Tag Archives: Associate

Want to Hire Your First-Choice Candidate? Don’t Delay!

Relative to 2021’s unprecedented level of lateral hiring, the market has cooled somewhat this year.  But it would be a mistake to conclude that law firms now have the upper hand.  By historical standards, we are still in a supply-constrained market, and there remains imperative for firms to optimize their hiring processes to avoid self-inflicted errors.  The biggest culprit in this category is unnecessary delay: the longer and more drawn out the interview process is, the less likely a firm is to hire its preferred candidate.  As the saying goes, “time kills all deals,” and this rings especially true in the world of legal hiring.

The consequences of delay

Law firms don’t intentionally design an inefficient hiring funnel.  But unless the process is managed with exceptional focus and discipline, it’s all too easy to end up in a bad place.  Small decisions that individually seem reasonable can collectively accumulate into a bloated process that alienates candidates.  Moreover, the longer the process, the greater the risk of losing a top candidate to your competition. 

A good example is the number of interviewers.  Firms have an understandable tendency to solicit input from a large cross-section of the candidate’s potential future colleagues.  On the surface, allowing more lawyers to weigh in seems perfectly reasonable, and even good for the candidate, as it theoretically provides greater insight into firm culture.  But by adding one more interviewer here and another one there, the firm can inadvertently end up with a daunting process that places an excessive burden on the candidate’s time.  Moreover, the larger the group of interviewers, the more difficult it is to compile feedback internally, and the greater the potential for delay.  

Firms tend to underestimate candidates’ propensity to abandon a slow hiring process.  But we at Lateral Link see this happen routinely.  The vast majority of candidates we work with tell us that the most frustrating part of their job search is the long wait after interviews to obtain feedback from a prospective new employer.  If a candidate does not receive feedback within a week or two, they question a firm’s continued interest, and in turn, they lose interest in the firm.  I recently worked with an attorney who was so offended by a firm’s long drawn-out process that they wrote the firm off completely and pursued other opportunities.  By the time the firm got back to me expressing continued interest, I had to sadly let them know the candidate had accepted another role and was off the market.  You snooze, you lose!

The consequences of a poorly managed process tend to extend beyond the individual candidate who goes through it.  Lawyers talk to their friends about their experiences, and firms that drag out the hiring process risk reputational damage.  It’s bad enough losing a candidate in the context of one particular search, but inadvertently dissuading potential future candidates from applying is even worse.  What’s more, a firm is losing money with every hour that goes by with a job vacancy.  As we all know, law firm attorneys are profit generators, so a limited number of attorneys doing the work translates to a ceiling on revenue.  And with attorneys’ hourly rates where they are, that’s literally thousands of dollars in lost revenue every day.  There’s also the negative impact a job vacancy has on a firm’s current employees. When a vacancy has been open for an extended period of time, the extra workload inevitably falls on others within the team.  This added responsibility can lead to burnout, stress, and low morale. That in turn has a direct impact on retention rates as the burned out team members look for greener pastures with increasing urgency.

Tips for improving efficiency

So what can firms do to improve their efficiency and make it more likely that they’re able to hire their first-choice candidate?  It isn’t rocket science.  Think ahead.  Stick to the plan.   Be efficient.  Communicate frequently.  And quickly make the offer.

Sometimes long hiring processes are the result of misalignment in the firm about the type of candidate desired, or even about whether to hire at all.  Any such disagreements must be resolved before launching the recruitment process.  If there isn’t alignment among all relevant stakeholders about what it is the firm needs, don’t post a vacancy as a means of forcing the conversation.  Have the debate internally and come to a collective decision.  Only then should you solicit applications.

At the beginning of the process, map out precisely who the candidate is to meet with and book all interview slots in the interviewers’ calendars.  If there is a high risk of an interviewer not being available in the necessary window, find a substitute interviewer ahead of time.  Don’t let foreseeable delays derail the process.  In addition, avoid the temptation to add extra interviewers partway through.  Sometimes the logic for doing so really is compelling, but this should be an exceptional situation.  Have the discussion upfront about who needs to participate, and stick to the plan.  Then solicit feedback from the interviewers immediately after the interview while the conversations are fresh in their minds. 

If the process is unreasonably long, the firm will lose candidates.  But at the margin, proactive communication can be highly effective in keeping a candidate engaged.  Tell candidates upfront what the process entails and how long it’s expected to take.  If an unexpected complication arises, inform the candidate and/or recruiter promptly.  Give a real explanation for the delay, along with assurances that the firm remains interested, and be sure to check in regularly to keep the candidate warm.  But by no means should you string a candidate along.  Job seekers strongly dislike that, and it can really sour the relationship before it even starts.

Finally, once the interviewers have collectively identified a first-choice candidate, make an offer as soon as you possibly can.  It’s not a problem if the offer has various contingencies, such as conflicts and background checks.  But a fast offer is a critical signal to the candidate that the firm is serious about making the hire.

