to stay at your current firm?

The logic of counter-offers

Employee turnover is expensive. Searching for a replacement and training the new hire to succeed in the role are both costly. In the interim, the firm may have to turn away work due to being short-staffed (or in most cases, push it on their current associates, causing severe burn out). Change is also risky: whereas a new employee has no easily observable track record, the employer knows the capabilities of its current staff.

These factors are doubly significant in a robust lateral market like the one we’re in now. Replacing you will not be easy, and it will probably take a long time. With that context, it’s no surprise that your employer would seek to talk you out of resigning. Pushback often comes in the form of questions like, “Can’t we persuade you to stay?” or “Can you think this over for a few days?”

The emotional appeal of a request to stay

Assuming you don’t hate your current job, an appeal to change your mind might cause you to think twice. We tend to view loyalty as an honorable quality, and it’s always nice to know that you’re wanted. Even on this dimension, however, it’s important to recognize that the consequences of declaring your intention to leave will linger. Once you announce your resignation, trust between you and your employer is broken. If you stay, your employer and co-workers may focus less on the sacrifice you’ve made in declining the new opportunity and more on the “lack of loyalty” you showed in submitting your resignation.

It’s also important to balance feeling flattered by the gesture of a counter-offer against the reality that it was only prompted by your threat to leave. If you were seen as such a valuable member of the team, why didn’t your employer proactively offer you better terms to remove the incentive to look elsewhere? If your employer is willing to offer a compensation increase or a promotion only after you announce your resignation, then the firm has been knowingly underpaying and undervaluing you, which demonstrates a clear lack of appreciation for your contributions.

Trust yourself

If you’ve thought the process through, chances are you would’ve already addressed your grievances with your current employer and for whatever reason, your employer failed to deliver. The fact that you decided to resign is a clear indication that you aren’t fully happy in your current role. True, a counter-offer could bring an attractive pay increase. But the work conditions that prompted your job search in the first place — poor partnership prospects, long hours, toxic culture, insufficient access to interesting work, and so forth — are unlikely to permanently change if you stay. You are an intelligent adult. You made your decision for a reason. The wisest course is to trust yourself.

Consider your future prospects

When you accept a counter-offer, it buys time for your employer to find your replacement. Sure, it’s possible the firm will let bygones be bygones and allow you to resume your prior career trajectory. But, with your loyalty now in question, it’s probable that your employer will look out for candidates to replace you and may terminate you once a suitable replacement is found. Even if your employer is not in a rush to get rid of you, the aborted resignation and residual doubt it creates are likely to factor in future promotion or lay-off decisions.

Don’t set yourself up for regret

Most employees who display momentary weakness and withdraw their resignation in the face of a counter-offer realize quickly that they have made a mistake. Promises made to keep them often turn out to be empty ones — a firm’s culture doesn’t change overnight. Worse, when a candidate realizes she should have followed through on her decision to leave, she may find that the firm she intended to join has filled its vacancies and moved on. Don’t let that happen to you.

A new year oftentimes means a new job for many people. If you need help navigating this “unprecedented” (yes, I said it) lateral hiring market, please feel free to contact me or any of my Lateral Link colleagues. In the meantime, here’s wishing that 2022 brings you new happiness, new goals, and new achievements. Cheers to the New Year!

The Great (Law Firm) Resignation – How to Resign (Part I)

We’ve all heard a lot this year about “The Great Resignation.” As is the case in many industries, law firms are contending with an unusual volume of resignations. In our role as recruiters, we at Lateral Link have a front row seat into both the mechanics of the resignation process and also the emotional angst that it sometimes entails. From uncertainty over the decision to resign to a lack of knowledge of how to give notice in a professional manner to anxiety over how to respond to a counter-offer, lawyers who are considering leaving their jobs have a lot on their mind.

This week we’re taking a look at some of these issues, in two parts. Today we address how to prepare for and execute a smooth resignation, while managing the emotions accompanying this process. On Thursday, we will discuss counter-offers.

