Tag Archives: Am Law

Revolutionizing Legal Talent Acquisition with AI: The haistack.ai Advantage

Gone are the days when legal recruitment was bogged down by inefficiency and bias. Enter haistack.ai: a beacon of innovation that leverages artificial intelligence to redefine how law firms identify and engage with top legal talent. This platform, powered by the latest in AI technology, complements traditional methods by offering unparalleled precision and speed, enhancing the capabilities of human recruiters and setting a new standard in legal recruitment efficiency.

A New Era of Recruitment: Efficiency Meets Accuracy

The traditional landscape of legal recruitment, characterized by manual sorting and inherent biases, is undergoing a profound transformation. AI technologies, particularly those specialized in recruitment, are setting new standards for identifying candidates. These advanced algorithms are not just tools but game-changers, capable of analyzing vast datasets to find the perfect match between law firms and potential hires.

haistack.ai leads this charge by leveraging its unique, data-driven approach. Thanks to its parent company, Lateral Link’s, deep industry insights, haistack.ai is not just another recruitment tool but a revolutionary platform that ensures optimal alignment between candidates and law firms, thus streamlining the recruitment pipeline like never before.

The haistack.ai Methodology: Intelligence in Action

At the core of haistack.ai‘s success is its methodical, four-step process that harnesses the power of AI at every turn. Starting with an extensive data collection phase, the platform compiles an unmatched database of attorney profiles, firm requirements, and open positions, laying the groundwork for a comprehensive recruitment network.

The real magic happens when haistack.ai applies its advanced algorithms during the data analysis phase. By uncovering deep connections between potential hires and firms, it facilitates targeted communications and strategic connections that were previously unimaginable.

What sets haistack.ai apart is its reliance on machine learning technologies. These aren’t your standard matching algorithms; they’re dynamic, learning from each placement to refine and enhance future recommendations. This continuous improvement cycle ensures that haistack.ai remains at the forefront of recruitment technology, delivering unmatched accuracy in candidate selection.

In its final phase, haistack.ai doesn’t just list candidates; it provides a detailed justification for each recommendation, backed by solid data analysis. This transparency and insight into the decision-making process add an extra layer of trust and reliability to its services.

Embracing the Future with haistack.ai

As haistack.ai demonstrates, the future of legal recruitment lies in embracing AI’s potential to transform traditional practices. This platform exemplifies the shift towards a more efficient, accurate, and unbiased recruitment process, setting a new standard for how law firms approach talent acquisition.

By integrating haistack.ai into their recruitment strategy, law firms can not only expedite the hiring process but also ensure they are connecting with the most compatible candidates. It’s an invitation to be at the forefront of recruitment innovation, where data-driven decisions lead to better hires and a more dynamic legal workforce.

Are you ready to experience the unparalleled efficiency and precision that haistack.ai brings to legal recruitment? Why wait to transform your talent acquisition strategy? Contact us today to schedule your demo and see firsthand how our AI-driven platform can revolutionize your recruitment process.

Government Attorneys: Strategies to Elevate Your BigLaw Prospects

Government attorneys are in demand, and several prominent law firms have recently hired former government attorneys. If you are a government attorney considering a transition to the private sector, understanding how to leverage your background to strengthen your candidacy is crucial. Here are a few tips to strengthen your BigLaw prospects.

Develop High-Level Expertise

Many attorneys are drawn to government practice not just to serve the public, but also to take on high levels of responsibility earlier in their career than attorneys in private practice. The higher the level of responsibility you have handled, the more attractive you will be to most law firms. Seize opportunities to lead projects, appear in court, negotiate settlements, craft new rules, attend training sessions – your advanced skills will set you apart from the competition.

Also, seek out an experience that gives you a unique insight into government policies and priorities. Firms and clients appreciate that insight because you will be able to help them more effectively navigate (what seems to be constantly evolving) legal frameworks.

You may also be able to leverage your expertise to earn promotions, which may make you more appealing to potential firms, especially at the partner level. Senior positions also enhance your credibility with future clients.

Build Relationships

This is one of the most rewarding aspects of practicing law for many attorneys. It is also crucial for government attorneys who are interested in partnership options. Firms appreciate your relationships in part because they demonstrate that you are thinking ahead about developing business, and that you are honing the soft skills needed to build a successful practice. 

So where do you build these relationships as a government attorney? While you are not in a position to wine and dine potential clients, you still have a universe of options. Start by fostering relationships with your government colleagues. If your colleagues leave they may become clients if they move in house, or referral sources when they join other firms. You also have opportunities to build relationships with professionals you meet at government events, departmental training sessions, and conferences. Consider joining the ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division to meet even more people. Even working across the table from opposing counsel presents the opportunity to get to know key players in your space.

