Tag Archives: Law Firm Leadership

Lateral Link Announces 2024 Promotions

Lateral Link is pleased to announce the promotion of several outstanding members of our team this year. These professionals have exemplified unparalleled expertise in legal recruiting, demonstrated exceptional leadership skills, and contributed greatly to helping maintain Lateral Link’s collegial and collaborative culture.

Jon Kahn: Managing Principal, New York

Jon Kahn, one of the co-leaders of Lateral Link’s partner practice group, is now a Managing Principal in Lateral Link’s New York office. With over 25 years of legal industry experience, Jon brings a unique understanding of lateral hiring, having been a partner at major law firms in New York and founding his own executive legal search firm, JEK Partners. His background in capital markets transactions, high-yield offerings, IPOs, and M&A transactions enriches our team’s capabilities. Jon holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.

Amy Savage: Senior Principal, Washington, D.C.

Amy Savage, the leader of our Government Transitions Group, is promoted to Senior Principal in our Washington, D.C. office. A recognized expert on legal career issues, Amy has made significant contributions to the D.C. legal market over 15 years, particularly in placing associates and partners with top Am Law firms. Amy earned her J.D. cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center.

Lauren Smith: Senior Principal, Washington D.C.

Lauren Smith, now a Senior Principal in our Washington, D.C., office, specializes in partner and group placements nationwide. Her diverse legal experience as both an Am Law 100 law firm litigation associate and in-house counsel provides a broad perspective beneficial to her recruiting expertise. Lauren graduated with a double major from Cornell University and later obtained her J.D. from William & Mary.

Christine Berger: Senior Director, New Orleans

Christine Berger is promoted to Senior Director, focusing on attorney placements in Texas and Louisiana. Her in-house, law firm, human resources, and resume writing experience offer unique insights into the recruiting process. Based in New Orleans, Christine’s outstanding dedication and drive has played a pivotal role in our expansion in the region.

Lateral Link continues to uphold our commitment to excellence in legal recruiting. These promotions highlight our dedication to valuing leadership and expertise within our team. We pride ourselves on understanding the complexities of the legal market, ensuring tailored and strategic solutions for both our clients and candidates.

We invite talented individuals who share our vision of excellence and collaboration to consider joining our dynamic and forward-thinking team. For those seeking opportunities in a highly-regarded recruiting firm with access to unmatched resources, a collaborative and collegial culture, and above-market compensation, Lateral Link is the ideal destination.

Who is Better Compensated: Elite Biglaw Partners or Top General Counsel? (2023 Update)

It’s no secret that it pays to be a Biglaw equity partner. A 2022 survey of partners in “NLJ 350- and Global 100-size firms” found average compensation of $1.12 million, a 15% increase over the average in the prior survey conducted in 2020.

Seven-figure compensation is nothing to sneeze at, but as with professional sports teams, the real stars of Biglaw make significantly more than the average. Firms vary widely in their compensation ranges. At the most traditional end of the spectrum, a firm’s highest-paid partner might take home 4x the pay of the lowest-paid partner. In contrast, at a firm with a strong eat-what-you-kill culture, that ratio may be 10x or higher. Bloomberg reports that the top earners at Kirkland & Ellis earn more than $20 million annually. Eight-figure pay packages remain uncommon in Biglaw, but with competition for partners with the strongest books of business as intense as ever, rainmakers at an increasing number of firms are breaching the $10 million mark.

So the top tier of law firm partners are doing very nicely, indeed. But what about the leading in-house lawyers? In this article, we take a look at the pay packages of the top 100 highest-paid General Counsels, in comparison to partners of top Biglaw firms (as measured by profits per equity partner). We find that on a cash compensation basis, equity partnership is more lucrative than being a General Counsel. But the story is more complicated when taking stock options into account.

A quick note on sources. For general counsel compensation data, we look at the top 100 highest-paid GCs as listed in the 2022 ALM Intelligence GC Compensation Survey. This data set is not comprehensive. For one thing, ALM compiles its data from proxy statements filed with the SEC, so only public companies are included. Our source for Biglaw partner compensation is the 2022 edition of the Am Law 200 ranking.

