Tag Archives: Amy Savage

Government Attorneys: Now is the Time to Launch Your Move to Private Practice

As a recruiter who focuses on helping government attorneys make the move from government to law firms, I regularly receive questions about the ideal time for government attorneys to make a lateral transition. The cloud of economic uncertainty in 2023 has fed rumors that some firms are now less likely to hire government attorneys than in years past. Potential candidates for a transition to private practice may be hearing that this is the wrong time for a government attorney to start a lateral search. But that is not at all in keeping with my experience—either in 2023, or in the third year of previous administrations.

Year three of an administration is actually a great time to launch a lateral move to private practice. Here’s why:

You have real—and scarce—value to offer

Historically, the third year of a presidential term is a particularly strategic time to make the jump to private practice. Why? Year three is a sweet spot between depth of insight gained and opportunity to apply that insight for immediate client impact. Plus, leaving before most of your colleagues do will place you in the strongest competitive position.

Attorneys who have worked with the current administration—both political appointees and career officials—have helped shape recent policy changes. Their government service has given them a nuanced understanding of agency priorities and the application of evolving regulations. Clients are eager for guidance from attorneys with this profile because they face a moment of exceptional uncertainty and, perhaps, jeopardy. New rules have been adopted, but there remains a paucity of cases applying them. 

As a recent government attorney with insight into what to expect, you have a unique opportunity to help companies chart the right course. This is especially true in the most innovative sectors of the economy, where there is little regulatory track record from which to draw inferences. You are exceptionally well positioned to help companies develop effective compliance programs, evaluate the need for internal investigations, and successfully navigate a new regulatory landscape.

Note that if you wait until closer to the potential end of an administration, this value may decline. By then, companies will have more of a track record to consider, and although they will still wish to consult recent insiders, the sense of urgency may have diminished. Moreover, a large number of attorneys start lateral searches in year four of an administration, creating more competition. Given those dynamics, it should come as no surprise that candidates who have moved in year three have attained better outcomes (more prestigious firms, higher guaranteed compensation), relative to their peers who waited longer.

Don’t preemptively count yourself out

Candidates who entered government early in a presidential term might fear that they won’t be marketable this soon. Such concerns may be particularly acute in this administration, where a sizable number of Senate-confirmed appointees faced delays in the process. Many appointees have not yet been in their roles for a full two years.

Even if you find yourself in that situation, don’t let it dissuade you from starting a search. The dynamics described above still apply. Sure, it would be ideal if you had been confirmed on day one and brought two full years to the table. But in a market with limited supply, firms are not going to exclude candidates with shorter tenures. What matters most is the insight you bring, not the number of years you’ve logged.

Some government attorneys also have concerns that their lack of experience in private practice may prevent them from moving to a firm. It’s true that the transition from government attorney to law firm partner is often easier for those who already have experience as a law firm partner. But it should be noted that not every successful candidate has that background. Firms frequently interview government officials who, despite their lack of law firm experience, can present a credible business plan. As you might imagine, candidates in this category tend to benefit greatly from working with an experienced recruiter who has the judgment to help sharpen their business case.

Know what to expect

Even though the market dynamics are currently favorable, preparation remains essential. A strong recruiter will help you develop answers to the most common questions that firms ask candidates seeking to transition from government. For example, firms may probe the sincerity of your interest in private practice, your comfort with “switching sides,” your aptitude for business development, and the substance of the practice you expect to build.

If you are a government attorney with questions about making a lateral move to private practice, let’s connect. We can work together to find the best platform for you.


Amy Savage is the Chair of the Government Transitions Group at Lateral Link, where she focuses on helping current and former government attorneys make lateral moves to law firms.

Testing the Market as a Law Firm Partner

If you are a law firm partner, there are many reasons why you might consider switching firms.  A competitor may offer a better platform and stronger bench, enabling you to serve your clients more effectively and ultimately generate more business.  Another firm may feature a different geographic footprint that could better align with your practice or business development goals.  Perhaps you’re looking to reduce the frequency of conflicts after having to turn away too many potential matters.  Or maybe you are interested in taking on a leadership role, but your current firm has been slow to open up opportunities.