Focus on Relevant Practice Areas

If your long-term goal is a move to private practice, focus on a practice area that not only inspires you but also aligns with the kind of firm you want to join. You will have more options if you are interested in areas where top firms have thriving practices. For 2024, we predict that litigation, antitrust, white-collar, corporate, energy, and intellectual property will continue to thrive. In contrast, specializing in niche areas like First Amendment law may limit the range of options available to you. That said, you will ultimately commit to one firm. Therefore, the volume of exit opportunities might be just one factor for you to consider.

Plan Ahead

Strategically planning ahead increases the likelihood of a successful search. Not only does it take time to craft persuasive application materials, but you also need to take the market for government attorneys into consideration. This year, for instance, it is important to be mindful of the electoral cycle. A surge of government candidates after elections can lead to heightened competition. Positions may also be limited at that point; historically, many firms complete their searches for government attorneys well before an election. 

You also need time to find the firms that align with your practice areas, work style, and personal and professional goals. A legal recruiter who has deep relationships with firms can help you on that front; they will know which practices are thriving, which firms are hiring, and can play a pivotal role in guiding you to the firms with platforms that best match your aspirations. The earlier you reach out to a recruiter, the better they will be able to help you with your search.

For personalized guidance and insights specific to your career path, connect with me, Amy Savage, at . Your next career move awaits, and we are here to support you every step of the way.

Evolution of Legal Billing Practices: Navigating Competitive Pricing in Today’s Legal Landscape

The legal industry is at a crossroads, driven by AI, industry consolidation, and evolving client expectations. As we transition from 2023 into 2024, legal professionals wrestle with key pricing concerns: “Am I overcharging? Am I undercharging?” These questions were spotlighted in the recent Twitter vs. Wachtell lawsuit, revealing the intricate dynamics of legal billing practices.

Billing pressures persist in our profession. Achieving a 100% realization rate seems like a distant dream. To navigate these uncertainties, we explore the current trends in legal billing, offering insights for legal professionals grappling with fee structures. A comprehensive understanding of your billing methods can alleviate some pressures of our dynamic profession.

For decades, the hourly rate model has been the bedrock of legal pricing. It assigns monetary value to an attorney’s time and expertise. While it serves complex cases well, it often faces backlash due to cost unpredictability and potential inefficiencies.

In contrast, the flat fee model offers a transparent, predefined cost, eliminating unpredictability. Ideal for routine legal work, it can, however, fall short when dealing with complex cases with unforeseen twists.

To stay competitive, it’s crucial to understand the nuances of industry trends, competitor rates, and client expectations. Regular reassessment of your fee structure ensures you neither overcharge nor undercharge your clients. It also highlights when an overhaul of your billing strategy is due.

The future looks promising for hybrid models that integrate the strengths of both hourly and flat fee billing. These models offer a guaranteed base payment with the option for an hourly rate for additional work. The emergence of value-based billing models shifts the focus from time to perceived value, radically altering our billing perceptions.

The Twitter vs. Wachtell case underscores the importance of understanding and adapting to these evolving trends. Legal professionals must remain current with changing dynamics to ensure fair treatment for clients and appropriate compensation for their work.

Keeping a pulse on competitors’ strategies, regularly evaluating your own billing practices, and adapting as necessary will be essential as we delve into 2024. These shifts will significantly impact the operations of law firms and the value delivered to clients.

Navigating competitive billing practices in this demanding landscape can lighten our professional burdens. By ensuring we’re appropriately compensated, we can stake our claim in the fluctuating terrain of the legal industry while delivering high-quality services to our clients.

Navigating the Legal Industry: In-Depth Guide for Law Students and Legal Practitioners

Embarking on a legal career can be both challenging and rewarding. This comprehensive guide delves into law school, selecting a law firm, law firm life, the lateral market, and maintaining a successful career throughout. By understanding the intricacies of each aspect, you can make more informed decisions and excel in your legal profession.

Prioritize Your Law School Grades: Strong academic performance in law school is crucial for securing prestigious summer associate positions that can lead to permanent roles. Maintaining high grades throughout law school is important, as second- and third-year grades can impact lateral moves or in-house opportunities, especially for litigators. Prospective employers will request your transcript when applying for lateral attorney positions and, in some cases, even for partner candidates.

Consider a Federal Clerkship for Litigators: Aspiring litigators should consider the value of a federal clerkship, as it can enhance your legal career, particularly if you plan to work in a litigation boutique or prestigious law firm. A clerkship can be completed before starting your legal career or as a break from law firm work. For corporate associates, a clerkship may not hold the same weight and might not count towards your years of experience.