Managing doubts about the decision to leave

For some people, the decision to resign is an easy one, but others really struggle with it. Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown, fear of burning bridges or disappointing people, or self-doubt about one’s ability to succeed elsewhere. If you experience this anxiety, keep in mind that it’s normal, and it doesn’t mean you’re making a bad decision. At the end of the day, you have to trust your gut. You’ve weighed the pros and cons and made a thoughtful determination about what’s best for you and your career. Be confident and comfortable in this choice and know that you are doing the right thing, even if the process isn’t a fun one.

Resigning is like ripping off a band aid — the fear is generally worse than the act itself. Nine times out of ten, your manager is an experienced professional and will have been in this situation before, so it will only be awkward if you make it that way. If you commit to leaving in the most professional and ethical way possible, the knowledge that you’re going about the process in the right way should help to calm your nerves.

Timing your resignation

Start by getting your ducks in a row prior to resigning. Do your best to tie up loose ends and stay on top of your workload to avoid a scramble when your last day comes.

Try to arrange it so that immediately before resigning, you have time to do whatever it is that helps you de-stress: meditation, deep breaths, exercise, or yoga can set you in the right frame of mind. Give notice first thing in the morning when your mind is clear, stress level is lower, and your boss is more likely to be around. If you wait until the end of the day, you may find your boss is distracted or busy with other matters.

Give at least two-weeks’ notice. Not offering any notice at all is completely unprofessional. Even if you think your employer will want you to leave immediately, it is customary to at least offer to stay on for two weeks to help transition your matters. Once you resign, leave promptly after your notice period ends. Each of us is fungible, so there is no good reason to stick around for an extra week or two.

Who to tell?

You should resign to just one person, preferably your direct supervisor or department head — even if you don’t like that person. There’s no need to reach out to several members of management, and you shouldn’t tip off your resignation to other colleagues beforehand.

Resign in person (or if necessary, via video). Don’t resign by e-mail, voice mail, or letter (unless a written resignation is also required). You must put your big kid pants on and summon up the courage to resign face-to-face.

What to say?

Keep it simple: “Karen, I want to let you know that I will be leaving Adam & Brown to join Cox & Smith. This was a very difficult decision to make. I’ve had a good experience here but I believe this is the right decision for me at this point in my career. I hope we can stay in touch.” Leave it at that.

You should be prepared for any reaction. Your boss may be supportive and collegial, cool and dismissive, skeptical, angry, or disinterested. Questions may range from “where are you going?” to “why are you leaving?” to “why didn’t you tell me you were unhappy?” Whatever the reaction, don’t take it personally. Be mindful that your boss has other matters to tend to besides your career plans.

Whatever you do, resist the urge to “send a message” with a proverbial mic drop. You can’t control your employer’s reaction, but you can control how you comport yourself. Don’t be petty or childish — keep things mature, professional, and courteous. Realize that you are likely to cross paths with these people again in the future. Passive-aggressive (or in some cases, just plain aggressive) actions may give you short-term satisfaction, but there’s a good chance you will regret them later. There is no upside to criticizing colleagues or the experience you’ve had. Take the high road and be complimentary — even if you don’t mean it.

What to do after you have given notice

Just as you should approach the resignation conversation professionally, you should behave in a professional manner during your notice period. Don’t gossip with colleagues who stop by for the blow by blow. Tell them you’d be pleased to stay in touch after you leave. Wind down, transition your matters, and move on.

Be sure to follow your firm’s guidelines on resignation and departure. Don’t be cute about files, forms, hard drive contents or anything else — it’s not worth the risk.

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What if your firm tries to convince you to reconsider and makes you a counter-offer? How should you think through a potential decision to reverse course? We’ll talk about that in Part II of this series.

If you need help navigating this “unprecedented” (yes, I said it) lateral hiring market, please feel free to contact me or any of my Lateral Link colleagues.