Take advantage of what you can control

Many elements of the hiring process fall outside a firm’s control.  At the height of the boom in 2021, when mid-level corporate lawyers seemed almost impossible to find, there was no magic wand a firm could wave to increase candidate supply.  But firms do control the efficiency of their hiring process, and making an active effort to improve it can lead to a material improvement in the firm’s recruiting success. One law firm we work with regularly has mastered this process and typically makes associate hiring decisions within a matter of two to three weeks.  They know what they want in a new hire, and when they find it, they don’t delay.  Everyone is busy and no one has time to waste, so fast-tracking the hiring process and making it as efficient as possible will go a long way with prospective employees.  

If your firm or law department has questions about how to improve the lateral hiring process and eliminate some pain points, please don’t hesitate to contact me or any of my Lateral Link colleagues.

How to Survive an Economic Downturn

With talk of recession now impossible to avoid, many lawyers have started to wonder about their job security. It’s worth emphasizing that actual hiring data still looks healthy by historical standards. Nationwide, lateral moves in Q3 2022 were down more than 20% from the Q3 2021 level, but keep in mind that the 2021 market was unbelievably active. If we use Q3 2019 as a more normal base case, we find an almost 10% increase in lateral moves in Q3 2022. But even if widespread pain is not yet evident, there is much anecdotal discussion of so-called stealth layoffs. Additionally, at least one firm has deferred start dates for its incoming first-year associates, reviving an approach that was widespread in the Great Recession.

Making the conservative assumption that conditions will get worse before they get better, now is the time to assess your situation and take steps to position yourself to survive a downturn. Here are some things to consider.

1. Are you a restructuring lawyer? Can you become one?

There’s nothing like a countercyclical practice to help you ride out a recession. If you do happen to be a restructuring lawyer, you should be worried more about a coming deluge of work than about job security. But assuming you haven’t worked in bankruptcy, now may be the moment to wedge your way in. In the old days, corporate lawyers tended to have broader skill sets, with bankruptcy being one component of a more diversified transactional practice. Even though modern law firms tend to be all about specialization, this historical legacy can still serve as an inspiration. If you’re already in a corporate or finance practice, call up a restructuring partner and ask if the group needs help. With the next wave of restructurings presumably on the horizon, if you can get in the door now, you might find yourself in the enviable position of having plenty of work.

More broadly, you may want to think about retooling, if not to restructuring then to another more recession-resistant practice. This is especially worth considering if you are a junior corporate associate who never particularly liked your work. The best time to retool is when your group is not busy — a slowdown in deals might present an opportunity to escape.

2. Assess your firm: is it well-positioned for a downturn?

In thinking about your firm’s relative strength, it’s helpful to consider the past, present, and future. As the disclaimer goes, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But if your firm is known to have conducted stealth (or outright) layoffs in the last recession, that’s probably a relevant consideration.

The present is relatively easy to assess. Are you busy? Is your group busy? What about your friends in other groups?

The future is inevitably murkier, but you can still make some educated guesses. Is your firm unusually reliant on corporate M&A and capital markets work? Bad sign. Is it well-diversified, with strong offerings in litigation and restructuring? Good sign.

3. Consider your alternatives

Keenly observing conditions at your current firm is an important first step, but you also need to contextualize against the rest of the industry. Talking to friends at other firms is a good idea. But for deeper insights informed by data, having a relationship with a trusted legal recruiter can be invaluable. We spend all day talking to people at various firms, so we’re always informed about how the market is trending. And we have access to extensive proprietary data specific to individual markets and practices. We know which firms are growing and which are losing people to the competition. As stealth layoffs pick up, you can be sure that seasoned recruiters will be among the first to know the real story.

If you learn that your firm is underperforming relative to peers, or that it’s perceived to be at greater risk in a downturn scenario, you’d be well advised to investigate whether firms in a stronger position may be seeking someone with your skill set. Naturally, a trusted recruiter can help with that diligence as well.

4. Watch the partners

Even in a good economy, most partners are open to hearing offers from rival firms. But with conditions deteriorating, it’s especially safe to assume that your partner is taking calls. Many partners feel the ground shifting under their feet, and they are just as worried as associates about potentially being pushed out. To the extent there may be concerns about the health of the firm overall, partners will be especially eager to flee: nobody wants to be the last person on a sinking ship. If you notice an uptick of partner turnover at your firm, it could be a sign that you too should look elsewhere.

Being Smart About Utilization and Realization: How to Improve Your Contribution to Firm Profitability

Law firm economics can be a little opaque for associates.  Partnerships typically aren’t great at explaining the business of law to non-partner firm members, and associates naturally focus their efforts on learning to be an effective lawyer.  But like it or not, a law firm is ultimately a business, and if you aspire to have a long-term career in private practice, you need to understand the drivers of firm profitability and how you fit into the equation.  In particular, you need to understand how to manage utilization and realization.

Utilization and Realization drive Profitability

Utilization is the proportion of your available time allocated to billable matters.  Specifically, it’s the number of billable hours you work divided by the number of “available hours,” times 100.  Let’s say your firm requires 2000 hours (your “available hours”), your billable hours are 1800 for the year, and you’ve got 300 in non-billables.  Your total hours tracked exceeds the 2000-hour threshold, but non-billables don’t factor into utilization.  Therefore, your utilization rate is 90% (1800/2000).

