Tag Archives: Headhunters / Recruiters

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 .  

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.

How To Work Effectively With A Legal Recruiter

Let’s be honest: lawyers like to complain about legal recruiters. And hey, I get it! Sometimes lateral candidates have bad recruiter experiences, through no fault of their own. But without excusing the unprofessional behavior that some recruiters engage in, it’s important to recognize that the candidate/recruiter relationship is a two-way street. It’s highly advisable to treat your recruiter considerately and professionally — not only is this the right thing to do, but it also maximizes your recruiter’s ability to effectively advocate for you.

To some extent, this is basic common sense (or should be)!  But to be fair, the lateral market can be stressful, and sometimes candidates may not be fully cognizant of the effects of their actions. So it’s worth laying out a few best practices that you should follow if you decide to work with a recruiter.

Be open and honest. This is the foundation for a productive, trust-based relationship with your recruiter. Some of the conversation will cover very standard terrain. How would you describe your experience and skill set? What are your short- and long-term career goals? What are your compensation expectations? Other aspects may be more awkward to discuss. Have you ever been fired? Have you recently worked with another recruiter? Have you applied to certain firms in the past? This is all important context for your recruiter to have. Remember: you and your recruiter are on the same team. The more you tell us, the more effectively we can frame your candidacy.

Communicate often. Part of being open and honest is being communicative when circumstances change. Have you adjusted your goals? Did your current work or compensation situation change recently? That’s fine, but you need to tell us. It isn’t helpful to have a recruiter pitching you to firms based on outdated information.

Be loyal. If you are targeting law firm roles, only work with one recruiter at a time. At the outset, it’s advisable to speak to a few recruiters to get a sense of which one feels like the best fit. But once you find a recruiter you feel you can trust, stick with that person. Law firms very rarely offer recruiters exclusive roles, so working with multiple recruiters is of no practical benefit (and in fact, can complicate your job search). Note that in-house roles are a different story. These are often filled through exclusive recruiter arrangements, so if you are going in-house it’s fine to work with more than one recruiter to gain access to a wider range of roles.

Be considerate and respectful. Be aware that recruiters only get paid if we place you with a new employer. When we invest time to help you with resume revisions or provide extensive interview coaching and career counseling, we do so with the expectation that you’re serious about working with us. If you aren’t certain you want to work with a particular recruiter, it’s extremely inconsiderate to mislead that person and take advantage of their services. Most especially, please understand that it’s highly unethical to learn about an opportunity from a recruiter and then go behind our back by submitting an application directly or through a friend who works at the firm. Don’t be that person.

Be responsive and committed. We get it, you are busy and working long hours. Many of us are. But you need to help us help you. Respond to our emails and phone calls, even if it’s just to let us know you’re tied up and will follow up with a response at a later time. If you agree to an interview, follow through on that commitment by showing up on time. If you promise to send a recruiter your resume by a certain date, either keep your promise or give a heads up that you’ll need a few more days. Don’t ghost a recruiter after you’ve agreed to work with us or after we’ve helped you. If you change your mind, that’s okay, it happens. But do your recruiter the courtesy of letting us know. It only takes a second to respond to an email.  

Be professional. This last one is a bit of a catch-all, and the importance of it cannot be overstated enough. It applies not just to your dealings with recruiters, but to everyone you interact with in the lateral hiring process. Keep in mind that the legal industry is relatively small, and your reputation will follow you. The bridges you build (or burn) while in the recruiting process may affect your career years from now in unexpected ways. Make sure you leave a positive and professional impression. At some point in the future, you’ll be happy you did.

Lateral Interviews: Advice from Seasoned Interviewers

With the end-of-year bonus season upon us and a lateral hiring market that remains exceptionally strong, it’s a safe bet that many law firm associates will soon be preparing for lateral interviews. What can you do to maximize your chance of a successful interview?

To get some pointers, I spoke with Mike Blankenship, managing partner of Winston & Strawn’s Houston office, and Randall Clark, corporate and securities partner in Gunderson Dettmer’s New York office. Both have extensive experience with lateral hiring and were happy to offer their advice.