Choose a Prestigious Law Firm: The prestige of the law firm where you begin your career plays a significant role in your ability to lateral to another firm or move to a company. While smaller firms may offer better hands-on experience and training, prospective employers often prioritize candidates with experience in prestigious firms.

Select the Right Practice Area: Choosing the right practice area involves considering factors such as your personality, lifestyle, academic background, geographic preferences, and future goals. Assess whether you enjoy the substance of the work, can handle the personalities and work culture in a specific practice area, and have the necessary educational background and aptitude.

Understand Law Firm Structures: Understanding law firm structures, such as lockstep firms and two-tier partnership tracks, is essential when making career decisions. Lockstep firms may foster cooperation and have more institutional clients, while two-tier partnership tracks can offer opportunities to prove your worth as a business-building partner.

Manage Your Professional Development: Take charge of your professional development, as law firms may not always prioritize your long-term growth. Be proactive in seeking opportunities for growth and learning within the firm and externally, such as attending workshops, conferences, and networking events.

Stay Informed in Your Field: Stay updated on the latest firm and industry news to remain competitive and knowledgeable about your field. Be aware of emerging practice areas, firm financial performance, and potential opportunities for growth or lateral moves.

Prepare for the Lateral Market: The lateral market requires you to ensure your résumé, deal sheet, and firm bio are always up to date and easy to understand. Having a clear record of your experience and accomplishments can increase your chances of being contacted by recruiters and considered for lateral opportunities.

Invest Time in Interview Preparation: Invest time in preparing for interviews, researching the firm or company, and practicing common interview questions. Maintain a positive attitude during the interview process, avoiding negativity or complaints about current or former employers. Respond promptly to interview requests to convey interest and enthusiasm.

By understanding the intricacies of law school, selecting the right law firm, and navigating the legal industry, you can make more informed decisions and thrive in your legal career. Keep these tips in mind as you progress through your journey and remember to be proactive in managing your professional development.

2023 Am Law 100 Rankings: A Comprehensive Breakdown

For top Biglaw firms, 2021 was an incredible year: gross revenue rose nearly 15%, while profits per equity partner grew almost 20%. Those growth rates were obviously unsustainable, so there is no great surprise that the financial metrics reported in the just-released 2023 edition of the Am Law 100 indicate a return to earth. 2022 was a roughly flat—for many firms, somewhat down—year. But considering the lofty heights reached in 2021, that actually isn’t so bad.

Collectively, in 2022, the AmLaw 100 attained:

  • Total revenue: $130.8 billion, up by 2.7%. 
  • Average revenue per lawyer: $1.16 million, down by 1.9%.
  • Profits per equity partner: $2.56 million, down by 3.7%.

For context, let’s compare the 2022 growth rates to the remarkably strong growth of 2021 and 2020, as well as the more typical rates of 2019:

Positive revenue growth paired with declining RPL implies that increases in headcount played a material role. Indeed, total AmLaw 100 headcount rose 4.7% (approximately 5,000 additional lawyers), with equity partnerships expanding by 1% (+207 equity partners) and the nonequity partner pool growing by 6.4% (+1,175 nonequity partners). This is consistent with our observations of the 2022 lateral market: even as deal work took a hit, 2022 was a reasonably strong year for lateral hiring.

Let’s now take a closer look at the three most important metrics — gross revenue, revenue per lawyer, and profits per partner — and the top 10 firms in each category.

Gross Revenue

Here are the top 10 firms in the 2023 Am Law 100 rankings, ranked by their gross revenue in 2022. You can access the full list here.

Kirkland & Ellis once again led the pack, widening its lead over Latham & Watkins, which maintained its second-place position despite a decline in revenue. There was little change to the top group, with Gibson Dunn entering the top 10 and Hogan Lovells dropping down to the 12th slot.

Most of the top 10 firms achieved revenue gains, but this was not representative of the broader Am Law 100. Although overall Am Law 100 revenue increased in 2022, 59 of the 100 firms suffered a revenue decline. This was a marked reversal from 2021, when every Am Law 100 firm increased revenue year-over-year.

Revenue Per Lawyer

Here are the top 10 firms in the 2023 Am Law 100 rankings based on revenue per lawyer. You can access the full list here.

It was not a great year for revenue per lawyer among the Am Law elite, highlighted by the 12% declines for Davis Polk and Simpson Thacher. Wachtell, Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath, and Kirkland maintained their positions at the top of the table despite RPL decreases. Proskauer was the only new entrant into the top 10, with Quinn Emanuel falling to the 13th slot due to a 13% RPL decline—a notable hit in a relatively strong year for litigation.