Realization is the percentage of recorded time that is actually paid by the client.  When your partner cuts your bills or offers the client a discount or write-off, that reduces realization.

Why do these metrics matter?  Simply put, firm profitability depends on them.  Here’s a simplified law firm profitability equation:

Profitability = Margin x Realized Rate (the “true” rate the client is paying) x Utilization x Leverage.

As an associate, you have no control over margin or leverage.  (Even as a partner, your ability to improve these metrics is constrained by market realities: for example, some practice areas are inherently lower margin than others.)  Conversely, although utilization and realization aren’t entirely within your control, it’s absolutely possible for you to influence them.

Track all your time, and resist the urge to cut it

Nobody enjoys billing, but accurate time tracking is a prerequisite to strong utilization.  If you’re not billing daily, you are likely failing to capture time that you would have remembered to bill if you had been more diligent about regular time entry.  Chronic underbilling is a major threat to law firm profitability, so you should do your best to ensure that you aren’t part of this problem.  (Of course, daily billing also guards against the risk of inadvertently overbilling, the consequences of which are even worse than underbilling!)

After you’ve accurately captured your billable time, do not cut it, even if you are uncomfortable with the pace of your work.  Partners need to know how long things are really taking, and the decision to cut a bill is theirs, not yours.  If you’re embarrassed about how long it takes you to complete a task, talk to someone about whether it truly is an issue and, if so, what steps you can take to improve your efficiency.

Knowing the accurate utilization rate within a department also helps partners decide when to request additional attorneys, and it’s a key input for firm management when approving requests to expand a group.  If everyone is underbilling, department leadership may not realize how close their lawyers are to burning out and potentially leaving the firm.

Remember that proper time tracking extends to non-billable hours also.  Your firm needs to know how much time you’re spending on administrative or other non-billable matters.  They may be tracking whether their workflow is efficient, if they’re using the right software, etc.  Useful analysis of those factors depends on you accurately reporting your non-billables.

Be smart about the wording of your bills

Healthy realization depends not just on how much time you spent on a task, but also on how you describe what you did.  Be aware that many different parties may review your bills: partners and clients, certainly, but potentially also courts or other third parties.  Take care to bill with the specificity that the client or firm requires (without including anything privileged or embarrassing, please).  Appropriately specific wording will make it easier to justify the bill for your work, creating the conditions for better realization.

Ensure aligned expectations

If partners are routinely cutting your hours, that is an indicator of misaligned expectations.  You should proactively communicate with partners about their expectations, so that you avoid incurring time that won’t be collected.  Find out how long the partner expects a project to take, and do your best to stay in that ballpark.  In the event the partner has an unrealistic view of what’s possible, have a conversation about it as early as you reasonably can.  You’re managing their expectations so they can manage the client’s expectations.  If you perceive a misalignment, it’s your responsibility to speak up and make an effort to resolve it.

Consider the bigger picture

So why am I sharing this, as a recruiter?  Managing utilization and realization makes you more productive and efficient: you’re a more valuable associate.  But this isn’t just about you.  It’s also about how much work the firm has: underutilization can result from not enough work to go around.  Conversely, understaffing can lead to overutilization.  And your personal utilization rate reflects your quality of life.  If your utilization is very high, then you’re likely overworked!

If this has got you thinking about your role in your firm, or your practice group, then let’s chat.

An In-House Reality Check: The Grass May Not Be Greener

As a legal recruiter, one of the most common things I hear from law firm associates is that their goal is to go in-house. Law firm associates often can’t wait to leave behind the billable hour.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with that — in-house roles can be a good fit for many lawyers. But the way law firm associates idolize in-house counsel positions often indicates an incomplete understanding of the realities of these jobs.

Having spent the majority of my legal career working in-house, I am deeply familiar with the tradeoffs associated with working in-house and can tell you it is not what you’ve been led to believe.

A lengthy interview process

If you land an interview, buckle up because it’s a long road.

You’re likely to get your first taste of the differences between law firms and companies during the in-house interview process.

Law firm interviewing tends to prioritize efficiency: you interview with some partners, meet a few associates, go to lunch, and get an offer. The whole process takes about a month and sometimes much less. 

For in-house roles, you typically apply online, send your resume into the ATS abyss, and hope for the best. If you are one of the lucky ones, you will advance to a recruiter phone screening. Once that is complete, expect to wait at least a week to meet with the hiring manager. After interviewing with the hiring manager, you will be scheduled to meet members of the legal team. If all goes well, you’ll be introduced to the functional leaders you would support. Finally, you may meet with the Chief Legal Officer. The time between rounds is usually about a week. In the interim, you may be expected to complete a take-home assignment or a case study, which you then may or may not present to your potential future colleagues. Overall, expect this process to take four to eight weeks or longer. 

From profit center to cost center

As a lawyer at a law firm, you are part of the profit center: you bill hours and directly generate revenue. You are paying for staff salaries and keeping the lights on. In contrast, an in-house legal department is a cost center, supporting the revenue-generating parts of the business, but not bringing in revenue independently. 

