Tag Archives: Associate

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.

Business Development for Women Lawyers: Strategies for Success

The current legal landscape—like the economy as a whole—is uncertain. 2022 was a moderately down year for major law firms, as compared to the industry’s remarkable 2021 boom. With firms bracing for what could be a challenging period, adopting effective approaches to business development will be more critical than ever.

This is especially true for women lawyers. Even in smoother economic climates, women confront particular challenges in business development and career advancement in the legal industry. In many practice groups, there remains a lack of female role models for successful business development. Strategies that have traditionally worked well for many male partners don’t always feel authentic and comfortable for women attorneys. More broadly, women often find that they must advocate more actively to receive origination credit and to receive fair consideration for equity partnership and for practice and office leadership positions.

For women associates and counsels, learning how successful women partners approach business development can be eye-opening. The transition to being responsible for developing business is a hard one to navigate for any lawyer. After years of focusing on the practice of law and becoming a highly competent attorney, it can be jarring to confront the reality that legal skills are no longer enough. The discomfort can be compounded for associates and counsels whose practice group leadership is heavily male. Mentorship from female leaders in the profession—including those outside your firm—is often invaluable. When it comes to developing business, there is no one-size-fits-all method for success. Exposing yourself to a diversity of styles and strategies can help you identify and pursue an approach that resonates with your personality, practice, and goals.

For women partners, the business development learning curve doesn’t stop. You have already received a vote of confidence in your ability to bring in clients, but delivering on that potential by growing a solid book of business requires targeted strategies. Business development success is key to increasing compensation, making the jump from non-equity to equity partner, or executing a successful lateral move to a more desirable firm.

On May 24, a virtual event organized by the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (WLALA) Business Law Section will offer actionable advice for women lawyers interested in successful business development strategies. The program will address strategies for success for every woman lawyer: associate, counsel, junior partner, and senior partners leading groups. The moderated discussion will feature three senior legal recruiters, including Susan Agopian and Gloria Sandrino of Lateral Link.

Themes that Susan and Gloria will emphasize include the need for women lawyers to be intentional about business development and the fact that “business development” is “client development”—one client at a time. Focusing on individual clients is a must in today’s legal industry.

After decades of working closely with partners and associates at the highest levels of the profession, Susan and Gloria are well-attuned to what it takes to develop business as a lawyer. Business development planning is central to the partner lateral recruiting process, with candidates expected to present a compelling case for how they will bring clients to their new firm. So Susan and Gloria regularly discuss business development strategy in detail with successful partners—including many women—at a wide spectrum of top law firms. In addition, Gloria brings her perspective of a decade spent practicing M&A in NYC and Miami.

If you are interested in joining the conversation on May 24, please get your tickets here. Note that the session is free for WLALA members!

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.

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.

Done with Biglaw? Why NOW Is the Time to Consider a Smaller Firm

Talking to associates about career options is my favorite aspect of my job as a recruiter. Having worked on the recruitment teams at both a boutique and one of the world’s biggest law firms, I have a nuanced perspective on the pros and cons of each. The bottom line is that there is no “one size fits all” solution: many attorneys thrive at their Biglaw practices, but others prefer a different path.

Most Biglaw associates I speak with view a move in-house as the only true exit option. They often perceive in-house roles to offer a perfect convergence of lifestyle, work and benefits. That might be true in some companies, but associates who make the in-house transition often discover that their expectations were unrealistic, as my colleague Adrienne Levi has discussed in detail.

Of course, recent layoffs at both major law firms and large companies are on the minds of many associates. It may feel like there is no safe next step. But it’s important to recognize that Biglaw and in-house roles are not the only possibilities. For an associate looking to make a move in the current market, a smaller regional firm or boutique may be a more compelling option than ever. Let’s take a look at what these firms can offer and why now is the time to consider a lateral move to one.

Job security

Smaller firms are not immune to market forces, but they are in a different position from the many Biglaw firms that participated in the hiring frenzy of the past few years. By and large, smaller firms sat on the sidelines, hiring conservatively on an “as needed” basis. So at a time when many Biglaw firms and in-house legal departments have “dead weight” to shed, smaller firms are better positioned to avoid layoffs.