Profits Per Equity Partner

And finally, the ranking we’ve all been waiting for: the top 10 firms by profits per equity partner. You can access the full list here.

The big news is that Kirkland has overtaken perennial champion Wachtell as leader of the PPEP ranking. Wachtell made history in 2021 as the first firm to exceed the $8 million PPEP mark. But a 13% drop in 2022—in the face of Kirkland’s 2% increase—has dislodged Wachtell from the top spot.

Wachtell’s percentage decline is not the highest among the top 10: that title goes to Davis Polk, which suffered a whopping 21% drop in PPEP. In the process, Davis Polk fell from the third slot to the fifth. New entrants into the top 10 were Skadden and Gibson Dunn. They displaced Cravath, which fell to 13th thanks to a 19% PPEP decline, and Cahill, which fell out of the Am Law 100 entirely.

In 2022, 9 Am Law 100 firms achieved profits per equity partner above $5 million (compared to 14 in 2021 and 6 in 2020). It wasn’t the year some firms might have hoped for, but even so, being an Am Law 100 equity partner in 2022 was still substantially more lucrative than prior to the pandemic.

Gain further insights and analysis on the 2023 Am Law 100 rankings by tuning in to our latest episode of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers. This engaging Lateral Link podcast offers a deeper understanding of the legal industry landscape.

Biglaw Associates’ Buying Power: Exploring Salary Disparities & Cost of Living in Major US Cities

Like it or not, most Biglaw associates have returned to the office, with 90% of AmLaw 100 firms now encouraging or requiring a specific number of days per week of in-person work. In an environment where “work from anywhere” is no longer viable for most lawyers, and where inflation remains high, cost of living in the market where your office is located has become more important than ever.

Cost of living and salaries are closely connected in many industries. Some legal sector jobs exhibit that correlation. Consider as an example a federal judicial clerk with one year of practice experience and bar passage (i.e., paid at the Grade 12, Step 1 of the Judicial Salary Plan scale). Because federal judicial pay rates are adjusted based on cost of living, that clerk would be paid $102,489 in San Francisco versus $89,848 in Dallas.

In Biglaw, however, cost of living is largely irrelevant to salary scales. Top firms pay associates the “New York” rate in several “major” markets, including the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Boston, and DC. From a cost of living perspective, paying New York salaries in San Francisco makes sense. In Houston or Chicago? Not so much.

It’s good to be a Houston Biglaw associate

A November 2021 NALP analysis of median private practice first-year associate salaries relative to cost of living found stark differences in associate buying power. NALP calculated that Houston and Dallas first-year associates each enjoyed more than double the buying power of their New York counterparts.

NALP’s calculations may actually understate the advantage enjoyed by Houston and Dallas associates because NALP considered only the relative cost of goods and services. But Houston and Dallas don’t just offer lower prices, they also feature no state income tax. For highly paid Biglaw associates, tax savings can make a significant difference in enabling fast wealth accumulation.

CityBuying power index (NYC = 1.0)Marginal state + local income tax rate for single first-year Biglaw associate
Houston2.50%
Dallas2.20%
Chicago1.94.95%
Atlanta1.95.75%
Los Angeles1.69.3%
Boston1.65%
Washington DC1.58.5%
San Francisco1.29.3%
NYC1.010.73%

The NALP survey looked at private practice salaries overall, rather than Biglaw salaries exclusively. If the analysis had been limited to Biglaw offices, the results would surely have been somewhat different. But the broader point is unassailable: associate salaries are poorly correlated with cost of living.

Billing rates are a key driver

If cost of living isn’t driving associate salaries, what is? In short, billing rates. Houston and Chicago may not be high-cost cities, but they have plenty of clients willing to pay firms top-dollar rates. Viewed from that lens, paying top salaries in these markets seems fair: associates are being compensated for the value they create. Over time, as clients become more accustomed to the notion of top legal talent being based in regional cities, we expect to see more lawyers being paid New York rates in cities across the country, especially with Biglaw firms expanding aggressively in secondary markets. That’s not to say that median associate salaries in secondary cities will rival the New York level. But for lawyers with top-flight credentials, geographic arbitrage may become increasingly possible and alluring.  

If you’re a New York or Bay Area associate tired of putting up with relatively low buying power, you may wish to consider a lateral move to Texas, Chicago or Atlanta. If working from the beach in Mexico is no longer in the cards, at least consider the wealth accumulation potential of a lower cost city where firms pay New York rates!