When you go in-house, all eyes are no longer on you, and you are somewhat less important. This shift affects every aspect of your job, including resource allocation, leadership focus, and budget.

No longer the profit center and no longer keeping time, in-house counsel must find ways to add value to the business and develop creative ways to measure those contributions. Adding value and measuring it is doubly important in times of economic uncertainty, when companies move to cut costs.

A change of pace — but not necessarily slower

Whoever told you that in-house counsel enjoy a well-balanced 9-to-5 was wrong. Let’s be clear: the typical in-house role is far from the relaxed 40-hours-a-week you’ve been pitched. In reality, 60-hour weeks are not uncommon for many in-house lawyers.

First, the decision to hire in-house counsel is made for a reason: there is a lot of work to be done. You are expected to take on the work of outside counsel independently, and to do so with fewer resources.

Remember that hearing you went to 30 minutes away or the time you spent sitting in court waiting to argue? As an associate, this counted as productivity. As in-house counsel, when you spend time on activities where your presence turns out not to have been necessary, you’re the one who bears the cost. You still have to get your work done, and frequently that means putting in time in the evenings or on weekends to catch up.

Finally, businesses move at an incredible pace. You’re likely to find that timelines are extremely short. Gone are the days when you had two weeks to complete a memo. Now you need to do it in 30 minutes. Your internal clients need quick answers, and if you don’t weigh in immediately, the business will take action without you.

Juggling many responsibilities

Private practice is all about specialization. But at most companies, especially smaller ones, every in-house counsel has a much more diverse range of responsibilities on their plate. That can be exciting, but it’s also time-consuming and stressful, especially when you are given responsibility for an area unrelated to your prior law firm practice.

Startups take this to the extreme. Not only will you be one of the few lawyers in the company (perhaps even the only one!), but you will also probably be one of the smartest people in the room. People will recognize that, and they’ll want to tap you for projects that aren’t squarely within the legal domain. Being involved in non-legal subject matter might sound fun, but it can be exhausting when combined with the legal work that forms the core of your portfolio.

Be realistic about the tradeoffs

There’s no denying that law firms can be a tough environment, and a long-term career in private practice isn’t for everyone. But it’s easy to take for granted the benefit of being surrounded by smart and well-credentialed colleagues. Not to mention resources like immediately responsive paralegals and subscriptions to any database you desire. Or a well-defined career progression with material increases in compensation every year. As an in-house counsel, you can’t expect a luxury building in a prime location, a private office, an assistant, a paralegal, or even Westlaw.

You may be more than happy to make those tradeoffs. But do think it through carefully. The grass isn’t always greener.

New York Market Update: Strong Lateral Demand, Though With Variation Across Practice Areas

With talk of recession on the rise nationally, how are law firms in New York holding up? So far, the lateral market remains open for business. Firms are emphasizing some different practice areas compared to a year ago, but they continue to hire broadly.

Lateral placement data indicate a healthy market: there were around 75 more lateral moves in New York in Q2 2022 than in Q2 2021. That’s saying something, considering that 2021 was an exceptionally strong lateral market.

Litigation rises as transactional starts to slow

Demand for transactional lawyers has moderated compared to last year: there were 341 lateral placements in Q2 2022 into corporate practices (35% of all placements in the quarter), as compared to 420 the year before (46%). However, other practice areas are picking up the slack. Demand for litigators is on the rise: whereas in Q2 2021, there were 162 lateral placements in litigation, the number rose to 210 in Q2 2022.

A central driver of the growing opportunity in litigation is a widespread effort among firms to expand their white-collar practices. The Biden administration has made no secret of its intention to increase enforcement, and firms are positioning themselves to compete for what should be a lucrative wave of white-collar assignments. Boutiques that are mainly known for complex commercial litigation have lately been especially active in the lateral market, seeking to build up their white-collar credibility.

Many opportunities in niche practices

Among more niche practice areas, antitrust is in strong demand, as firms anticipate coming enforcement activity. Funds is a particular bright spot on the transactional side, with practices sufficiently stretched such that they have been willing to retool junior associates from other groups. And both real estate and bankruptcy are on the rise, with around twice as many lateral placements in Q2 2022 as compared to the same period a year earlier. Bankruptcy and restructuring practices are particularly interested in candidates who have both transactional and bankruptcy litigation experience. Of course, if a recession does materialize, demand in this area should accelerate further.

Who is best placed to make a move?

Across practices, midlevel associates have the broadest range of lateral opportunities, with the sweet spot around 3-5 years of experience. In litigation, there has been an unusual level of demand for more senior associates in addition to midlevels. Boutiques in particular have been extending offers to sixth and seventh years.

With most firms having adopted a hybrid working model in their New York offices, we are seeing an increasing number of interviews conducted in-person, which candidates tend to find helpful in gaining insight into a firm’s culture. This summer is a particularly good time to enter the lateral market because an unusual number of associates are tied down by bonuses issued last year or in early 2022, either as part of a lateral move or as a retention incentive.


