Tag Archives: Headhunters / Recruiters

Government Attorneys: Strategies to Elevate Your BigLaw Prospects

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

Develop High-Level Expertise

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

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

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

Build Relationships

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

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

Focus on Relevant Practice Areas

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

Plan Ahead

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

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

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

Law Firm Mergers: Analyzing the 2023 Trends and 2024 Forecasts

The landscape of law firm mergers in 2023 revealed significant developments, characterized by a series of strategic consolidations. These trends not only reshape the current legal market but also set the stage for further transformations in 2024.

2023 Merger Landscape: A Quantitative Overview
In 2023, the legal industry saw 48 law firm mergers, a slight increase from 44 in the preceding year. This uptick underscores a growing interest in strategic growth and market diversification, particularly among large firms and in cross-border consolidations. For instance, the year witnessed notable cross-border mergers, doubling from two in 2022 to four, and mergers involving large firms (with over 100 lawyers each) increased from two to five, as reported by Fairfax Associates.

Notable Mergers and Strategic Expansions
High-profile mergers, such as the combination of Allen & Overy and Shearman & Sterling, highlighted a trend towards global expansion, particularly for UK firms eyeing the U.S. market. Regional mergers also made headlines, with the largest domestic merger being between Cleveland-based Ulmer & Berne (175 lawyers) and St. Louis-based Greensfelder Hemker & Gale (140 lawyers), signaling a strategic move towards creating ‘super-regional’ entities.

Challenges and Considerations in Large-Firm Mergers
Executing mergers among large law firms presented its challenges. Aligning firm cultures, client portfolios, and operational strategies are crucial for a successful integration. Such complexities are indicative of the nuanced approach required in larger consolidations.

Shift in Focus: Boutique and Regional Firms
Smaller and mid-sized firms showed an increased propensity for mergers as a strategy for combating slow growth and rising operational costs. This shift indicates a broader recognition of mergers as a key strategic tool for sustaining competitiveness in a challenging market.

2024 Projections: Continuing Trends with New Dynamics
The legal sector in 2024 is anticipated to continue witnessing mergers, albeit with a nuanced shift. Larger firms are showing a preference for organic growth through internal development, suggesting a more balanced approach to expansion.

Economic Factors Influencing Mergers
Economic conditions, such as market fluctuations and inflation, continue to influence the merger landscape. Firms are increasingly using mergers as strategic responses to these economic challenges, showcasing the importance of adaptive strategies in the legal sector.

Regional Dynamics
The regional distribution of mergers in 2023 also offers valuable insights. States like California, Chicago, and Pennsylvania emerged as hotspots for merger activities, underlining the importance of understanding local market dynamics in strategic planning.

The 2023 law firm merger trends and the 2024 outlook reflect a dynamic approach to growth and adaptation within the legal industry. As firms navigate the global market, mergers remain a pivotal strategy, especially for smaller and regional firms. Concurrently, larger firms are diversifying their growth strategies to include both mergers and organic development.

Engage with Our Experts for Strategic Growth
To effectively navigate these trends, consult our industry experts at Lateral Link. Our team offers in-depth knowledge and practical experience to help you understand these market shifts and their implications for your firm.

Connect with Industry Experts: Gain personalized insights and strategic advice tailored to your firm’s needs. Speak to an Expert

Explore Lateral Opportunities: For legal professionals seeking new challenges, discover how lateral moves can enhance your career. Explore Opportunities.

Share Your Insights: We invite you to share your experiences or thoughts on law firm mergers. Connect with us directly through our Company Directory to contribute to our ongoing discussion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapting to Market Shifts: U.S. Law Firms in Hong Kong Rethink COLA Strategy

At least three top-tier US law firms in Hong Kong are currently planning to phase out Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) allowances within the next two years, and others are discussing doing the same. The plan is to reduce the payment by 50% in 2024 and to zero by 2025. At least one firm has announced the change internally office-wide, while two others have apparently made the decision internally but have yet to announce to their associates and counsels in Hong Kong.

Will this work? Time will tell, but history suggests these firms are facing an uphill battle to phase out COLA in Hong Kong. This isn’t the first time firms have made moves to rein in COLA. Similar plans have been deployed during previous down cycles. The problem is that unless every firm in the market ends the practice, associates will simply move from firms that reduce COLA to peer firms that maintain it.