Breadth of experience

Smaller firms and boutiques are often full service counsel to their clients, despite having far fewer attorneys. This enables corporate associates to work across a variety of practices, including more niche areas like real estate, employment and corporate governance. That opportunity contrasts starkly with the typical Biglaw experience of specialization into a single area such as M&A or finance.

Associates who switch to a smaller firm often find the variety refreshing. But it also has a more tactical advantage: the opportunity to pivot your practice will serve you well in a slower economy when certain transactional practices can grind to a halt, putting your job at risk.

Superior lifestyle/compensation balance

As Adrienne points out, there will likely be a compensation trade-off when making a move to a smaller firm or a boutique, assuming you are currently on the Biglaw market scale. But if you choose wisely, any compensation hit can be more than balanced by a reduced workload.

For example, I work regularly with a San Francisco-based boutique that pays around 15-20% below the typical Biglaw scale. However, this firm requires just 1800 hours annually, whereas the average Biglaw corporate associate bills about 2500 per year. So the 15-20% pay cut comes with an hours reduction of around 30%. For many associates, that is an attractive trade. Even from a wealth maximization perspective, it can be a smart move to shift to a workload that makes a longer private practice career feel like a viable option. Imagine what you could do with an extra 700 hours a year!

They’re hiring!

I’ve spoken with several regional and boutique firms who view this downturn as an opportunity. Because they can be more nimble with their fees, they expect to attract potentially distressed clients, and they anticipate needing more talent to support a growing pipeline of matters. Many of these firms have no qualms about hiring associates who were laid off: Biglaw training is valuable, and these firms recognize their opportunity to capitalize on the newly available talent pool in a less competitive hiring environment.

In summary, while I could also write a lengthy article on the benefits of sticking it out at a big firm (training, cutting edge legal work, not to mention comp…), I think it’s important to recognize that staying in Biglaw is not the best path for everyone. For those ready to move on, there are wonderfully fulfilling law firm opportunities out there.

How To Write an Effective Cover Letter

Every candidate for a lateral or in-house role should write a cover letter. This is true even if you are working with a recruiter, and the recruiter is promoting your candidacy through other channels, such as phone calls. Why? It’s crucial that you give your recruiter any and all information that may be helpful in marketing you to the prospective employer.

I don’t offer candidates a cover letter template because it’s essential that the letter not sound insincere or formulaic. The letter should be authentic and, if signed by you, in your own voice. If you use the same cover letter to apply for multiple positions, at least tweak the text for each employer and re-read each version in full before sending. It’s easy to spot a non-tailored letter—this conveys laziness and disinterest.

Crafting a great cover letter starts with preparation. You want to be clear on what the letter is trying to achieve before you write it.

  1. Read the job description. Read it line by line. I cannot stress enough the importance of tailoring your cover letter to the specific job and in particular to the required and preferred qualifications listed.
  2. Research the firm/company. You must ensure that your stated interest in that employer will resonate with the reader. Make sure you have enough context to convey convincingly that your skills will help this firm achieve its strategic goals.  
  3. Think of your cover letter as a first-round interview. What questions might you anticipate? You will want to address (if applicable):
    a. Why are you looking to make a move, and why specifically do you want to work here, with us?
    b. If applicable, why do you want to move to the new city? What personal or professional ties do you have to the new location?
    c. If applicable, why do you want to move from a firm to an in-house role, or vice versa?
  4. Above all, your cover letter must answer the question, “How are you going to add value to our firm/company?” In your cover letter and in your interviews, remember that it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for them. A prospective employer will be turned off by candidates who only talk about how this move will advance their own personal goals.

Once you fully understand the opportunity and are clear on how you can add value, it’s time to start drafting. There are a number of common pitfalls to avoid.