Though candidates shouldn’t worry about changing firms right now, we are urging those exploring in-house roles to proceed with caution. The risks of a layoff appear to be elevated in the current environment, especially for lawyers entering at more junior levels. Keep in mind that unlike at law firms, the most recently hired employees tend to be most vulnerable when companies go through layoffs.

Is Your Firm Recession-Resistant Enough To Thrive In An Economic Downturn?

We’ve all heard the adage that sex sells. But when it comes to the financial press, no topic is more irresistible than speculating about the possibility of a recession. Are we on the verge of an economic downturn? I don’t know, and frankly, neither does anyone else. But given all the recession talk, now is a good time for lawyers to consider their strategy in the event we do experience a downturn. 

There are two key messages to keep in mind. First, the good news is that if you are at a well-diversified firm, recession fears should not keep you up at night. Most major Am Law 200 firms are recession-resistant thanks to their diversity of practice areas.

Second, hiring remains strong by any normal standard: there were around 300 more lateral placements in Q2 2022 among Am Law 200 firms than there were in Q2 2021. And as you might remember, spring of 2021 was not exactly a slow market!

Law firm hiring is like squeezing a balloon. Last year we saw an overwhelming appetite for capital markets and M&A laterals to fill the never-ending demand for attorneys to service deal flow. Today we are seeing a large uptick in the demand for litigation laterals. That’s exactly what we would expect given the historical pattern of recessionary times fueling more litigation and insolvency work from deals gone bad and inevitable breakups.

In Q2 2021, 30% of lateral placements in the Am Law 200 were in corporate practices, and 27% were in litigation. By contrast, in Q2 2022, only 24% were corporate and 30% were litigation. Bankruptcy hiring was a small proportion of the total in both quarters, but it is clearly picking up. There were 67 bankruptcy lateral placements in Q2 2022, as compared to 46 in Q2 2021.

Is now a good time to lateral?

If you aren’t happy at your firm, don’t let concern about the economy dissuade you from making a lateral move. If you’re in a situation where you don’t feel supported, it would be a mistake to resign yourself to being miserable just because people are talking about recession. The truth is that demand for lateral candidates is persisting across a broad range of practice areas, so you likely have options.

However, if you are at a firm overly dependent on corporate M&A and capital markets work, perhaps you should look at some alternatives that are better positioned to weather the storm, if not come out of it even stronger.  The benefit of being at a well-diversified law firm is roughly analogous to the benefit of being in a long-short fund as an investor. The long-short structure gives you upside while protecting the downside through diversification of puts, shorts, and long positions. Similarly, a strong bankruptcy practice may not “pull its weight” in the good times, but it is extremely useful when the economy sours.

Although you shouldn’t hesitate to accept a good lateral offer, you may want to think twice about pivoting to a new practice area unless you are certain retooling meets your long term career goals. With an uncertain economic outlook, it’s especially important that you make an immediate impact at your new firm — now is not the best time for a long ramp-up period.

If we reach the point of layoffs — which, again, are not happening yet in any widespread way — firms will primarily consider the revenue impact of each practice group and lawyer. An advantage of the billable hour model is that individual contributions are more easily measured than in a typical corporation. So instead of taking a blunt “last in, first out” approach, firms can be more targeted. The way to protect yourself isn’t necessarily to cling to your current job, but rather to put yourself in a situation where your skills will be well utilized.

What about a move in-house?

It’s more difficult to generalize across in-house roles because some sectors are likely to be more resilient in recession than others. But broadly speaking, you should be wary about moving in house with a downturn potentially on the horizon. When a company is forced to cut costs, the most recent hires are often the first to go. You could then find yourself looking for a job in a relatively weak market.

If you are considering an in-house transition, it’s important to understand that switching back to a firm likely won’t be easy. Firms value law firm experience more than in-house experience, so returning to law firm work can be a challenge even in a good economy. Now imagine trying to make that switch while unemployed, in a soft economy, when your skill set has stagnated.

That’s not to say that going in house is definitely a mistake. Individual circumstances vary. But make sure you are clear-eyed about the risks and your potential backup plan.

Strengthening your position at your current firm

What if you’re reasonably happy at your current firm and just want to guard against a layoff?  The first thing to realize is that this is not 2009, where we had a complete collapse of the financial markets and widespread law firm layoffs. Instead, we expect that the uptick in litigation and insolvency work will largely offset any slowdown in corporate.   

So the better question is how do you protect yourself and stay relevant if you are a corporate attorney? There’s a few things you can do to strengthen your standing ahead of a potential downturn.

First, do you have strong relationships with partners? If not, make it a priority to develop some. You should be doing this regardless of the economy, as it will both improve your experience at your firm and position you to be recommended for future external opportunities. But obviously these relationships can be especially valuable in the event a practice group head is instructed to cut headcount.

One way to build stronger relationships is simply to make yourself more visible. Spending less time in the office over the past two years may have made it easier to hide, whether intentionally or not. If you haven’t been making an effort to connect with partners, either in person or virtually, now is the time to start. Make sure they know who you are and that you’re eager to be helpful.