  1. Be prepared to talk about your representative matters.

The biggest difference between on-campus and lateral interviews is that, as a lateral candidate, you’ll be expected to actually know some law! But before your imposter syndrome intensifies, rest assured that technical questions are almost never asked. The way partners assess your skillset is by probing your resume and, most importantly, your representative matters. “The deal sheet gets more attention from us than the resume,” says Randall, so you must be prepared to discuss any of your listed matters. Take time to reacquaint yourself with the basics of each matter and prepare some talking points about your specific contributions.

  • Assemble an effective deal sheet or representative matters list.

There are three dimensions to bear in mind when preparing a deal sheet: format, substance, and length.

  • Format: Most partners prefer deal sheets organized by type of transaction, not chronologically. Use this to your advantage by placing your most impressive deals at the top of each category.
  • Substance: Include enough detail to convey the essence of the deal. For example, instead of writing “client,” write “a national supplier of widgets.” Emphasize aspects that align with the interviewing firm’s practice strengths. Additionally, indicate your scope of responsibility. This can be as simple as describing your overall role (e.g., “lead associate”) or as detailed as listing your primary contributions.
  • Length: Don’t let the term “representative matters” fool you—it’s important to go beyond a small sampling of matters and submit a deal sheet that reflects a high volume of work. The ideal number of matters will vary by firm, practice, and class year, but it’s generally a good idea to consider including all of your matters, even those in which you played a smaller role.
  • Look professional.

Yes, the world is changing, Goldman Sachs no longer requires a suit and tie, but despite this trend, it’s better to play it safe for law firm interviews. “Most law firm hirers still expect professional attire because their clients still expect professional attire,” says Mike.

  • Do sufficient background research and prepare informed questions.  

“While we’re all large law firms, there are distinguishing factors, areas where a firm is great at something,” Mike observes. Look into both overall firm platform as well as the strengths of the specific office or group.

Even if a firm’s top strengths don’t align directly with your practice area, it’s important to demonstrate that you are interested enough to have learned about the firm on your own time. Partners want to be able to quickly identify that you’ve done your homework and start convincing you that you should choose their firm. When conducting screener interviews, Randall “know[s] within a few minutes whether or not [he] like[s] a candidate.”

It’s also advisable to briefly review your interviewers’ biographies. Referring to an interviewer’s background is a great way to avoid awkward silences. And simple questions like “What made you decide to retool into x practice?” or “How is it working for x industry clients?” can surface valuable insights.

  • Speak clearly and concisely.

This is important in any interview, but it is essential at firms like Gunderson where associates are expected to interface early with price-sensitive clients. “I want to see whether we can put you in front of founders,” says Randall, and that means being clear and getting to the point.

  • Prepare a tight answer for why you think the firm is the right fit.

Never tell a firm that you want to lateral in order to work less. Mike explains that, although he understands “a lot of law firms out there ask a lot more of their attorneys than they probably should,” the risk of an interviewer misinterpreting comments about workload is too high. 

Good reasons include wanting to specialize in something not available at your current firm, wanting a change in the type of clients you represent, or simply that you’ve heard great things about the firm and believe you would be a strong match for the culture.

  • Assess whether your interviewers would make good mentors.

Finally, remember that you are also interviewing the firm and its partners and associates. Especially for more junior attorneys, mentorship is an important factor to explore. As Mike observes, “that doesn’t mean a formal mentorship program, because every law firm has that.” Instead, try to determine whether your interviewers are the kind of lawyers who would be gracious in helping junior colleagues expand their toolkits.

Why Winston & Strawn? Why Gunderson?

Of course, I also wanted to give Mike and Randall the opportunity to explain why an associate on the market should consider their firms!

“We’re young, entrepreneurial, and we’re growing,” Mike says in relation to Winston & Strawn’s Texas operations. The firm also prides itself on providing excellent guidance to young attorneys. “You are never left on an island,” Mike promises.