Partner Group Hiring: A Common Alternative to Traditional Expansion Strategies

2022 was a difficult year for major law firms, with considerably reduced opportunity to drive profit growth as compared to 2021. It’s no surprise, then, that the more challenging environment is influencing firms’ strategies for expanding their partnerships. With reduced margin for error, firms are mindful of the risks inherent in the traditional methods of hiring individual lateral partners or of merging with another firm. According to our clients and many of the law firm leaders with whom we work closely, hiring groups of partners has emerged as a sweet-spot alternative.

Hiring partner groups is less risky than individual lateral hiring

Hiring partners in groups can mitigate many of the risks associated with traditional lateral hiring. Take cultural fit, for example. A lateral partner hire who turns out to be a poor cultural match can do real damage to the cohesion of a firm and, in the final analysis, undermines the very purpose behind their hire. A 2021 survey by ALM Intelligence and Decipher Investigative Intelligence found that 29% of firms have had a lateral partner leave due to cultural fit issues with other partners. Rather than take the risk of integrating a single new lateral partner, firms often prefer to bring on a group of partners with a proven ability to work together, expecting that the group will replicate its existing equilibrium in the new firm and, thereby, contribute as efficiently as possible to the bottom line.

Group hiring also arguably offers greater security that claimed portable books of business are real. Nearly half of respondents to the ALM/Decipher survey reported that the majority of their firm’s partner laterals underperformed in relation to their stated book of business. The survey found that more than two-thirds of law firms have had a lateral partner leave for this reason.

Group moves improve these outcomes significantly. When a group moves together, clients are more likely to move with them and there are several additional indicators that portables will be solid. These range from such soft indicators as the trust shown by associates, counsels, and service partners moving alongside their rainmaking colleagues to harder indicators available when cross-referencing the business case provided by each partner in their lateral questionnaires.

Lastly, group hiring is also more efficient, offering more bang for the buck and swifter growth than a piecemeal approach – saving both time and money.

Group hiring is more targeted—and certain—than pursuing a merger

In theory, the greatest bang for the buck expansion strategy is a merger; but although we have seen some merger activity this year among smaller firms, and some attempts among larger ones, too, the specter of failure often looms large and a firm may invest significant energy in the process, only to walk away with nothing (take, for example, the recent merger attempts between Shearman Sterling and Hogan Lovells or O’Melveny and Allen & Overy). Worse yet, failed mergers often attract unwanted attention from competing firms looking to take advantage of any resulting turmoil by siphoning off spooked talent – the opposite of growth! Group hiring is less complex than conducting merger talks and a deal is more likely to be reached. In addition, the hiring firm can be more selective about the partners it takes on. Underperformers are less likely to be admitted through a group hire than through a larger-scale merger.

Partner group hiring is ideal for secondary market expansion

As we have previously discussed, we are in the midst of accelerated Biglaw expansion into new or smaller markets across the country. Consider the options available to a firm committed to opening a new office in Miami or Austin or Salt Lake City, with no prior presence in those markets. While they may, in the past, have hired two or three individual lateral partners from local firms and transferred some of the firm’s current partners to the new office in the hope it all jells successfully, firms are now more inclined to hire a group of local partners and use that group as the anchor for the new office, to be supplemented by some internal transfers.

Mintz Levin’s entry into the Toronto market is one example. This week we learned that the firm’s new office will be anchored by a group of three partners from leading Canadian firm Torys. Mintz has also hired a Toronto-based Dentons partner who was previously at Torys.

Expansion into a new market is a high-stakes move, with considerable reputational risk. A group with existing local client relationships that already works together productively provides a strong initial platform. Firms’ desire to maximize their likelihood of success in new markets is a key driver of the partner group hiring trend.

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If you are interested in learning more about firms’ partner hiring strategies, please contact me.

Applying AI to Legal Recruiting: New Tools for Efficiently Matching Firms and Candidates

With everyone talking about ChatGPT and the implications of AI tools for the future of various professions, now is an opportune time to consider how AI might change legal recruiting. We at Lateral Link have been actively engaging with this question for years: in fact, we have a sister company called Haistack.AI that is developing AI products for the legal recruiting industry.

So for the latest episode of the Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers podcast, we invited Haistack.AI Chief Technology Officer Michael Heise to discuss the possibilities and limitations of AI for law firms and legal recruiters. Mike educated us on the likely implications of AI for our industry and described the logic behind the product that Haistack.AI is currently building.

Mike is a seasoned legal tech innovator with a deep understanding of Biglaw firms. Prior to joining Haistack.AI, Mike held software leadership roles at Cooley and Covington & Burling. As he explained on the podcast, he is married to an attorney, and it was his wife who first sparked his interest in legal sector innovation.