As mentioned above, your recent record of billable hours will be an important factor in case of layoffs, so an obvious way to strengthen your position is to make sure you’re meeting billable expectations. For most Biglaw associates, that hasn’t been a problem recently, but if the economy slows, billable hours will be less plentiful in some practices. In that scenario, you will want to be flexible about accepting work outside of your primary practice area. You may not enjoy bankruptcy work as much as M&A, but if the alternative is falling short on your hours, the choice should be clear.

DC Market Update: Strong Demand for Litigation, Transactional, and Regulatory Attorneys

After more than 200 years with New York as its only US office, Cravath announced in June that it will open in Washington, DC this fall. Given that Cravath has long resisted the Biglaw office expansion trend, its change in strategy is notable. Presiding Partner Faiza Saeed explained that the firm’s “clients face an increasingly complex and active regulatory environment.” Cravath’s move demonstrates an understanding that a strong DC presence is more valuable than ever — and not just for traditional regulatory counseling practices.

Cravath is not alone in reaching this conclusion. With increasing client demand in the face of an anticipated wave of enforcement actions, firms are recognizing the need to bolster their ranks in the nation’s capital, even if they aren’t new to the region. We at Lateral Link are working on numerous searches for firms opening or expanding their DC offices. Clients are acutely aware that DC is where the key regulatory decision-makers sit, and that local credibility in the unique DC market is essential.

The state of the lateral market

So what does this mean for the lateral market? In short, opportunity. We count more than 500 lateral moves in DC so far this year, and firms continue to hire at a strong pace. We have hundreds of openings for litigation, transactional, and regulatory attorneys.

Litigators are in the greatest demand, with thriving practices hiring at every level from associates to partners. Regulatory-related litigation groups — such as antitrust, white collar, and enforcement defense — are especially healthy. Firms are seeking talent in both the private and public sectors. Lateral candidates looking to switch firms are well-positioned, especially associates with two-to-five years’ experience and partners with at least $1 million in portable business. High-profile government officials are also coveted, as Cravath’s announcement illustrated: in tandem with the new office opening, Cravath hired three partners with high-level FDIC and SEC experience, including former FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams, former SEC Commissioner and Acting Chairman Elad Roisman, and former Associate Director of Enforcement for SEC Jennifer Leete.

On the corporate side, hiring has retreated somewhat from last year’s blistering pace, but opportunities still abound. Private equity, M&A, capital markets, and securities associates will have a plethora of options to consider, with two-to-five years’ experience again being the sweet spot. We are also filling a number of EC/VC and finance openings. For many candidates, DC might not immediately spring to mind as a top transactional hub, but this market has some real advantages for corporate associates. DC corporate teams tend to be smaller than in New York, and associates have the latitude to work across a wider variety of deals. Associates seeking a more generalist practice, plus expanded opportunities for client contact at an early stage, might want to consider a move to DC.

Naturally, much of the regulatory-related work in DC is tied to litigation and investigations. However, we also have active searches with many of the more traditional regulatory counseling practices. Banking, healthcare, energy, environment, and healthcare practices among others are seeking new talent at both junior and senior levels.

Is recession a concern?

Whether and when the economy might enter a recession is a matter of intense debate, and I’m not here to make macroeconomic predictions. But it’s worth addressing the recession scenario, as it will certainly be on some candidates’ minds. First, DC offices have continued to hire in the face of growing recession talk — if there is going to be a recession-induced hiring slowdown, it hasn’t happened yet. Second, DC law firms historically have been relatively resilient in recession periods.

Because the federal government continues, recession or not, government-related legal work continues. DC firms tend to have relatively diversified practices, which is also helpful: litigation, regulatory, and corporate practices each comprise material revenue streams for the larger DC firms. Few DC offices are excessively dependent on transactional work, the area that often takes the biggest hit in a recession. Historically, DC firms tend to be better positioned to weather economic storms than many of their peers in other markets.

A remarkable range of opportunities

The appeal of DC for a practice like antitrust needs no explanation. But it’s important to realize that the vibrant legal market here encompasses a remarkably broad range of practice areas, even some that are not tightly connected to the federal government. What is particularly striking about the current moment is that firms are hiring in virtually every practice area. At Lateral Link, we have worked with many attorneys to leverage the strong market demand to achieve their goals, whether that entails ascending the ladder to a more highly regarded firm, increasing their compensation, or both. If you are based in DC (or are open to moving here) and you are interested in taking your practice to the next level, please contact me to learn more.

Planning for a Legal Career Overseas: An Update for 2022

Last Thursday alone, I heard from two attorneys looking to move overseas because they don’t want their children to have to participate in “active shooter” drills in school. It seems like an appropriate time to offer an update on the legal hiring landscape for U.S. JDs looking to move overseas.

In 2014, I posted a 3-part series on Planning for a Legal Career Overseas: 

I encourage you to read these posts as my general guidelines still hold true today. But we have seen some small shifts in the hiring landscape in recent years. What has changed? I have structured this update based on the most common questions I’m asked: 

What if I’m not a capital markets lawyer?