It’s hard to outearn a top Biglaw partner (in cash)

The General Counsel Compensation Survey ranks General Counsels based on total cash compensation. The top 100 highest-paid GCs earned total cash compensation of $2.7 million on average. We don’t know how much the 100 best-paid Biglaw partners earned in the comparable period, but as one benchmark, the 91 equity partners at Wachtell enjoyed profits per partner of $8.4 million.

Just one General Counsel took home cash compensation higher than $8.4 million: Alan Braverman of Disney ($8.8 million). Meanwhile, 42 Am Law firms had profits per equity partner in excess of the $2.7 million average General Counsel cash compensation.

What about cash compensation growth over the recent past? From a growth perspective, who did better in the two-year period from 2020 until 2022: the top 100 General Counsels or the partnership of the top Am Law firms? The table below shows the results, ranked by growth rate. The law firms in the table were the top 10 firms by profits per equity partner in the 2020 Am Law 200. We see that all 10 Biglaw partnerships outpaced the General Counsels, some by a substantial margin.

Group (equity partnership or GCs)Compensation growth from 2020 to 2022
Davis Polk55%
Kirkland & Ellis42%
Sullivan & Cromwell37%
Simpson Thacher35%
Wachtell33%
Cravath31%
Paul Weiss31%
Skadden30%
Weil Gotshal29%
Quinn Emanuel26%
Top 100 GCs25%

But stock options can make a big difference

It’s critical to note that the very highest-earning General Counsels receive a substantial portion of their compensation in the form of equity. Taking stock options into account, some General Counsel roles start to look considerably more attractive. For example, revisiting the 2022 surveys, when considering total compensation, the number of General Counsels topping Wachtell’s profits per partner rises from one to 16. Kathryn Ruemmler (Goldman Sachs) and Kate Adams (Apple) top the list, each earning total compensation just shy of $27 million. David Sorkin (KKR) also cracked the $20 million threshold. These examples illustrate the importance of equity: Ruemmler, Adams, and Sorkin earned total cash compensation of $7.9 million, $5 million, and $5.75 million, respectively.

Conclusion
There are a lot of reasons why an attorney might prefer to be a General Counsel than a law firm partner. But viewed strictly through the lens of compensation, high-performing lawyers are typically better off staying on the law firm track. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should stick with their current firm. With Biglaw partnerships increasingly diverging in their approaches to compensation, it’s a mistake to assume that a partner with a given book of business will be paid similarly at any comparably prestigious firm. Productive partners have a variety of options—and it pays to know about them.

Lateral Partner Moves to Secondary Markets: An Unprecedented Opportunity

Growth in Biglaw partnerships follows a cyclical pattern. Firms expand their partner ranks rapidly in some years and not at all in others. 2022 was a year for lateral expansion — hardly a surprise considering that client demand remained strong in most practices. The unique feature of this recent expansion wave is where firms grew: 2022 will be remembered for unprecedented hiring of lateral partners outside of the largest cities.

COVID and remote working have upended traditional assumptions about where a partner must be based in order to maintain a Biglaw book of business. The pandemic shuffled the location preferences of many professionals, including both lawyers and their clients. Partners who would rather live outside of the traditional business centers now feel emboldened to voice that preference, and many firms are prepared to accommodate.

Firms see new opportunities for business development in cities that traditionally wouldn’t have supported top Biglaw billing rates: the recent growth of the finance sector in Miami (at the expense of New York and Chicago) offers a case in point. Additionally, clients today are more tolerant of their lawyers being based in a different state: a partner who moves from the Bay Area to Austin will likely have no problem continuing to serve California clients. Another factor firms are considering is the many associates and counsels who are eager to move to secondary markets: where partners are prepared to anchor a new office (or expand an existing one), it typically helps a firm’s non-partner recruiting efforts.

Perhaps no secondary market has drawn as much attention in this period as Miami. The city has not been shy about branding itself as the hot new tech and finance hub. Distinguishing between hype and reality hasn’t always been easy, but with important Biglaw clients like Citadel moving their headquarters to South Florida, firms are rightfully taking notice. Among the firms that have opened Miami offices since COVID are Kirkland & Ellis, Winston & Strawn, King & Spalding, Sidley Austin, and Quinn Emanuel.