AI can be a valuable tool

Mike explained that AI has the potential to assist lawyers with a broad range of tasks. For example, a litigator could rely on AI tools to set out the basic structure of a brief, allowing the lawyer to dedicate more of her time to the higher-value tasks of refining arguments and tailoring them to be most persuasive based on the unique facts of the case. As Mike puts it: “AI is not going to replace you. The person who knows how to effectively use AI is going to replace you.” AI tools will become increasingly sophisticated, but human judgment will remain essential for crafting the strongest and most original arguments.

Similarly, AI is well suited to help recruiters—both within firms and outside them—to more efficiently identify high-potential candidates. By reducing the time a recruiter spends on manually trawling through candidate profiles, AI can enable the recruiter to gain a deeper understanding of the high-potential candidate pool and the relative strengths of the candidates within that pool.

The Haistack.AI vision

As an example of how AI promises to make recruiting more targeted and efficient, Mike described the product that the team at Haistack.AI is building. It entails creating three essential models: (1) profiles of lawyers currently working at the firm that is using Haistack.AI in its hiring process; (2) profiles of lawyers working outside that firm; and (3) profiles corresponding to the specific roles for which the firm is recruiting. By comparing the profiles of lawyers previously hired by the relevant practice group and office with the profiles of external lawyers, the algorithm can instantly generate a list of high-potential candidates and an explanation for why those candidates appear to be a good fit. Moreover, the AI will use Lateral Link data to screen out candidates whom the firm has previously considered and determined not to be a fit. Finally, the tool will give some indication of the extent to which the leading candidates are likely to be in demand at other firms seeking to fill similar vacancies, alerting the hiring firm to the need to move quickly where a candidate is likely to be in especially high demand.

With the assistance of the Haistack.AI tool, the recruiter managing the search will immediately see how the algorithm matched a candidate’s qualifications and experience to those of current members of the group. This is where human judgment comes in. The AI accelerates the first step of identifying a shortlist, but the law firm’s recruiting and attorney professionals must assess whether the shortlist fits their needs, through interviews and other more traditional evaluations.

Mike noted that in addition to generating lists of promising candidates, the Haistack.AI tool could also help identify current members of a firm who are in especially high demand relative to what the broader lateral market is seeking. In alerting a firm to attorneys who are at greater risk of leaving, the tool can help nudge a practice group to be more proactive about taking steps to keep valuable team members happy.

AI is not a panacea

Mike also explained the importance of recognizing the limitations of AI and of not buying into the excessive hype that frequently surrounds promising technologies in their early stages. AI will not solve all hiring problems. To take just one example, the inputs for AI models like the ones that Haistack.AI are building are composed of historical data — the models are designed to replicate the firm’s past hiring decisions. To the extent the past hiring was suboptimal, such as through failing to hire qualified diverse candidates, the AI tool will not correct the problem. Instead, it is important for the human users to be thoughtful about patterns in past hiring that they do not wish to replicate and make an active effort to change them.

Back to Normal: A Reality Check on the Associate Lateral Market

If you’re an associate entering the lateral market, I have good news and bad news.  The good news?  Despite all the talk of recession, the lateral market remains open for business.  The bad news?  The days of minimal scrutiny and massive sign-on bonuses are behind us.  For associates whose conception of the lateral market was forged in the chaotic, unprecedented period from late 2020 through mid-2022, a reality check is in order.

Firms have more power now

It’s hard to overstate just how remarkably imbalanced the lateral market was in 2021.  Transactional associates with even average credentials held substantial leverage, often receiving quick offers from multiple firms, complete with sign-on bonuses of $50,000 or more.  Given that the 2021 market was a striking departure from the historical norm, it’s not surprising that the pendulum has swung back to a more typical place.

In 2023, a lateral move requires more strategy and effort.  That starts with the decision about which firms to pursue.  A good recruiter will be honest with you about the firms that are realistic options in light of your credentials.  You can help us help you by being transparent about where you’ve applied and interviewed in the past, and why you’re looking for a change.  If we understand the reasons motivating your search, we can give better advice on which firms are likely to be a match.

Traditional interviews are back

Just as offices are beginning to look more like the pre-Covid normal (at least on Tuesdays and Wednesdays!) the lateral interview process is starting to resemble 2019.

Zoom interviews are no longer the default.  You should expect a “hybrid” process.  Some interviews—especially those with partners—may still be virtual, but you should assume that a visit to the office will be required, even if you don’t live locally.