While the roles for U.S. JDs overseas are still overwhelmingly for capital markets transactional work, the demand for capital markets attorneys has evolved. We are seeing fewer roles that require high yield debt experience specifically and fewer capital markets opportunities in Europe outside of London. In Madrid, for example, it may be difficult to justify bringing on a full-time U.S. associate. The good news is that I am seeing more opportunities outside the usual capital markets roles, especially in London. For example, I’m working with top international firms: 

  • in London looking for junior to mid-level U.S. patent litigators
  • in London, Paris, Sydney, and Melbourne looking for mid-level U.S. project finance lawyers
  • in London looking for U.S. technology transactions lawyers
  • in Sydney and Melbourne looking for mid-level U.S. M&A lawyers
  • in London looking for junior to mid-level U.S. private funds and PE M&A lawyers
  • in Singapore and Hong Kong, looking for mid-to-senior level US PE funds associate roles. In Hong Kong, looking for mid-level life sciences corporate transactions associates.

Can I work overseas for a U.S. office as a remote attorney?

Probably not. Most firms that advertise “remote” roles are not able to accommodate remote from outside the U.S., or oftentimes even remote from certain U.S. jurisdictions where they do not currently have operations and/or where you are not barred. There are some exceptions. In particular, I am working with a corporate law boutique that is open to remote work from overseas for the right senior associate/counsel-level attorney. 

It is worth noting also that many offices in Europe, in particular, went back to in-office work long ago. Remote work is not as much in the culture of these offices, and they may not be as flexible with remote or hybrid work as U.S. offices have become. 

What are signing bonuses looking like for overseas roles?

Unfortunately, the overseas markets will not generally offer signing bonuses. In fact, for many overseas opportunities, you will need to go on the local pay scale. This is true most often for non-capital markets roles. Many firms will, however, pay for your relocation.

Can I go in-house overseas?

These opportunities exist, but they are very difficult to land. Most U.S. lawyers I know who are working overseas were either transferred overseas internally or were already working with a firm in that foreign city before moving in-house. Keep in mind also that in-house roles overseas will often pay at the local pay scale.

I’m a U.S. JD working overseas and looking to move home to the U.S. Is now a good time to move?

Absolutely! There are many reasons why now is the right time: 

  • Interviews are still generally over Zoom so being overseas is not as much of a disadvantage as in the past.
  • The market in the U.S., especially for mid-level to senior corporate associates, is still very busy but slowing down, so it could be risky to wait.
  • The more senior you get, the more difficult it will be to move back.

I am not a U.S. JD but I hear the U.S. market is busy. What are my options for moving to the U.S.?

Unfortunately,  opportunities for non-JDs are still rare, even for those with U.S. LLMs and bar admission. The exception may be if you are a corporate lawyer and already have a U.S. passport or green card, or are from Canada, Mexico, Australia, or another country not subject to the H-1B lottery system.

***

While we have seen some small shifts in the opportunities for U.S. JDs looking to work overseas, we are not seeing as dramatic a shift as we are seeing in the U.S. market. Your options for working overseas depend on your specific skills and experience. If you are a U.S. JD looking to move overseas, please contact me for an informational chat. If you’re a U.S. JD candidate planning ahead, good for you! I’d love to chat. If you’re a U.S. JD currently working overseas and planning for a move back to the U.S., now is the time to start the process. Please reach out! I can be reached at agordon@laterallink.com.  

Lawyers’ Mental Health Remains In Crisis, But Awareness Is Growing

It’s hardly news to say that the collective mental health of the legal profession is under severe strain. The results of the recent ALM Intelligence 2022 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey confirm what has long been true: the situation remains grave.

On the other hand, there is some indication, both in the annual ALM survey data and elsewhere, that law firms are taking mental health concerns more seriously than in the past.

The 2022 ALM survey was administered to more than 3400 respondents working at law firms of all sizes. The survey pool was global, but 79% of respondents were based in the United States. Respondents were 52% female and 48% male, with less than 1% identifying as transgender or other gender. 85% of respondents were White (non-Hispanic), 5% Hispanic or Latino, 4% Asian, 3% Black, and 3% Other/Multiracial.

Broadly experienced negative mental health impact

The proportion of respondents who agree that mental health problems and substance abuse are at a “crisis level” in the legal industry has grown each year since 2019, reaching 44% in the most recent survey. On the question of whether mental health problems and substance abuse are worse in the legal industry than in other industries, 55% of respondents said yes, 36% don’t know, and only 9% said no.

35% of respondents said they personally feel depressed, and two-thirds reported having anxiety. Three-quarters reported that the profession has had a negative effect on their mental health over time. 64% reported that their personal relationships have suffered as a result of being a member of the legal profession. 19% answered yes to the question: “In your professional legal career, have you contemplated suicide?”

When asked to select factors that negatively impact their mental well-being, 72% of respondents selected “always on call/can’t disconnect,” 59% selected “billable hour pressures,” 57% pointed to “client demands,” and 55% selected “lack of sleep.”

Rising awareness of the problem

Even though the overall data are undeniably bleak, the survey does include some indications of progress. The proportion of respondents who agreed that their “workplace is a safe environment to raise concerns about mental health and substance abuse” has risen from 40% in 2019 to 45% in 2022. Still far too low, but at least moving in the right direction. The survey also indicates that more firms are taking tangible action to provide more comprehensive mental health support: in 2022, 61% of attorney respondents reported that their firm offered an Employee Assistance Program including assistance for mental health or substance abuse, up from 54% in 2019.