Salt Lake City is another market worth highlighting. Though it maintains a lower profile than Miami, Salt Lake has enjoyed a fast-growing, tech-driven economy, attracting both larger companies (Adobe, Ebay, Overstock, Qualtrics) and many startups. Kirkland & Ellis, Wilson Sonsini, and Foley & Lardner have all opened Utah offices since the pandemic.

Although secondary market expansion may have been the defining story of 2022, we expect this trend to continue in 2023. The window remains open to partners making a lateral move to a secondary city.

If you’re a partner considering such a move, should you take the plunge? Obviously, circumstances vary depending on your practice and your proposed destination. A recruiter who specializes in partner moves and knows the specific markets in question will be best placed to advise you. But speaking generally, here are a few reasons you may wish to jump to a secondary market:

Better lifestyle! Many secondary cities are attractive places to live. Interested in a warmer climate? Easy access to skiing? A lower cost of living? Chances are there’s a secondary market that would suit your lifestyle preferences.

Big fish, smaller office! Partners entering from larger cities often enjoy the best of both worlds. They can establish themselves immediately as a top expert in their new, smaller market by virtue of the high-profile matters they handled in the prior market. At the same time, they can bring their current clients with them. For more junior partners, a move to a less crowded market can also be a fast-track to internal leadership opportunities.

Billing rate flexibility! In some cases, it is increasingly possible to charge national billing rates in smaller cities as companies used to paying those rates move in. But as a general matter, smaller markets usually require firms to adopt a more flexible approach. The ability to offer more flexibility on rates can be of great help to partners looking to expand their client base outside the big cities.

Talent retention! Many associates and counsels want to be based in lower-cost cities with more affordable real estate. For partners, the ability to accommodate that desire means they can retain their talent group for longer. Instead of leaving to join a smaller firm in a secondary market, associates and counsels can achieve the same cost-of-living benefit while staying in Biglaw.
Strategy, strategy, and more strategy! In the current market, lateral partners moving to secondary locations are a key part of many firms’ strategic growth model. If you join a new firm under these circumstances, firm leadership will be especially invested in your success. As a lateral partner, you want to ensure your new firm is committed to integrating you into the firm’s platform, and it is always advantageous to lateral into a situation where the firm feels some extra pressure to make the move work. Coming in as an anchor partner for an office that is a focus of firm growth should set you up nicely.

Minding the Gap, Finding the Bridge, and Taking the Longview

The Lateral Link team recently held our company retreat in Las Vegas, and it occurred to me that law firm life can sometimes feel a little like being stuck in a Vegas casino. You are in a place where you can make really big money, but it can require working around the clock, even to the point where you aren’t even sure what time of day it is.  The upside is really good, but after a while you may start to feel an overwhelming desire to find an exit, get outside, breathe some fresh air, and regain a sense of balance in your life.

During these times, it can feel tempting to just draft your dream resignation email and press send!  In these moments, all of the good advice you have heard to never give up and push through the pain flies out the window.  Adding fuel to the fire, you may be at the point in your career where you have some savings built up so economically you can afford a break. You hear a little voice inside saying, “How great would it be to just quit and have time to figure out my next move without the constant stream of responsibilities and due dates hanging over me?”

As a former Biglaw attorney, I can tell you, this thought most certainly crossed my mind.  But as a legal recruiter, I have a whole new appreciation for what I call “minding the gap.”  As tough as it may be, there is undoubtedly value in avoiding any unnecessary employment gaps in your resume.

There is, of course, a huge carve out for time off for mental and physical health issues.  I am a strong advocate for mental health awareness and am in no way suggesting that sticking it out is the answer in all cases as everyone has their own particular mental health and/or medical considerations.  But barring these and other such extenuating circumstances, the simple truth is — it is significantly easier to get hired if you are currently employed.

Being employed gives you leverage — mind the gap.