Randall sees Gunderson’s culture and the opportunities it affords associates as major selling points. The culture is shaped by Gunderson’s young tech clients, making it an exciting place to work. Conscious of the importance of preserving that culture, the firm is strongly committed to promoting partners from Gunderson’s associate ranks. And given the tech sector’s growth, Randall projects: “we are going to have to make a tremendous number of partners.”

Beginning the Biglaw Lateral Process: A Guide for Associates

The current Biglaw lateral market is overwhelming.  There are more variables influencing associates’ career planning and strategic decision-making than ever before.  A byproduct is that getting started on a lateral search can be intimidating.  My goal here is to advise you on how to take the first few steps, because the way in which you target and contact firms can hugely influence your ability to make a change.  Below is a list of factors I encourage you to consider, and a quality recruiter will view each as an opportunity to maximize the likelihood of attractive offers.

1. Timing
Take advantage of active markets like this one to at least do your diligence.  It’s frustrating when you’d like to talk to a firm and they’re simply not hiring or unable to give you the kind of attractive offer you’d need to make the jump.  Also realize that offers have expiration dates and if you receive an offer from firm X, but wish you were able to talk to firm Y, it may be too late.  Do what you can up front to minimize the risk that timing negatively influences your options.

2. Who reaches out on your behalf
The best way to maximize options and ensure a successful process is by choosing a recruiter you trust and then leveraging contacts at other firms after your recruiter connects directly with each firm.  Yes, this will take away a friend’s referral bonus, but a good recruiter can effectively manage a comprehensive and targeted search, bump your resume to the top of a pile, and negotiate terms in a way that friends simply can’t.  When evaluating recruiters, pick someone who is an expert with respect to the space in which you operate so that they appreciate your practice and what could make it better in both a micro and macro sense.

3. Which firms you target
This alone depends on a ton of factors and personal preference, but it’s worth taking the time up front to think about what elements of your current practice you want to maintain and where there is room for improvement.  Your recruiter should discuss this with you and in turn provide insight into which platforms will check certain boxes on paper (e.g., bonuses, remote flex, substantive pivot, change in location, elevation of title, etc.).  Cultural fit is crucial, but it’s impossible to get a true sense for the people and environment before starting the dialogue.

4. Whom your recruiter contacts
Most firms have generic submission emails and/or online portals.  A quality recruiter should have personal contacts at the firms you’re interested in and the ability to sidestep the normal process to make sure your materials get in front of the right people as opposed to lost in the ether. 

5. Marketing
Success in the recruiting process largely depends on your ability to package and relay a clear and authentic narrative that aligns with what other firms are looking for.  If your materials and initial outreach don’t reflect that approach, you risk squandering opportunities.  Be thoughtful about what differentiates you from other candidates even if it’s not directly related to your practice.  Things like entrepreneurship, interesting work experience, and excelling at a sport or other activity can help endear you to partners.

6. Mental state

Take the process one step at a time.  Making a move is a big deal and you can’t understate the importance of doing so thoughtfully, but it’s important to think of interviews as casual conversations that allow you to explore fit and value.  A Zoom call costs nothing and having an open mind is the only way to truly evaluate the opportunity in front of you.  At the outset of the process, be open to introductions and save the real decisionmaking for when an offer is sitting in front of you.

Don’t Let Rumors Guide Your Lateral Job Search

As you surely know by now, the lateral market has been exceptionally hot in 2021. From record signing bonuses to flexible work arrangements, law firms are offering unprecedented carrots in the battle for associate talent. It’s undoubtedly a great year to make a lateral move.

But one side effect of the rapidly shifting market has been a cascade of misleading rumors. Many candidates are entering the process with unrealistic expectations, failing to appreciate that the factors shaping the terms of a lateral offer are multifaceted and individualized. In addition, the focus on flashy inducements like signing bonuses is leading some candidates to pursue opportunities at firms that may be a poor long-term fit.

Rumor mill: signing bonuses, practice group retooling, remote work

In our experience at Lateral Link, rumors about signing bonuses, practice group retooling, and remote work opportunities are especially widespread. Let’s address those topics in turn.

