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.
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.
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.