In an ideal world, one would like to think that firms give candidates the benefit of the doubt when it comes to employment gaps in evaluating interview invitations.  Sadly, though, that is not how the process usually works.  Like many large companies, law firms sort candidates based on the limited information in their resumes and inevitably make assumptions based on this information.  And gaps in your employment timeline can unfortunately raise questions of reliability, focus, and drive.

Of course, you can overcome this presumption by telling a compelling story about the reason for your gap.  But, given the high volume of applicants for any one role, a firm may pass on your resume before even hearing the explanation.

Conversely, if you can manage to stay in your current role, you are only increasing your chances of getting an interview and avoiding unfair judgment.  This will let you walk into your interviews with greater confidence knowing that you can focus on your relevant experience and how you will make a seamless transition into the practice group given this background. 

And even if you are switching careers entirely, the fact that you are currently working will be reassuring to any potential new employers. Bottom line – this strategy allows you to play your strongest possible hand.

What happens when you are handed a gap you can’t mind? Build a bridge.

You might be thinking as you are reading — that is all fine and dandy when you are in control of minding the gap, but what happens when the “gap” is handed to you on a layoff platter??  This is where the story of the candidate who can’t be in the room to tell his/her/their story can have a different ending.  Enter stage left – your trusted legal recruiter.  

I know when some attorneys think of recruiters they think of stereotypical cold calls and emails that interrupt the workday, but one of my favorite parts of recruiting is being my candidates’ advocate and a source of career support for them.  I love getting to know each of my candidates personally so I can present her/him/they to a firm in a compelling way that paints a detailed picture of why this candidate — gaps included — would be an asset to that firm.  A gap can be an unknown, but when it gains a story bridge, it can transform into a stepping-stone to the candidate’s next destination.

Take the longview – it’s all part of the career journey.

I realize that all of this may be easier said than done. When you are feeling overwhelmed – whether it be from unrelenting work, roadblocks to business development, endless roads to partnership, or gaps handed to you — it can be really hard to focus on the bigger picture.  I too have felt lost in the chaos of the moment, but I have also learned over the years how important it is to try to take the longview.  In these times, I turn to my trusted friends and family to help me re-center and remember that my career is a marathon not a sprint.

Another way to help maintain perspective is to discuss your situation with your trusted recruiter.   A recruiter can develop a strategy for you to find your next role and counsel you as you go on the path together to get there.  Another favorite part of my job is that I get to be a legal industry data nerd.  Everyday my colleagues and I read and share intel from trusted legal news sources as to what is happening in the market.  We are also meeting with firms regularly to understand their specific needs each quarter.  We witness the trends unfold in front of us in real time and have all of this information to share with you to help you figure out your longview.  

For example, we are seeing and hearing about an uptick in hiring in the secondary markets right now.  You might be staring down a layoff in New York City, but it has been your longtime dream to move to Denver. Now might be the time!  How does dawn patrol skiing and logging into Citrix by mid-morning sound?  Carpe diem!  Feeling like you are ready for warmer weather?  Try Austin, another booming secondary market.  Whatever your frustration is – it might just be the path to something better.  All you need to do is figure out what that bridge is for you and how to get there.  We work with firms in all of these markets and can help you figure out what would be the best fit for you given both your legal and lifestyle interests.  

Your recruiter will also be able to advise you on which firms might be a better platform/culture match for you and your practice. Maybe you need a firm with less hours or a more flexible schedule? Maybe you need more billing rate flexibility? Maybe you need a more international platform to grow your book of business?  Maybe your business would thrive better at a boutique?  These are all questions that can be a fork in the road that leads to a new and exciting career trajectory for you.  Your recruiter can advise you on how they have helped past candidates in similar situations who have found success on a new path. 

Hearing about other lawyers who have made a change and ended up thriving in their new geographic market, tripling their book of business at their new firm, making non-equity partner from a counsel role, or overcoming an unexpected gap may help you see the light at the end of the tunnel you are in and help give you courage to embark on that next phase of your career path.  Mind as well have some fun and embrace the possibilities of where the path might lead you next! 

Mandatory Retirement Policies: A Source of Vulnerability and Opportunity

King & Spalding scored two notable coups this year when it lured prominent litigators Randy Mastro and Mark Kirsch away from Gibson Dunn. The loss of Mastro in particular was a serious hit for Gibson: in more than two decades at the firm, Mastro had accumulated a multitude of lucrative and high-profile clients, ranging from Chevron to Chris Christie.