  1. Be concise. It’s a letter, not an essay.
  2. Ensure that the letter is well-structured. Keep it simple: an opening sentence/paragraph, your “arguments,” and a conclusion. Your cover letter will offer substantive information, but it will also be judged as a representation of your writing and communication skills.
  3. Connect the dots. Do not assume the relevance of your experience is obvious. You may need to help the employer get from Point A to Point B to see that you do indeed have the relevant experience.
  4. Remember the old adage “Show, don’t tell.” Give concrete examples, especially for your relevant soft skills. There is nothing more annoying than reading “I have great interpersonal skills” with nothing to back up that claim. Consider:
    a. What precise skills or experiences do you have that qualify you for this job?
    b. What do you bring to the table that makes you unique?
    c. Why should we hire you instead of your competition?
  5. Be thoughtful about tone. Err on the side of formality, but avoid sounding pretentious or unrelatable. If you are applying to a start-up, perhaps a less ceremonious tone would be more appropriate?
  6. Do not simply repeat what is on your resume. You may want to highlight the most important points from your resume that match the job description, but the cover letter is primarily an opportunity to include relevant information not in your resume.
  7. Explain moves and gaps. If you have made numerous moves already, have left an employer after a short amount of time, or are currently unemployed, get ahead of the issue. No need for a complete memoir, but failing to address the matter may cause the prospective employer to suspect that you’re hiding something.
  8.  If you are applying for a lateral law firm position and your class year for promotion purposes is different from your JD year, be sure to highlight this.
  9. Proofread. Absolutely no typos!

After you’ve drafted, revised, and proofread (go do that once more, just in case!), follow best practices in sending the letter.

  1. Try to find the appropriate recipient’s name. I am always turned off by “To Whom it May Concern” letters.
  2. This tip is from my friend who is a senior executive with a large bank: make your cover letter and attached materials forwardable! Send everything in a clean email (separate from any personal chit-chat if you are sending to a personal contact) with the cover letter in the body of the email and not as a separate attachment.

A recruiter can help you decide which information is appropriate for a cover letter and which is not. Be sure to give your recruiter all the information and trust them to guide you. (If you don’t trust your recruiter, get a new one.) If you need visa sponsorship, you cannot start a new job within the next month or two, or you have any other complications to your job search, let your recruiter know upfront.

Will a good cover letter really move the needle? Realistically, it may only make a difference to a small percentage of applications. But why not give every job application your best shot?

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.

Lateral Attorney Hiring in a Softening Economy: Diverging Trends Across Practice Areas

2022 saw a pullback in lateral attorney hiring, as inflation and high interest rates slowed corporate and lending activity, and as law firms found themselves overstaffed after record hiring in 2021.  Unfortunately, we have also seen recent associate layoffs, mainly by firms particularly dependent on the currently beleaguered tech sector.  Despite these developments, overall lateral attorney hiring levels are currently more reflective of pre-pandemic lateral attorney hiring than a full-fledged recession.

Certain practices and industry sectors have featured continued demand for mid- through senior-level associates, counsel, and partner-level attorneys.  As we enter 2023, depending on the length of the economic slowdown and whether inflationary pressures subside, we would ideally see a continuation of current lateral attorney hiring levels followed by an uptick later in the year, tracking a resurgence in business activity.

2022 Lateral Hiring Trends Compared to Previous Years

With 2021’s economic recovery spurring exorbitant deal-flow, associate hiring increased to historically high levels, especially in transactional practice areas.  In 2022, there was a 20% year-over-year decrease in lateral associate hiring by Am Law 200 firms, with 8,116 total hires compared to 10,179 hires in 2021.  In the second half of the year, as the economic slowdown became more evident, there was a 45% year-over-year decrease in Am Law 200 associate hiring versus 2021.

While the 2022 decrease in Am Law 200 law firm associate hiring was substantial compared to the aberrational hiring levels during the same time period in 2021, when putting these numbers into historical context, 2022 associate hiring levels were consistent with those in the years preceding the pandemic when the economy was relatively healthy.  Am Law 200 associate hiring in the second half of 2022 was 7% higher than the five-year average for the same period during the pre-pandemic years of 2015 through 2019.  Mirroring the resilience of the broader labor market, the lateral attorney hiring market endures, although practice area demand has adjusted due to distress in certain segments of the economy.

Corporate Transactions, Finance, and Real Estate

The economic challenges of 2022 have had the most impact on corporate transactional practice areas.  There was a precipitous decline in deal activity in 2022, including a fall in strategic M&A and capital markets offerings due to interest rate increases and market volatility.  2022 had the lowest Q4 global M&A deal volume in the last six years.  Even so, private equity-backed M&A remained steady, with PE leveraged buyouts notching their second-busiest year in a decade.  Deal activity was driven by PE firms holding record levels of committed capital (“dry powder”), attractive target company pricing, and private debt fund financing.