If the current hiring downturn lasts for an additional two full years, it is conceivable that no firm would see an advantage in maintaining COLA, while others are phasing it out over two years, and using that policy to attract lateral talent. But a downturn of that length, with both soft and hard hiring freezes going on for three total years, would be unprecedented. It is more likely that the hiring market will pick up in due course at some point in 2024, reestablishing the tight supply dynamics that led firms to offer significant COLA allowances in Hong Kong in the first place. If that happens, firms will have a strong incentive to use COLA as a recruiting tool. And the firms now planning to stop paying it may find themselves reconsidering, especially when their star associates may consider moves next year as their COLA begins to be phased out.

Around ten years ago, two top US firms in Hong Kong made plans to have a three-year tail on their COLA for their US associates, whereby COLA would only be in effect for an associate’s first three years at those firms’ Hong Kong offices. However, around seven years ago, when the scheduled end to COLA for their star associates was looming, both firms quietly continued providing COLA after the three years. One of these two firms completely abandoned the idea of the three-year tail.

Unsurprisingly, firms would rather not make substantial COLA payments, especially in the current down market. There are presently very few associate openings in Biglaw offices in Asia—a major deviation from the norm. Some firms perceive this rare hiring downturn as an opportunity to implement change.

Cost of Living Adjustments: Why Biglaw Offices in Asia Pay US Associates More Than Any Other Region

The market for US-qualified Biglaw associates in Asia has long been unique. As in other regions, Biglaw firms are looking for candidates with top academic credentials and deal experience. But in addition, they look for local language skills—most commonly, fluent Mandarin. This combination of attributes shrinks the eligible candidate pool, and under normal market conditions, competition for the relatively limited number of associates who check all the boxes is intense.

That’s why firms have for many years paid so-called Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) to US-qualified associates working in Asian offices. Describing these payments as COLA is a misnomer, in that they bear no particular relation to cost of living (which is typically in Biglaw Asian markets roughly the same or slightly lower than in New York). Further, there are substantial tax windfalls for associates who land in tax havens such as Singapore and Hong Kong. This is true for both US taxpayers and non-US taxpayers, although the latter’s tax windfall is much larger than the former’s.

Instead, COLA is more accurately understood as simply an increase in base pay, rather than being tied to any cost of living adjustments or living expenses in general.

How much COLA do firms pay?

Before getting into the numbers, allow me to offer some context about my background. I recently joined Lateral Link, but my close association with Biglaw offices in Asia goes back nearly two decades, and over 500 attorney placements have been made in Asia, mostly at top-tier and second-tier US firms.

The table below presents the typical range of annual COLA (in US Dollars) in Hong Kong. To keep things simple, I have listed a Low, Medium, and High value, along with the number of firms paying at that level, among what we consider to be the top 20 US and UK law firms in Hong Kong. Please note that these COLA numbers are basic and do not include additional COLA allowances paid to associates who have children (a minority of firms in Hong Kong do this). Further, it is likely that by this time next year, there will only be one firm in the “High” range, with one of those firms considering lowering COLA a bit and one of those firms planning to phase out COLA. Outside of the handful of firms considering to phase out COLA, there has been no move to lower the COLA below the current low-end range ($60,000 to $95,000) in the Hong Kong market. This has been the range of COLA for the top 20 firms in Hong Kong for more than ten years.

LocationLow (11 Firms)Medium (6 Firms)High (3 Firms)
Hong Kong$60,000 – $70,000$75,000 to $85,000$90,000 to $95,000

One might assume that COLA is for Americans moving to Asia as expats. In the mid-2000s when the COLA system was more basic and the US law firm offices in Asia were very small, that was basically true. But the picture today is more nuanced, especially in Hong Kong—the most competitive market for associate hiring.

COLA is typically offered to attorneys that are in a “US team” (e.g., US Capital Markets, M&A, FCPA, etc.) usually (but not always) led by US-trained and qualified partners. Keep in mind that members of such teams are not necessarily Americans. Many associates are native to the region but are qualified as US lawyers. So a native Hong Kong citizen with an American JD (and with no obligation to pay US taxes) will earn COLA despite living in his or her home jurisdiction.

There are also numerous UK and Australian qualified associates at US firms in Hong Kong that work on US teams and get COLA, regardless of whether they are admitted in any US state.

Interestingly, a minority of US law firms in Hong Kong provide COLA to all or most of their solely Hong Kong-qualified associates. These lawyers are admitted to practice only in Hong Kong and typically grew up in Hong Kong, or at least have been living in Hong Kong their entire legal career. They work side-by-side with US-qualified colleagues who receive COLA, and their firms want to retain them. Accordingly, at these select offices, COLA has effectively transformed into increased base pay for all associates across the board.