Mastro and Kirsch undoubtedly weighed many factors in deciding to move. Lately, there have been rumblings in the market about office politics involving leadership in Gibson’s litigation group, so it’s possible that played a role. The rising fortunes of King & Spalding presumably helped: thanks to 25% growth in profits per equity partner from 2020 to 2021, King & Spalding is now within $70,000 of Gibson’s PPEP figure. (Over the same period, Gibson grew PPEP by just 8%.)

But regardless of the exact motivations, the defections of Mastro and Kirsch cast a spotlight on an important difference between the two firms: whereas Gibson requires partners to step down from its executive committee at 65 and to give up equity status at 68, King & Spalding has no mandatory partner retirement age. Mastro and Kirsch left Gibson at ages 65 and 60, respectively. Mastro, a longtime member of the executive committee, was already confronting the effects of Gibson’s retirement policy, and Kirsch could have been vulnerable to forced retirement in the coming years.

The traditional retirement model is less relevant today

Roughly half of Am Law 200 firms have mandatory retirement, with most specifying ages in the range of 63 to 68. Protocols for handling the retirement process vary. Some firms will transition partners into counsel positions as an intermediate step, enabling them to continue practicing while transferring their clients and work to younger partner colleagues. Others broach the topic of the impending retirement a year or two in advance to ease the partner’s transition out of the firm. It must be noted that retirement policies are often applied selectively, even at firms that supposedly have an age threshold. For example, there appear to be at least 23 Gibson Dunn partners who are over the age of 68, notwithstanding the firm’s mandatory retirement rules.

Traditionally, mandatory retirement has played an important role in career development for mid-career partners. When senior partners depart, it opens leadership positions for the next generation and enables younger partners to inherit primary responsibility for lucrative clients. However, an important premise of this model was that senior partners would, at least grudgingly, agree to transfer their clients. In a world of substantially increased partner lateral movement, this is no longer a safe assumption. As Mastro and Kirsch illustrate, partners over 60 with a robust book of business have attractive alternative options, and they need not acquiesce to a retirement plan that doesn’t suit them.

The other important function that mandatory retirement historically played was to help firms cull partners whose declining productivity no longer merited their high compensation. Stepping down due to age enabled a more graceful departure than being pushed out explicitly in response to diminished revenue production. But in the current environment, with the decline of lockstep partner compensation and an accelerating shift towards a pay-for-performance model, firms are not waiting until age 65 to push out unproductive partners. As a result, partners who still have equity in their mid-60s are much more likely to be important revenue contributors than in the past.

Potential lateral destinations: an initial screen

So if you are a partner of a certain vintage confronting impending mandatory retirement and are not yet ready to step aside, where else might you consider? Naturally, this will depend on a number of factors specific to your practice and your book of business. But as an initial screen, it may be helpful to highlight firms that — purely by the numbers — have demonstrated a particular willingness to retain partners beyond the age of 65.

To that end, we analyzed the number of partners at each Am Law 200 firm who received their JD in 1981 or earlier. The logic for selecting 1981 is that, assuming each attorney was at least 25 years old in the year of JD graduation, all partners in this data set should now be older than 65. For each firm, we divided the partners in this set by the total number of partners, thereby estimating the proportion of the firm’s partnership comprising members age 65+. Firms with a higher proportion of these seniormost partners may be especially receptive to considering potential lateral partners who are approaching mandatory retirement at their current firm.

We estimate that there are 12 Am Law 200 firms with at least 5% of the partnership aged 65+:

Firm% of Partnership Aged 65+
Irell & Manella15%
Buckley11%
Patterson, Belknap8%
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan6%
Herrick, Feinstein6%
Boies Schiller5%
Cahill Gordon5%
Hughes Hubbard5%
Kasowitz Benson5%
Munger, Tolles5%
Sullivan & Worcester5%
Susman Godfrey5%

The pension factor

A frequent complicating factor in considering the viability of late-stage lateral moves is the potential loss of a pension. Partners may understandably view their pension as a set of golden handcuffs: having spent so many years accumulating pension credits, does it make sense to walk away now?