These market developments are reflected in 2022 lateral attorney hiring and in current demand.  We are seeing very few mid-level M&A associate openings in public company and strategic M&A-centric corporate practice groups.  However, we still see consistent openings for mid-level private equity M&A associates with corporate practice groups representing large-cap and upper middle market PE sponsors.

Associates experiencing a slowdown in non-PE M&A corporate practice groups may wish to explore such PE M&A associate positions, as strategic M&A primary and ancillary document drafting experience is directly transferable.  Capital markets and securities associate hiring has diminished substantially more than M&A, with very few openings nationally.  Due to rising interest rates, stock market volatility, and lending costs, the IPO and global debt offerings markets collapsed to historic lows in 2022.  While we have not yet seen many publicly acknowledged layoffs of corporate M&A or securities associates, there were reports of stealth layoffs during this past review season.

Tech and emerging companies and venture capital (ECVC) corporate practice groups were perhaps the most detrimentally impacted by the global economic downturn in 2022.  Rising interest rates and borrowing costs, lower stock prices, geopolitical tensions, and other factors have halted tech company expansion, spurred austerity measures, and caused VC funding to fall to pandemic period lows.  Over the past two quarters, the decrease in demand for tech company legal guidance has led to associate and staff layoffs in practice groups servicing tech companies and VC sponsors.  Associates affected by these layoffs may look to transition into other corporate practice areas in which their core corporate transactional experience would be transferable.

While on a smaller scale than in 2021, we are still seeing demand for mid- through senior-level commercial finance associates. As leveraged finance transactions by investment banks have retrenched, private equity firms have increasingly turned to the private credit market to finance acquisitions, thereby providing a steady deal-flow for certain commercial lending practice groups.  There have also been recent lateral associate structured finance and securitization openings, though demand has decreased significantly since 2021 due to slow growth and higher interest rates.

Investment funds groups are still hiring relatively actively, with openings for associates across all levels.  While private equity, venture capital, and other fundraising slowed significantly in 2022, certain sectors have remained busy.  Real estate fundraising slowed while investment in infrastructure and energy funds remained active relative to previous years.  Further, although private equity firms and other sponsors are taking longer to raise capital in the current environment, that does not substantially decrease the amount of legal structuring or regulatory guidance needed for active fund management. Because fewer associates have funds training, relative to other corporate specialties, many investment funds practice groups are short of talent.

In Real Estate, we are still seeing demand for mid- through senior-level lateral associates, with steady commercial deal activity and some high-performing asset classes.  For example, in Q3 2022, although commercial real estate deal activity was down compared to the same quarter in 2021, deal activity was 6% higher than in Q3 2019.  Transactions involving industrial property have been particularly active due to the continued growth of e-commerce and inventory surpluses from supply chain constraints.

Litigation

Litigation is less sensitive to recessions and decreased corporate activity, exhibiting reduced but stable demand for lateral associates this past year.  Litigation was the second-best performing practice area in 2022, with midsize firms seeing a slight uptick in litigation demand and many experts predicting an uptick in M&A disputes for 2023.  We are seeing litigation lateral associate positions fairly evenly divided between: (1) general commercial and tort litigation (breach of contract, products liability related class actions); and (2) white collar criminal (particularly False Claims Act-focused) and other securities and antitrust litigation.

Litigation practice leaders are anticipating increased government enforcement in 2023, with a quicker pace of proceedings following two years of the Biden administration adding personnel and instituting new policy directives.  Law firm practice leaders and plaintiffs’ attorneys are also anticipating increased consumer privacy class action activity, with large tech companies recently having agreed to substantial public consumer class action settlements.

IP

Intellectual property litigation has remained busy, and firms have significantly invested in partner and associate hiring, banking on IP as a practice that is less elastic to economic conditions.  Courts are seeing an influx of patent cases that built up during the pandemic.  In addition to litigation involving the more commonly disputed technologies, such as software, semiconductors, and electronic devices, new technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and battery technologies are emerging in patent disputes.