When interviewing with local firms, you should anticipate at least a half day in person.  If you’re interviewing with a group out of state, be prepared to devote at least a full day to interviews, accounting for travel time.  Try to make yourself as available as possible.  Firms must typically coordinate the schedules of several partners to accommodate your interview, so your flexibility will be appreciated.  Once the interview is confirmed, commit to showing up as promised—only a dire emergency should cause you to ask to reschedule.

Firms are more selective now than they have been in recent years, with multiple candidates typically interviewing for a single opening.  Given the increased competition, preparation is essential.  Know who you will meet, and have a plan for what you hope to achieve in the conversation.  Based on the available background information, can you anticipate any potential sources of rapport with your interviewer?  On what topics might this person have uniquely valuable insight?  Make sure you arrive with some thoughtful, well-tailored questions.

Remember to dress professionally.  In-office dress codes are looser these days than ever, but you should still wear a suit to an interview.  If you haven’t dressed formally in a while, take a moment now to confirm that you have appropriate, well-fitting attire.  And if you’re flying, make sure to pack your interview clothing in your carry-on bag.

Firms are taking their time to extend offers

Back when the market was red hot, firms were forced to make offers exceptionally quickly. Today, it’s customary to take more time.  Some firms may still move fast if there’s a pressing need to do so, but taking a week or longer to put together a written offer is not unusual.  Occasionally, firms may run conflicts checks before a formal offer is made, further delaying the process.  Be patient, but tell your recruiter if you have another offer pending, or some other good reason why an urgent decision is necessary.  Nobody wants to lose a strong candidate over timing, and we can prod firms to speed up where it’s genuinely necessary.

Once you receive an offer, there tends to be little scope for negotiation.  This is particularly true in large markets with lockstep associate salaries.  In some cases, class year may be a point of discussion: if you’re re-tooling to a different practice area, lateraling to a more sophisticated practice, or the scope of your practice is shifting, you may be asked to take a class year “haircut.”  This is standard practice and is often to your long-term benefit.  That said, if you disagree with the firm’s assessment of your level, talk to your recruiter about it.

Before 2021, sign-on bonuses were not standard practice, and today they are once again the exception.  Even so, there are circumstances where it makes sense to ask.  If you’re taking a pay cut to move from Big Law to a regional firm, walking away from your previous year’s bonus, being asked to start on an accelerated timeline, or you have multiple offers, it’s reasonable to attempt to negotiate a sign-on payment.  If you are relocating, it’s common for large firms to pay a “relocation” allowance in the form of a sign-on bonus.  In any case, it’s important to keep your expectations realistic.  You aren’t going to get a $50k+ sign-on bonus as a matter of course.  The typical current range in a large market is more like $10-25k.

Be aware of post-offer expectations

Once you have received an offer, you should inform the firm of your decision as soon as you’ve made it, ideally within a few days.  If a quick decision isn’t feasible (for example, because you’re juggling other interviews or offers), be transparent with your recruiter to enable us to manage the firm’s expectations.  Note that conflicts and background checks can take as long as a few weeks, so it’s best to get that process started as soon as possible.

Upon clearing conflicts and giving notice, it’s standard to start within 2-4 weeks.  If your circumstances require a longer gap, state your request clearly, but be aware that asking for more than a month is generally frowned upon.  Wrapping up a trial you’ve been staffed on or taking a pre-planned vacation are good reasons for requesting a delayed start.

Don’t get discouraged

All of us wish that the post-Covid lateral bonanza could have continued indefinitely.  But that was never going to happen.  Instead of lamenting the reversion to more normal conditions, focus on the positive.  If you commit to a lateral search and approach it correctly, you still have every chance of landing at a firm that will be a better fit.  In the end, that’s what matters most.

Partners Assessing a Secondary Market Move: Finding the Right Firm and Office

Back in December, we suggested that the expansion of Am Law firms into new secondary markets may have been the defining Am Law firm story of 2022, and we explained some of the many reasons why partners at Am Law firms in major cities are moving to secondary markets in unprecedented numbers.

As the 2023 partner lateral market comes into focus, we can report that opportunities at Am Law firms in secondary markets remain plentiful. This is especially true for practices that are less dependent on a strong economy such as litigation, antitrust, privacy, data security, intellectual property, employee benefits, and tax.

Secondary market Am Law opportunities may appeal to partners in two categories. First, they may be a fit for partners interested in moving from outside the state to a secondary market, for the reasons described in our December article. Second, they may be attractive to partners already based in a secondary market who see a chance to “trade up” to an Am Law firm that has recently arrived in their city.

If you find yourself in either of these categories, what are the most important factors to consider as you search for the right firm and office?