Although each of these factors is distinct, they have something in common: all ultimately bear on your compensation. At Lateral Link, this is our peak season for compensation questions from partners.  The issue is front of mind for many, as they prepare their compensation memos and learn what they will take home this year.  Some partners are ruminating on their desire for promotion to equity.  Others have a nagging sense that their current compensation package does not fairly value their contributions.  And some may have broader concerns about the stability of their firm’s finances in an uncertain economy and the attendant risks to their compensation trajectory.  Might somewhere else offer a better package?

Reasons to consider testing the market

There are myriad ways in which firms can disappoint their partners financially.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Partner expected to receive more ownership units (i.e., a raise) but was disappointed to receive a smaller increase than anticipated.  Management asserts that this is one of the largest raises in the firm this year and that they cannot go higher.
  • Partner has finally originated enough business for a promotion to equity, only to learn that the target required to become an equity partner has increased.  The new, higher originations requirement keeps equity out of reach.
  • Partner is dismayed at the amount of his or her net worth tied up as a capital contribution and wonders if other firms might have different, more forgiving requirements.  (The answer is yes!  There are firms without capital contributions or with low capital contribution requirements.)
  • Partner turns away business regularly due to legal conflicts with the firm’s other clients, materially compromising his or her practice-building efforts and sometimes leading the partner to refer millions in business to other firms.  Inability to take on this work lowers originations, and as such compensation.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to the above, it could be an ideal time to test the market.  Whether you can secure a higher offer will depend on various factors, including level of demand for your practice area, your reputation in the broader legal community, and your current volume of originations.  But however it turns out, the process should be informative.  At worst, you’ll have peace of mind that you are in fact being compensated fairly.

How to test the market

The most effective way to test the market is to work with a trusted recruiter.  An experienced recruiter who understands your practice area and region will know exactly which firms are open to making lateral hires and which are offering the strongest compensation packages.  As a first step, the recruiter will have you assemble a business profile and pitch, highlighting the value you could bring to a potential new firm.  Even if you don’t end up moving, you may find this to be a valuable exercise that enables you to negotiate more confidently within your current firm’s compensation structure.

Of course, you can also attempt to test the market yourself, but you will lose the benefit of having a trusted advisor who knows your market and has secured offers at a range of firms.  That unique and valuable insight can only help you. 

Consider the broader opportunity

When testing the market, candidates sometimes have a tendency to focus excessively on the compensation guarantee that a firm is offering.  It’s important to bear in mind that there are many elements to a compensation system beyond the guaranteed paycheck.  For example, is the capital contribution unusually onerous?  Also be sure to consider the likely extent of conflicts, as this could have an important bearing on your ability to expand your book.

Always place the guaranteed dollar amount in the context of the broader opportunity.  For instance, if you have been turning away class actions work, joining a firm with a robust class actions practice is likely to accelerate your compensation materially.  Even seemingly minor factors like having an office in a geography relevant to your practice can make a real difference.

Be a smart negotiator

One of the curiosities of being a legal recruiter is seeing partners who are excellent negotiators for their clients make serious mistakes when negotiating for themselves.

Sometimes an attorney will get a call directly from another firm, gauging their interest in a move.  (Incidentally, this type of call raises unique issues for high-level government officials, where any answer other than “no” may lead to demands for recusal.)  Flattered, the attorney only considers the firm that called.  If you receive such a call, do not let the firm that reached out hold you back from exploring other options so that you understand your true market value.  If the firm that called does not want you to test the market, it may be because they want to avoid a compensation bidding war.  Failing to protect your interests in this scenario could cost you millions of dollars over the course of your career.  

Another frequent error is quickly accepting a counteroffer from the current firm after tendering your resignation.  Is the firm’s attempt to keep you too little, too late?  Ask yourself if that one-time bonus is a band-aid on larger systemic issues, including the issues that motivated you to explore other opportunities in the first place.

The decision to move is a complicated one, requiring careful consideration.  But it never hurts to check your market value, especially if you suspect your current firm isn’t treating you as well as it should.  If you feel you could benefit from a confidential discussion about your individual situation, please contact me.

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.