Given the scarcity of IP associates with the requisite engineering backgrounds, we have seen continued patent prosecution lateral associate positions, though in much lower volume than IP litigation openings.  Global patent filings have seen a significant decrease over the past year due to the economic slowdown, with companies seeking to avoid patent filing costs and maintenance fees.

With respect to life science patents, we are seeing associate openings in both prosecution and litigation.  Biotech, pharmaceutical, and healthcare companies have continued filing patents and were bolstered by some pandemic-derived technologies, including developments in vaccines, immunology, and telemedicine.

Countercyclical Practice Areas: Restructuring and Labor & Employment

While we have seen an uptick in restructuring associate positions, openings have not risen to the level we typically see during major economic downturns.  There were a significant number of corporate bankruptcy filings in 2022, but Chapter 11 filings have remained slow since 2021.  Prior to 2022, government stimulus programs, low borrowing rates, and high debt forbearance contributed to the corporate bankruptcy filing slowdown by assisting distressed companies.  As these protections dissipate, law firms are fielding more inquiries from clients of over-leveraged companies.  Crypto, life sciences, and healthcare are primary sectors currently driving restructuring.

Labor and employment is another hallmark countercyclical practice area, as layoffs and other workforce changes can drive increased employment litigation.  There is particularly strong demand for associates experienced in wage and hour class and collective actions as well as discrimination cases.

While the lateral attorney job market is broadly experiencing a slowdown, certain practice areas have persistent need for top associate talent.  Should the economy achieve a soft landing, we hope to see the reemergence of transactional practice area hiring in 2023.

Making a Lateral Move Without a Recruiter? Beware of Conflicts

“Susie” is a midlevel Biglaw associate who has worked at the same firm since she graduated law school. She’s had a good run, but a few months ago she decided it was time to move on. Her practice area is in demand, and she’s acquired solid experience at her current firm, so she figured it shouldn’t be too hard for her to get a lateral offer without help from a recruiter.

In the months since she decided to make a move, Susie has drafted her materials, researched and applied to potential new firms, prepared for and completed three rounds of interviews at her top-choice firm, and received an offer. All good, right? But there’s a catch. The new firm needs a list of every matter Susie has handled at her current firm. She now has to gather all of that information (preferably without tipping off her current firm). Fingers crossed there isn’t an unresolvable client conflict!

Identifying past matters

The first thing Susie should do is go back in time and set up a running tab of clients/matters she has worked on. If Susie had kept such a list throughout her current firm tenure, her task now would be considerably easier. She would be able to submit the conflicts form quickly, speeding the new firm’s review process and (assuming no conflicts were found) making it possible for Susie to give notice at her current firm sooner.

(Incidentally, a running tab of matters is useful for many purposes beyond lateral recruiting: updating your firm bio, future networking, aiding in conflicts checks for your group, impressing partners in your group with institutional knowledge… It’s never too late to start assembling your list!)

Because Susie doesn’t have her list at hand, she will need to consult other sources. The most precise method is to scan through billable hour reports, which some firms give out monthly as a matter of course. Note, however, that accessing the reports through a firm database can be risky because some firms have alerts set for when associates pull this information. Given the risk of tipping off the current firm, lateral candidates tend to default to scanning through old emails to identify clients/matters. This is easier said than done, particularly for more senior associates who have worked on dozens of transactions (100+ matters is not uncommon!).

Wait time for a conflicts check

The duration of a conflicts check depends on both the candidate and the firm. The sooner the candidate returns the conflicts form, the sooner the firm’s process can begin. A recruiter likely would have advised Susie to start identifying all of her clients for conflicts purposes at latest after she passed the second interview with the new firm. By waiting until after she received an offer, Susie has introduced an unnecessary source of delay.

On the firm side, Susie will be at the mercy of her new firm’s conflicts department. These departments are often short-staffed, with frequent turnover. They must juggle competing priorities: in addition to clearing lateral associate conflicts, the department will be responsible for clearing conflicts for a partner’s potential new business. The partners are typically prioritized. The upshot is that Susie’s wait time is hard to predict: it could be 3-4 days, but it could also be two weeks. Clearing conflicts almost always takes longer than a background check.