When it comes to signing bonuses, everyone has a story about an eye-popping figure that some lateral associate achieved. But even assuming the number being bandied about is accurate, it’s essential to place it in a broader context. The bonus offered to a particular candidate depends on several factors, including practice area, location, and personal compatibility with interviewers. Candidates sometimes interpret a signing bonus as a judgment on their intrinsic worth, but that’s not how firms determine the number. Signing bonuses are driven primarily by the firm’s idiosyncratic needs, not the candidate’s credentials. For example, where a firm is seeking to fill slots in a particular office and needs lateral candidates willing to move from outside the region, there is greater leeway for an outsized signing bonus. The bonus that a firm offers a fourth-year M&A associate to join its Boston office is not necessarily transferable to a fourth-year lateral joining the same practice in New York.

Similarly, you should not presume that a firm’s past decision to hire a particular lateral associate to retool into a new practice area is predictive of future offers. Firms’ willingness to facilitate retooling is driven by specific practice area and location needs. The more liquid the local market in the relevant practice area, the easier it is to hire an associate who already has the skills, and the less likely the firm is to consider a candidate who needs to retool. For that reason, you are more likely to find retooling opportunities in Boston or Austin than in New York or Los Angeles.

Unfounded rumors about remote work opportunities are especially common, driven by the fact that permission to work remotely is often partner-dependent. The fact that one associate succeeded or failed in negotiating a flexible arrangement when joining a firm tells you little about the prospects for a different candidate who would be working with different partners. It’s also worth noting that a candidate’s leverage to negotiate more flexible terms may improve based on strong interview performance.

Don’t lose focus on the long term

The excitement around bonuses and other carrots can cause candidates to lose sight of what should be the primary goal of the lateral process: finding an opportunity that sets you up for long-term professional success. As great as it feels to negotiate a lucrative signing bonus, don’t let a one-time payment dictate your decision. If the firm offering the largest bonus is a poor fit for your culture preferences or career goals, you should turn it down.

At the outset of the lateral process, think carefully about why you are seeking to switch firms and how the next step fits into your broader career plans. Having that clarity of vision upfront will help you make a smarter choice when the numbers are in front of you. As you go through the process, keep an open mind. Don’t talk yourself out of opportunities before you’ve explored them properly — especially if your initial assessment has been shaped by rumors. And assuming you’re working with a good recruiter, trust the information they give you. The market changes from week to week and month to month: you can be assured that a plugged-in recruiter will have more reliable, more current information than the rumor mill.

From In-House to Law Firm: Returning to Private Practice is a Growing Trend

A common career path is to graduate from law school, spend a few years practicing at a firm, and then take a job as an in-house counsel. Biglaw associates are drawn to in-house opportunities to escape the billable hour and to benefit from a less demanding and more predictable schedule. The lawyers who make this transition traditionally have not looked back. That’s partly because they haven’t wanted to return to law firm life and partly because firms have preferred to hire lateral candidates currently working in private practice.

But in 2021 — an exceptional year for the legal industry in many respects — a novel trend is emerging. We at Lateral Link are hearing from a striking number of in-house lawyers who are interested in making a lateral move to a law firm. And firms are displaying an unprecedented openness to hiring such candidates.

The in-house grass is not looking so green

Any lawyer who accepts an in-house role understands that the transition presents certain tradeoffs. A paycut is generally required, and even for those fortunate enough to land an in-house position with similar current compensation, it’s unlikely that the rate of growth in future years will match the financial upside of private practice. Relatedly, upward mobility in the in-house context is constrained: a law firm practice group can support multiple highly compensated partners, but only one member of an in-house legal department can be General Counsel.

In the current environment, some in-house counsel are finding those tradeoffs starker than they bargained for. Most notably, sharply escalating base salaries and special bonuses for law firm associates have widened the pay disparity between firms and in-house legal departments. That disparity is especially painful for in-house counsel who find themselves working long hours. (It turns out the absence of billables doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better lifestyle!)

Another important factor is work-from-home flexibility. In many industries, employees have already been called back to the office full-time, barring a medical exemption or other special circumstance. The same is true of some law firms, but as a general matter, hybrid arrangements in Biglaw are easy to find. Firms historically have not been known as bastions of flexibility, but the pandemic has forced real change on that front. For in-house lawyers whose companies are insisting on full-time office attendance, the relative flexibility of law firms has become a selling point.

