With a month to go until Thanksgiving and two months until Christmas, I’ve lately been having similar conversations with many law firm associates. They’re interested in exploring a lateral move, they tell me, but it wouldn’t make sense to start the process this late in the year, right? Wrong!
In fact, now is the perfect time to start looking for lateral opportunities. Because so many candidates have the misconception that it’s best to wait until January, those who begin the process now will get a jump on the competition. And the odds are typically quite good that you won’t end up starting at your new firm until 2023, anyway.
Allow me to address some of the main objections I hear to starting a fall lateral search.
Wouldn’t it be weird to start a new job in December?
Many candidates envision themselves starting at a new firm in the midst of the holidays and don’t like that idea. But it’s important to understand that December start dates are typically less common than January start dates. Barring a scenario where your new practice group is exceptionally stretched and needs help as soon as possible, firms will typically be fine to have you start in the new year. All else equal, the new firm would rather that your current firm pay your 2022 bonus, so a January (or even February) start tends to work well for everyone.
What about my bonus?
Having already accrued most of their hours for the year, candidates are naturally averse to doing anything that would jeopardize their bonus. But this really should not be a concern. One of two things will happen. In the event the new firm is desperate for you to start immediately, it will make you whole on the bonus you sacrifice by leaving your current firm. More likely, as discussed above, the new firm will make it possible for you to collect your bonus from the current firm and then make the switch. There is an obvious financial incentive for them to do so.
Will firms even want to interview late in the year?
Candidates often assume that everything will slow down towards the end of the year, so if they apply now they risk entering a dead market. Although it’s certainly true that few firms conduct interviews in late December, the fall is a different story. New openings continue to arise in this period, and firms will also have unfilled searches from earlier in the year. With relatively few new candidates joining the market, there is a real opportunity to stand out in a window when firms are absolutely still looking to interview.
I’m tired. Can’t I just wait until January when I’ll have more energy?
It’s obviously important that you project a positive and energetic attitude when interviewing, so this is definitely a factor to consider. However, I find that candidates who are new to the lateral search process often imagine the experience will be more burdensome than it actually is. If you are feeling a little overwhelmed and you aren’t sure you’re up for a search right now, it’s still worth having an initial conversation with a recruiter. There is a randomness to when opportunities arise, especially if your practice is more specialized. It may happen that the recruiter knows about a current opening that could be an especially good fit for you. And you might find that hearing about that opportunity energizes you to a degree that you aren’t feeling now. Regardless, a 20-minute phone call will give you valuable individualized insight based on your specific practice area and market.