Getting a waiver

Let’s imagine the conflicts department identifies a conflict between one of Susie’s former clients and an important current client of a partner at the new firm. What now?

There are various ways this can go. One factor may be Susie’s jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions allow a firewall to be created without notifying the potentially conflicted client, but still give that client the ability to object later. Firms tend to be wary of this situation, requiring that the affected partner grant approval before proceeding with the hire. Other jurisdictions require an actual waiver from the client in question. Where a waiver is necessary, the new firm will most often contact the client to request it. But not always.

We have occasionally seen cases where firms ask candidates to seek a waiver themselves.  Do not do this without talking to your recruiter first! It might not even be necessary. In this worst-case scenario, the hiring firm asks the candidate to go to the current-firm partner responsible for the client, admit their intention to leave the firm, and seek the partner’s help in contacting the right person at the client to request the waiver. In one particularly extreme case, it took over two months for the client to make its decision to grant the waiver.

In these situations, having a recruiter on your side can make a real difference. Sometimes conflicts supervisors aren’t fully informed about the nuances of ethics rules in every jurisdiction — we have occasionally helped draw their attention to exceptions that helped smooth the process. More broadly, we know what standard practice looks like, and when a firm makes an unreasonable request, we are in a strong position to push back.

Special considerations for partners

If Susie were a partner, the conflicts question would be even more consequential. Successfully clearing conflicts can make or break a lateral partner’s ability to port over business. It’s critical that lateral partner candidates get accurate advice, with full documentation, before committing to a new firm. If there is any uncertainty about conflicts, waivers, or any other ethics matter, the wisest course is to talk to your recruiter; if needed, they can refer you to a skilled attorney for advice. (This likely will not be expensive: often the cost is below $1000.)

For example, “John” was negotiating a lateral move without the assistance of a recruiter. He took the word of someone at his new firm who assured him that a conflict would not be an issue — unfortunately, he didn’t get that assurance in writing. Lo and behold, it became an issue, and John was not able to port over his client. The situation didn’t prevent him from practicing at the new firm, but it did hinder his ability to hit his promised numbers.

A recruiter would have advised John not to make a move without formally documenting the mutual understanding that he could serve this client at the new firm. In the absence of such written assurance, the recruiter would have recommended John consider alternative firms.

The value of having seen it before

An individual lawyer will make, at most, a handful of lateral moves in his or her career. Given that context, it’s entirely understandable that a candidate would be unaware of common conflicts pitfalls. If you are considering a lateral move, don’t assume the best-case scenario. Issues can easily arise. When they do, an experienced recruiter will be well positioned to help you navigate the situation. We know what is normal, the traps that can be avoided with advance planning, and how to manage unexpected complications. Ideally, you will sail through the conflicts check. But if you hit a snag, having a credible recruiter on your side can be critical to bringing the process to a successful conclusion.

Minding the Gap, Finding the Bridge, and Taking the Longview

The Lateral Link team recently held our company retreat in Las Vegas, and it occurred to me that law firm life can sometimes feel a little like being stuck in a Vegas casino. You are in a place where you can make really big money, but it can require working around the clock, even to the point where you aren’t even sure what time of day it is.  The upside is really good, but after a while you may start to feel an overwhelming desire to find an exit, get outside, breathe some fresh air, and regain a sense of balance in your life.

During these times, it can feel tempting to just draft your dream resignation email and press send!  In these moments, all of the good advice you have heard to never give up and push through the pain flies out the window.  Adding fuel to the fire, you may be at the point in your career where you have some savings built up so economically you can afford a break. You hear a little voice inside saying, “How great would it be to just quit and have time to figure out my next move without the constant stream of responsibilities and due dates hanging over me?”

As a former Biglaw attorney, I can tell you, this thought most certainly crossed my mind.  But as a legal recruiter, I have a whole new appreciation for what I call “minding the gap.”  As tough as it may be, there is undoubtedly value in avoiding any unnecessary employment gaps in your resume.

There is, of course, a huge carve out for time off for mental and physical health issues.  I am a strong advocate for mental health awareness and am in no way suggesting that sticking it out is the answer in all cases as everyone has their own particular mental health and/or medical considerations.  But barring these and other such extenuating circumstances, the simple truth is — it is significantly easier to get hired if you are currently employed.