Firms are prepared to hire in-house counsel

In the past, most law firms would have been hesitant to hire lateral candidates from in-house roles — lawyers currently in private practice are considered a safer bet. But in the current war for lateral talent, firms have been forced to cast a wide net. Just as they have become more open to candidates with less prestigious educational and prior firm backgrounds, firms are increasingly willing to extend offers to in-house counsel.

Candidates returning to private practice tend to return to the same type of work that they were doing prior to their in-house transition. We are seeing candidates join practice groups such as M&A, finance, and IP. Litigation is tougher, both because firms are less desperate for lateral litigators and because firms tend to view in-house roles supervising litigation as less directly relevant to their practices.

We advise in-house counsel who may be interested in exploring a return to private practice to start the process soon. The current demand for lateral hires is exceptional, and it won’t last forever. Now is the time to test the market, before the window closes.

In the Market for Cannabis Counsel? Don’t Pay Your Lawyers to Learn on the Job!

Demand for high-end legal services is booming this year, and law firms are competing fiercely for talent across many practice areas. Growth has been particularly strong in some niche practices that barely existed a decade ago, such as cannabis and blockchain. For law firms, the business case for establishing and promoting groups in these emerging fields is becoming ever more compelling. The demand is there, so why not try to get a piece of it?

But there is a big difference between proclaiming expertise in an emerging practice area and actually delivering a top-flight offering. The supply of practitioners with a genuine track record in an emerging field is relatively thin by definition. So from a client’s perspective, it is important to be a skeptical consumer.

Let’s take cannabis as an example. If you found yourself in need of counsel to assist with a cannabis-related matter, you might think the Chambers and Partners ranking of nationwide cannabis practices would be a natural place to start. In Band 1, you’ll find three diversified Am Law 100 firms (Akerman, Duane Morris, Fox Rothschild) and a boutique specialized in cannabis (Vicente Sederberg). So is the right answer to just hire one of those Band 1 firms?

Possibly — but not necessarily. You’ll first want to be clear about the nature of the task and how it aligns with the service offerings of different firms. Cannabis is an especially complicated area for two basic reasons. First, and most obviously, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug at the Federal level. Many elite law firms therefore remain cautious about serving cannabis clients, especially companies whose operations entail direct handling of the product (sometimes called “leaf-touching” entities).

Second, to the extent cannabis cultivation and distribution has been legalized by State legislatures, each market exists wholly within the individual State: there is no legal interstate commerce in cannabis products. This means the regulatory dimension of the industry is deeply fragmented. To the extent counsel may have regulatory experience in one State, the legal knowledge and regulatory relationships will not translate neatly to another jurisdiction.

Given that complexity, it is important to be savvy about what you actually need and whether a firm is properly equipped to provide it. For one thing, the fact that a legal task is connected to a cannabis company doesn’t by itself make the matter distinctive. Much of the legal work in the cannabis field entails bread and butter transactional services that look broadly similar to transactional work in any other industry. For example, if you want to set up a fund to invest in the cannabis space, you should probably hire a highly experienced funds counsel, rather than a lawyer who claims particular expertise in cannabis. If you can find both, that’s great, but in general, industry knowledge is going to matter less than functional experience.

Conversely, if you need advice about cannabis regulatory matters, both industry and geographic experience will be critical. Be careful about hiring a nationwide firm in this situation. A credible locally-based provider who knows the regulators in the relevant State may well be a better choice than a firm that appears on the Chambers ranking.

As a general rule in emerging practice areas, there is a real temptation to rebrand some current partners as experts in the new field. The firm will then try to convince clients to send relevant matters its way, enabling the firm’s lawyers to learn on the fly by working on those initial matters. Essentially, fake it until you make it. One Am Law 100 firm currently has a cannabis group led by a litigation associate. In fields like cannabis or blockchain, you’ll want to be extra skeptical of claims of expertise, to ensure that you aren’t subsidizing the development of lawyers whose depth in the subject matter is questionable. Know what you need, and don’t pay your counsel to learn on the job.