Mastering Lateral Hiring Interviews for Your Legal Career: Essential Strategies and Insights

Understanding the Importance of Lateral Hiring Interviews

Navigating the complex web of the legal profession often leads to lateral hiring interviews, a key component of legal career progression. As a managing partner of a prominent Houston law firm highlights, the lateral hiring market remains exceptionally strong. Consequently, mastering these interviews is crucial for those looking to achieve notable advancement in their legal career. These interviews markedly differ from entry-level or on-campus interviews, requiring distinct preparation strategies to maximize success.

Prioritizing Practical Legal Expertise in Lateral Interviews

During these lateral hiring interviews, your practical legal expertise takes center stage. As one Houston law firm managing partner shares, “The deal sheet gets more attention from us than the resume.” However, there’s no need to fret over intricate legal questions as these are seldom asked. Instead, the focus shifts to your professional background, predominantly your legal resume and your past legal experiences, or case history. A thorough review of past cases and clearly articulating your unique role and contributions becomes a fundamental preparation step.

Crafting an Effective Deal Sheet for Lateral Interviews

Assembling a well-structured list of past cases, also known as a “deal sheet” in legal terminology, can significantly enhance your professional profile. Drawing insights from a corporate and securities partner from a renowned New York law firm, focus on three essential aspects when crafting this list: format, substance, and length.

  1. Format: Interviewers often favor case lists arranged by transaction type rather than chronological order. Use this preference to your advantage by placing your most notable legal cases at the top of each category.
  2. Substance: Replace generic terms such as “client” with more specific descriptions, as advised by legal professionals. Highlight aspects that align with the interviewing law firm’s key practice areas and elaborate on your role and contributions.
  3. Length: A comprehensive list that reflects the wide scope of your legal work is typically more appealing than a limited selection of cases.

Upholding Professionalism During Legal Interviews

Despite the evolving workplace norms and a casual attire trend, a formal approach is generally expected during law firm interviews. As one Houston-based law firm partner points out, “Most law firm hirers still expect professional attire because their clients still expect professional attire.”

Conducting Thorough Background Research

Performing background research about the potential law firm employer is another critical preparation step for lateral hiring interviews. Familiarize yourself with the firm’s unique strengths, its distinctive attributes, and the specifics of the department or group you’re interviewing with to leave a positive impression.

Harnessing Effective Communication Skills

Clear and concise articulation is a vital skill that interviewers assess during the hiring process. This skill is especially valued in law firms where associates are expected to interact with budget-conscious clients early in their careers, as per insights from a New York-based law firm partner.

Explaining Your Interest in the Firm

When asked about your interest in the firm, well-thought-out answers are appreciated. Possible reasons may include the desire to specialize in a domain not available at your current firm, the aspiration to diversify your client base, or positive feedback about the firm’s culture.

Evaluating the Prospective Law Firm

Lastly, remember that a lateral hiring interview also provides you with the opportunity to assess the law firm and its professionals. The prospect of mentorship, which is particularly important for junior attorneys, should be part of your evaluation. A partner from a Houston law firm points out that this doesn’t just mean a formal mentorship program, but also assessing whether the interviewers seem supportive of junior colleagues’ professional growth.

Choosing the Right Law Firm for You

Different law firms have unique selling propositions. A partner from a prominent Texas law firm suggests considering firms that emphasize their growth trajectory, entrepreneurial spirit, and dedication to nurturing junior attorneys. Others, as a partner from a renowned New York law firm highlights, may accentuate their unique culture, molded by their client base, and the opportunities available to associates. Recognizing these unique traits and the growth potential within such firms can aid in your lateral career progression in the legal profession.

Making the Most of Your Legal Career

Ready to take the next step in your legal career? Leverage this guide on lateral hiring interviews to make a positive impression and increase your chances of success. For more resources on lateral hiring and to explore potential opportunities, connect with a Lateral Link industry expert today.

Hybrid Work and Generational Divide: Navigating Differences in Modern Law Firm Practices

More than three years after COVID-19 upended where and how we work, law firm offices in some ways resemble the pre-pandemic normal. Attorneys mingle freely at in-person gatherings. Face masks and hand sanitizer have receded. But one thing is still starkly different: just how many desks are unoccupied on any given day.