Practice alignment with office strategy

The most important criterion to assess is how well your practice aligns with the firm’s strategy for the particular secondary office you’re considering. Note that office-level strategy is not the same thing as firm-level strategy!

Typically, when a firm opens in a new city, it will have identified specific priority practice areas and clients (both existing and potential) for the new office. Two office openings from last month offer clear examples. Goodwin launched in Philadelphia, targeting health care, life sciences, private equity, and financial services work. Meanwhile, Davis Wright opened in Culver City with the aim of expanding its entertainment, media, and healthcare practices.

If your practice area aligns with the new office priorities, that’s an excellent sign. Especially where the firm has publicly announced the practices it intends to build, there will be a sense of urgency internally to back up the talk with demonstrable success. If your practice fits into the plan, you can expect the firm to make a real effort to support you. Conversely, if your practice is not a priority for the office in question, think twice. Even if the firm is willing to bring you in, you cannot expect the same level of support as will be extended to partners in the priority practices.

Cross-selling opportunities

A critical component of strategic fit is the extent to which you can reasonably expect to benefit from cross-selling opportunities, both at the local office level and firm-wide.

Cross-selling can sometimes be driven by proximity to key existing and potential clients: the logic is that by being nearby, partners will be positioned to build strong relationships that lead to servicing an increasing proportion of the client’s legal needs. In interviews about the Culver City opening, Davis Wright partners took care to emphasize their focus on creating cross-selling opportunities on LA’s Westside for lateral partners. Similarly, firms opening in Miami—one of the most popular secondary markets for recent Am Law office expansion—are taking care to site their offices as close to priority clients as possible, in some cases securing space in the same prime Brickell developments that are drawing recently arrived leading hedge funds.

Platform benefits

Although office strategy should be at the forefront, it’s also critical to consider the platform offered by the firm as a whole. How valuable would this firm’s platform be for your practice? K&L Gates’s communications around its office opening in Nashville in 2021 highlighted this factor. In the firm’s press release, partners connected the strong local opportunities in healthcare to the firm’s national healthcare practice and emphasized the value of “a fully integrated law firm with the breadth of practice area capabilities, industry insights and knowledge, and geographic reach that K&L Gates offers.” It’s particularly logical that K&L Gates would play up this factor in Nashville, which historically has not drawn interest from Am Law firms with global reach. But platform is an important consideration regardless of your destination.

Talent pool

Access to talent has been a key driver of recent secondary market expansions. That includes not only newly-hired associates and counsels drawn to secondary market offices but also lawyers currently employed by the firm who may stay longer if given the opportunity to transfer. The secondary markets that firms have favored are viewed by many as nice (and cost-effective!) places to live. Consider, for example, Kirkland’s new offices in Boise and Salt Lake City. Another selling point for many secondary market offices is the lack of state income tax. Think Miami, Austin or Seattle.

Talent has also been a key selling point in attracting lateral partners to these new offices. One reason that partners already working in secondary locations are often eager to join firms in the Am Law is because Am Law firms feature a materially more sophisticated legal talent pool, which newly arrived partners can leverage to accelerate their practices. For Am Law firms arriving in secondary markets, depth of talent is a key advantage—this is a dimension on which the regional firms with a longer history in these markets typically cannot compete.

Lateral partner integration

It’s also essential to inquire about and understand your potential new firm’s lateral partner integration plan. Successfully integrating new partners into the firm’s existing practices is in everyone’s best interests, but even so, we’ve witnessed many cases of poorly managed integration.

For an example of a firm vocalizing its commitment to integrating lateral partners, consider Latham’s opening in Austin in 2021. Latham brought in three lateral partners with deep Austin ties to anchor the new office, two from DLA Piper and one from Wilson Sonsini. In the press release, Latham Chair and Managing Partner Rich Trobman spoke of the firm’s intention “to offer clients in Austin the very best of the Latham platform, by combining our new partners’ experience and skill sets with our already deep and successful bench spanning capital markets, venture capital, and private equity.” If you’re considering a lateral move of any kind—but especially to a relatively smaller office—you will want to make sure your new firm is similarly committed to integrating you effectively.

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If you are a partner interested in exploring secondary market opportunities, we invite you to get in touch. Although there are ample partner-level opportunities out there, partner needs are hardly ever posted. Drawing on our longstanding relationships with leading Am Law firms, we make it our business to know who is looking. We assist with interview and business plan preparation, and when you reach the offer stage, we can negotiate on your behalf, minimizing awkward interactions with your soon-to-be partners. Remember, we do this for a living. It’s a wise choice to avail yourself of the benefit of our experience.