Being employed gives you leverage — mind the gap.

In an ideal world, one would like to think that firms give candidates the benefit of the doubt when it comes to employment gaps in evaluating interview invitations.  Sadly, though, that is not how the process usually works.  Like many large companies, law firms sort candidates based on the limited information in their resumes and inevitably make assumptions based on this information.  And gaps in your employment timeline can unfortunately raise questions of reliability, focus, and drive.

Of course, you can overcome this presumption by telling a compelling story about the reason for your gap.  But, given the high volume of applicants for any one role, a firm may pass on your resume before even hearing the explanation.

Conversely, if you can manage to stay in your current role, you are only increasing your chances of getting an interview and avoiding unfair judgment.  This will let you walk into your interviews with greater confidence knowing that you can focus on your relevant experience and how you will make a seamless transition into the practice group given this background. 

And even if you are switching careers entirely, the fact that you are currently working will be reassuring to any potential new employers. Bottom line – this strategy allows you to play your strongest possible hand.

What happens when you are handed a gap you can’t mind? Build a bridge.

You might be thinking as you are reading — that is all fine and dandy when you are in control of minding the gap, but what happens when the “gap” is handed to you on a layoff platter??  This is where the story of the candidate who can’t be in the room to tell his/her/their story can have a different ending.  Enter stage left – your trusted legal recruiter.  

I know when some attorneys think of recruiters they think of stereotypical cold calls and emails that interrupt the workday, but one of my favorite parts of recruiting is being my candidates’ advocate and a source of career support for them.  I love getting to know each of my candidates personally so I can present her/him/they to a firm in a compelling way that paints a detailed picture of why this candidate — gaps included — would be an asset to that firm.  A gap can be an unknown, but when it gains a story bridge, it can transform into a stepping-stone to the candidate’s next destination.

Take the longview – it’s all part of the career journey.

I realize that all of this may be easier said than done. When you are feeling overwhelmed – whether it be from unrelenting work, roadblocks to business development, endless roads to partnership, or gaps handed to you — it can be really hard to focus on the bigger picture.  I too have felt lost in the chaos of the moment, but I have also learned over the years how important it is to try to take the longview.  In these times, I turn to my trusted friends and family to help me re-center and remember that my career is a marathon not a sprint.

Another way to help maintain perspective is to discuss your situation with your trusted recruiter.   A recruiter can develop a strategy for you to find your next role and counsel you as you go on the path together to get there.  Another favorite part of my job is that I get to be a legal industry data nerd.  Everyday my colleagues and I read and share intel from trusted legal news sources as to what is happening in the market.  We are also meeting with firms regularly to understand their specific needs each quarter.  We witness the trends unfold in front of us in real time and have all of this information to share with you to help you figure out your longview.  

For example, we are seeing and hearing about an uptick in hiring in the secondary markets right now.  You might be staring down a layoff in New York City, but it has been your longtime dream to move to Denver. Now might be the time!  How does dawn patrol skiing and logging into Citrix by mid-morning sound?  Carpe diem!  Feeling like you are ready for warmer weather?  Try Austin, another booming secondary market.  Whatever your frustration is – it might just be the path to something better.  All you need to do is figure out what that bridge is for you and how to get there.  We work with firms in all of these markets and can help you figure out what would be the best fit for you given both your legal and lifestyle interests.  

Your recruiter will also be able to advise you on which firms might be a better platform/culture match for you and your practice. Maybe you need a firm with less hours or a more flexible schedule? Maybe you need more billing rate flexibility? Maybe you need a more international platform to grow your book of business?  Maybe your business would thrive better at a boutique?  These are all questions that can be a fork in the road that leads to a new and exciting career trajectory for you.  Your recruiter can advise you on how they have helped past candidates in similar situations who have found success on a new path. 

Hearing about other lawyers who have made a change and ended up thriving in their new geographic market, tripling their book of business at their new firm, making non-equity partner from a counsel role, or overcoming an unexpected gap may help you see the light at the end of the tunnel you are in and help give you courage to embark on that next phase of your career path.  Mind as well have some fun and embrace the possibilities of where the path might lead you next!