Return-to-office policies are not uniform

One might have predicted that Biglaw firms would potentially use their return-to-office policies as a recruiting tactic that resulted in uniform policies given the fierce competition for talent and the ensuing (and somewhat uniform) salary increases over the past few years. The competition for talent has cooled as firms have learned to deal with COVID-19, however, and firms are moving towards bringing their attorneys back into the office on at least a hybrid basis. Superficially, it may seem that Biglaw has arrived at something approaching consensus: a survey released in January found that a third of Am Law 100 firms mandate three days per week of in-office presence, with another third encouraging three days in office. But dig a little deeper, and you find a surprising lack of convergence as firms determine what works best for their needs.

For instance, O’Melveny and Myers, like its peer firms, wants attorneys to spend more time in the office. But instead of specifying a set number of days per week, O’Melveny has announced an expectation that lawyers be present in the office for more than half the time over the course of the year. This policy emerged from a series of town halls and surveys, which delivered the clear message that flexibility was important to O’Melveny attorneys.

Even among the firms with a three-day mandate or expectation, there is no consensus on who chooses the days. Some firms have designated “anchor days,” either at an office or practice group level, where the whole team is expected to go in together. Several Morgan Lewis practice groups have recently mandated attendance on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, justifying the decision in part by noting that summer associates will be in the office on those days. Meanwhile, other firms allow lawyers to choose any three days.

And then there is the matter of compliance. Despite supposed “mandates,” noncompliance has been widespread at many firms, with limited attempts at enforcement. Many firms have preferred carrots to sticks, offering incentives such as free lunch to entice lawyers to come in. But some have been more pointed, making payout of annual bonuses contingent upon in-office attendance. Firms taking that stand include: Simpson Thacher, Sidley Austin, Davis Polk, Cahill, and Ropes & Gray.

The generational divide

So why are we seeing a lack of convergence regarding a model for the future of work at law firms? A key factor is generational differences, particularly among seasoned attorneys and junior attorneys.

Firm and practice group leaders entered the profession under very different circumstances from those of today’s junior associates. Two or three decades ago, the notion of a lawyer routinely working from home would have sounded strange. The early-career experiences of today’s senior partners were defined by long hours in the office, yes, but also by substantial in-person mentorship and training.

Given that background, it’s unsurprising that firm leadership is eager for associates to return, both for cultural and developmental reasons. It’s difficult to build culture when attorneys are remote, and effective training in a remote setting is challenging. When law firm leaders consider how they became partners—by creating strong ties with the partnership while they were associates—they struggle to conceive of how a fully remote associate could build comparable relationships and successfully navigate the path to partnership. 

Meanwhile, at the base of the pyramid are Gen Z associates who graduated from law school during the pandemic and began their law firm careers in a fully remote setting. Now that these junior lawyers are (largely) expected to be back in the office, they miss the flexibility. I sometimes receive questions about whether it’s possible to find a fully remote job at a firm. One current Biglaw junior associate recently asked me if he could go to a smaller firm with a lower hours expectation and work remotely. When I brought up the professional development benefits of in-person work for early-career attorneys, he responded that he was not sure if he wanted to practice law long-term, let alone become a law firm partner. He also mentioned that he put a premium on work-life balance and flexibility, which he thought remote work could help him achieve.

This candidate is hardly alone. A recent survey of Gen Z attorneys found that 60% would sacrifice compensation for a flexible work schedule and just 23% aspire to be a law firm partner. Gen Z also prioritizes work-life balance and flexibility.

Having been a judicial law clerk for over a year and a law firm associate for almost five years, I also know that the first five years of practice are critical for skills development, even if partnership is not necessarily in your future. I benefited tremendously from in-person mentorship and training, and I still value my mentorship and training even though I no longer practice law. When candidates ask about fully remote positions, I tell them that some midsize and boutique firms do not have a formal policy for days in the office. But I advise them to consider various types of firms with hybrid schedules, both to keep all their options open and to accelerate their development of transferable skills, for if and when they do leave the law firm track.

Ultimately, the generations are each going to have to give some ground in acknowledgment of the other’s reasonable perspectives. It remains to be seen how firms will treat hybrid or remote work to promote work-life balance and attract (and retain) talent. Whatever the equilibrium is, we haven’t reached it yet.

Business Development for Women Lawyers: Strategies for Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s good to be a Houston Biglaw associate

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

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

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

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

Billing rates are a key driver

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

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

Partner Group Hiring: A Common Alternative to Traditional Expansion Strategies

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

Hiring partner groups is less risky than individual lateral hiring

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partner group hiring is ideal for secondary market expansion

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

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

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

***

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