Why A Conflicts Check Should Be Step One in a Partner’s Lateral Move

Any experienced lawyer knows that making a lateral move to a new firm requires a conflicts check. You have surely heard about lawyers whose attempt to lateral was blocked when a client refused to grant a waiver. But despite the general understanding that conflicts are an important factor, many law firms wait until the end of the lateral process to run conflicts, even when the candidate is a partner.

Waiting to run conflicts until after starting interviews and vetting LPQs is an inefficient practice that leads to unnecessary frustration for both lateral partner candidates and firms. A sophisticated legal recruiter doesn’t need to wait to help in the process and is cognizant of conflicts from the beginning of the process given their experience, databases, and knowledge. By taking time upfront to examine the partner’s book of business and the client list of the partner’s current firm, a recruiter can proactively determine which target firms are a nonstarter due to conflicts before a firm even runs conflicts typically closer to the end of the hiring process. This helpfully narrows the set of targets and positions the candidate should consider at the start of the process before devoting time and resources to devoting attention to opportunities that are nonstarters.  

Conflicts are a key initial filter

There are several factors to consider when drawing up a list of firms that could be a good fit for a partner lateral candidate. For example, are the firm’s billing rates compatible with the rate the candidate currently charges? Will the firm’s profits per partner and partner compensation structure match the candidate’s expectations? Would the firm provide a strong platform for the candidate’s practice? Does the firm operate in the city where the candidate lives? Just as you would eliminate certain firms at the outset based on these filters, you should also eliminate firms that are a poor fit due to conflicts. 

Conflicts come in many forms

When lawyers hear the word “conflict,” they are likely to think first of legal conflicts. Obviously, if a litigation partner’s current firm represents Samsung, it would be unwise to pitch that candidate to a firm that represents Apple, given the history of claims and counterclaims between the two companies. Client waivers can sometimes be a solution to legal conflicts, but companies vary in their willingness to grant a waiver. Savvy recruiters know which clients notoriously refuse to waive conflicts and will apply that knowledge in constructing the target list. Good luck sourcing a conflict waiver if you are adverse to Chevron.    

Although legal conflicts are critically important, they are just one piece of the puzzle. Conflict considerations also extend to broader business issues. Firms typically do not represent two companies that are fierce competitors in the same sector, whether or not there is a formal legal conflict based on recent litigation. If a material client of a lateral partner practice directly competes with an institutional client of another firm or even a major client of an important decision maker at that firm, the candidate is most likely not a fit for that firm. Think Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Apple and Samsung. American Airlines and United. Or even the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  

Even where there is no legal conflict or direct competition between the candidate’s book and a firm’s current clients, it is important to consider whether future conflicts are likely to arise. For example, if the candidate represents clients that have a track record of suing banks, a firm that represents a major bank as an institutional client is a poor strategic fit. Similarly, a candidate with a book that includes insurance policyholders will not be a fit for a firm that regularly represents insurers. Over time conflict considerations become more apparent but it’s not a subject where Cliff Notes has a special edition.     

The rise in partner mobility has increased conflicts 

In decades past, when partners were lifers at their firms and clients were more likely to concentrate their business with a single outside law firm, conflicts were less prevalent. Needless to say, the industry has changed, with partners switching firms more frequently than ever before. Partners who lateral tend to bring their clients with them, as a client’s loyalty to the relationship partner often exceeds its loyalty to the firm. This has contributed to a broader trend of clients spreading work among a larger number of outside firms. And unfortunately that makes conflicts an ever more important factor in the conversation that should be addressed upfront.  

As a consequence of rising partner mobility and more fragmented use of outside counsel, conflicts are arising with increased frequency. Some partners have sought to avoid conflicts headaches by decamping to boutique firms. But for those lateral candidates who prefer a traditional full-service firm, it is critical to anticipate likely conflicts as part of a well-managed search. A sophisticated recruiter will proactively address this issue and ensure that a candidate does not waste time on firms that are nonstarters due to conflicts.