In some cases, the answer will indeed be no. But it’s important to recognize that the pension issue is surmountable, at least sometimes. Gibson Dunn is known for its generous pension package, but Mastro and Kirsch departed regardless. For a partner with a strong book of business, there is a good chance a competing firm will be prepared to offer a package that adequately compensates for loss of an accumulated pension.

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Naturally, this is an area where consideration of individual circumstances is critical. At Lateral Link, we maintain an extensive proprietary knowledge base of firms’ mandatory retirement policies to assist our senior lateral candidates in targeting the most suitable destinations. If you feel you would benefit from an outside perspective on potential opportunities tailored to your specific situation, we welcome you to get in touch for a detailed discussion of your current firm’s policy and how it compares to the alternatives available in the broader market.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait Until January to Start a Lateral Search

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is now a good time to lateral?

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

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

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

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

What about a move in-house?

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

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

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

Strengthening your position at your current firm

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Strategies for Working Effectively With Your Recruiter

Recruiters can offer invaluable information and guidance during your job search and throughout your legal career long before or after a move. Here are a few tips for working most effectively with your recruiter and leveraging their knowledge and experience to benefit your job search:

Establish a relationship with a recruiter you trust early on. Take advantage of us. We have information on the market to share and we can offer you the benefit of our experience working with hundreds of other lawyers over the years who may have faced similar circumstances and decisions. It doesn’t cost you anything to have a conversation once in a while. Then if and when you are ready to make a move, you’ll know which recruiter has the best relationships with employers, which recruiter is most knowledgeable about the market you’re exploring (and the market you’re coming from, if different) and which recruiter you trust to best advocate for you and guide you through the process.

Work with one trusted and knowledgeable recruiter. While it may be beneficial to touch base with multiple recruiters if you’re looking for in-house positions, when exploring law firm options, working with multiple recruiters often leads to problems—at worst, duplicate submissions and at best, an imperfect management of your timing and leveraging of offers.

Allow your recruiter to adequately prepare. If you’re ready to make a move, send your resume and deal sheet if you have one ready in advance of an introductory call. This will make for a more efficient conversation if you’re pressed for time. Of course, if you’re not actively looking to move, no need to send a resume just to open the dialogue.

Give us all the logistical details. Then let us decide what may be important to share with the prospective employer and at what stage. For example, if you would need a delayed start date due to notice periods, school calendars, leases, etc., or if you do not yet have work authorization in the U.S., please let us know upfront.

Give us all the substantive information to work with. I recently spoke with a partner candidate who told me, “Don’t be offended. I value your knowledge and input but no one can sell me better than I can sell myself.” And he’s largely right. Recruiters can be instrumental in determining how to best present you to prospective employers, but without your substantive input, our abilities are limited. So don’t be the candidate who tells your recruiter simply, “Submit me!” Empower us with as much information as you can. For example, give us bullet points/sound bites covering why you’re looking to make the move and why in your own words you believe you’d be a good asset to the new team. See my post on cover letters for more details.

If you are working with other recruiters or applied anywhere on your own, let us know where and when right from the start. And keep us posted on the progress so we can best manage the timing and leverage your other interviews/offers.

Keep us posted on your thinking. We’re here as a source of information—in terms of the substance of opportunities and the logistics of the job search process—but we’re also here to be a sounding board. Let us know what concerns you may have so we can dispel any rumors or flag issues that may indeed be real concerns. Let us know your thinking on why you’re leaning towards accepting one offer over another.

When in doubt, run it by us first. If you don’t know how to answer a question a firm poses or you don’t know what to say when a partner is calling you with a verbal offer…if you don’t know if a detail is important enough to share, JUST ASK.

The bottom line: It’s better for everyone if there are no surprises! There’s no such thing as “too much information” when it comes to working with your recruiter. Give us all the information and let us do our best work for you! If you’d like to discuss your job search, have questions about the lateral process or just want to open a dialogue for general career guidance, please reach out to me at agordon@laterallink.com.