In addition, the survey suggests that COVID-related mental health pressures are starting to improve. 61% of respondents reported that the COVID pandemic had made their mental health worse, but this was down from 70% in 2021.

Mental health and return to office

Although some aspects of the survey might seem like “more of the same,” the section on Remote Work Environment is particularly timely, given that the profession remains in a tug of war over a return to the office. In a set of questions introduced for the first time in this survey, ALM asked respondents about the effect of “hybrid or remote work environments” on various elements of their professional and personal lives. The results are less than conclusive.

There was something approaching consensus on a few points. For example, 76% of respondents reported that remote work had decreased the quality of interpersonal relationships with colleagues and 62% said it had increased the quality of home-based personal relationships. 59% reported that remote work had increased their quality of life.

But the reported mental health effects were much less clear. 38% of respondents stated that remote work increased mental health, whereas 35% said it decreased mental health, and 27% reported no impact. On the question of whether hybrid or remote working environments increase or decrease the likelihood of professional burnout, 25% said increase, 33% said decrease, 25% answered “stay the same,” and 17% didn’t know.

Unfortunately, the published survey includes no breakdown of how these responses intersect with demographics, which is perhaps a missed opportunity.

For those who found that remote work flexibility relieved stress levels, the prospect of being forced to return to old ways of working inspires real anxiety. It will be interesting to observe over the coming months and years how the widespread desire of firm leadership to encourage (or enforce) return to office will interact with increased awareness of a responsibility to address mental health challenges.

The 2022 Milton Handler Lecture: Refocusing Antitrust Enforcement On Competition

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter last week delivered highly anticipated remarks in person at the New York City Bar Association, where he was the keynote speaker of the 2022 Milton Handler Lecture. The head of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, Mr. Kanter has been widely expected to take a vigorous enforcement approach. His May 18 speech was an opportunity to signal more explicitly what that might look like. And although he avoided any comment on specific fact patterns, his remarks made clear that busy times are ahead for the antitrust bar. 

Under Mr. Kanter’s leadership the touchstone of civil antitrust enforcement will be “protecting competition.” This marks an intentional departure from the “consumer welfare standard” that has predominated since the 1980s. In Mr. Kanter’s view, “consumer welfare is a catchphrase, not a standard.” It “systematically biases antitrust toward underenforcement” by neglecting to acknowledge the breadth of objectives that the Sherman and Clayton Acts were originally intended to pursue. “Senator Sherman himself expressed a goal of protecting not only consumers, but also sellers of necessary inputs, such as farmers.” Mr. Kanter noted that the Supreme Court endorsed this broad conception in the 1958 Northern Pacific case, when it described the Sherman Act as a “comprehensive charter of economic liberty.”

Mr. Kanter argued that in addition to unjustifiably narrowing the scope of antitrust enforcement, the consumer welfare standard is unintuitive and cumbersome to administer. “It cannot be that a business trying to understand the legality of its merger must undertake months of analysis to produce a complex simulation model, or that a court must decide an antitrust case by deciding among dueling consultants’ white papers reporting on simulations.”

Rather, Mr. Kanter believes we must “get back to first principles and focus on the policies that Congress was trying to advance in passing the antitrust laws.” Assessment of the competitive effects of a merger should include “real-world evidence, economics, expertise, and common sense.” As Mr. Kanter put it, if “somebody tells you that the NL East looks competitive this year, you understand what they mean.”

Mr. Kanter took the opportunity to put companies on notice that his team “will remain vigilant and undeterred,” noting that the Department has already sought to block anticompetitive deals in the airline and healthcare sectors. “Companies that test our resolve in these and other areas do so at their own risk and will continue to confront aggressive antitrust enforcement. As one of my predecessors explained, some deals should never leave the boardroom.”

The event marked the latest installment of a distinguished antitrust lecture series that dates back nearly half a century, and it was the first Handler Lecture since the pandemic. Craig Brown, CEO of Bridgeline Solutions (sister company of Lateral Link) and Co-Chair of the NYC Bar’s Handler Lecture Subcommittee identified Mr. Kanter as a potential speaker and met with him to explain the Handler Lecture’s storied history. Mr. Kanter graciously agreed to participate. Craig’s connection to Milton Handler goes back decades, to when Craig was an antitrust & litigation associate with Kaye Scholer and Professor Handler was still a practicing named partner of the firm (Kaye Scholer Fierman Hays & Handler).

Craig joined hosts Zach Sandberg and David Lat on this week’s episode of Movers, Shakers & Rainmakers. They discussed Mr. Kanter’s remarks, as well as Craig’s trajectory from antitrust lawyer to Bridgeline Solutions CEO. Continuing the antitrust theme, the hosts also talked about Covington & Burling’s hiring this week of partner Ryan Quillian, formerly the Deputy Assistant Director of the Technology Enforcement Division at the Federal Trade Commission.