Tag Archives: Legal Career Progression

The Strategic Lateral Move: A Guide for Attorneys Contemplating Change

As attorneys progress through their careers, the decision to make a lateral move to a new role becomes an increasingly relevant consideration. Most attorneys lateral at least once in the first seven years of their practice, often due to the realization that the fit envisioned during law school’s On-Campus Interviewing (OCI) process doesn’t fully align with their long-term career aspirations or firm preferences. This journey leads us to ask ourselves whether this is the year to make a change.

Timing and Marketability: The Optimal Window for Lateral Moves

It’s observed that the majority of lateral moves to firms happen between an attorney’s 2nd and 5th year of practice. This period is the ‘sweet spot’ where attorneys possess the right mix of expertise and adaptability, without being too senior, thus maximizing marketability. However, as one moves past the 5th-year mark, opportunities start to thin out due to growing seniority. Given this, the magic time to move is between an associate’s 2nd and 5th year of practice, where the number of opportunities peaks.

Mentoring and Training: The Cornerstones of Professional Development

In the current working environment where in-office time differs from firm to firm, the level of mentoring and training varies significantly across firms. The ability to interact with other lawyers in the office can significantly impact one’s long-term development, particularly for junior attorneys. The availability and quality of mentorship and training depend on factors like formal programs, partner availability, and the presence of a supportive associate team.

Practice Area Fit: Broadening or Narrowing Your Expertise

Many attorneys face challenges in picking the “perfect” practice area, often making this decision in law school without sufficient information. When a practice isn’t the right fit, it is worth considering a lateral move to look at roles that broaden or narrow their current practice or potentially transition practices altogether. Transitioning practices can be difficult, especially in a down market, but firms sometimes retool associates with closely related experience. Regardless of the pivot you are looking for, it is ideal to make this move sooner rather than later as it becomes increasingly difficult with seniority.

Partnership Prospects: Assessing Your Current Firm’s Pathway

The journey to partnership varies across firms. It’s crucial to assess if your firm provides a clear and supportive path to partnership, including opportunities to lead cases/deals, formal business development training, client exposure, and mentorship. The promotion criteria and the firm’s culture around partnership, which includes historical data, are also important factors to consider. Even more important, if you have been passed over more than once despite assurances, it is time to consider a move.

Firm Brand and Client Targeting

The brand of your firm plays a significant role in your ability to target and secure clients. Consider whether your firm is one of the go-to firms for your practice, as this can impact how successful you can be at building a book. It is also important to evaluate if your practice requires lower billing rates. Ensuring your firm’s brand and rate structures support your client acquisition and practice-building goals is vital to your long-term success in building a practice for yourself. 

Transition to In-House Roles: Firm’s Track Record

If transitioning in-house is a goal, evaluate your firm’s track record in facilitating such moves. Firms that see the long-term advantage in having attorneys go in-house often have strong practices in relevant industries, a robust alumni network, and actively market their support for in-house transitions. It is also important to look at how many attorneys from your firm have gone in-house. There are some firms that are a better springboard to in-house roles.

Cultural Fit and Work-Life Balance

Cultural fit is the biggest driver for associates to move. It encompasses aspects like group dynamics, office location, work hours, and mentorship availability. Associates often face a conflict between personal career needs and loyalty to their firm. Sometimes, proactive efforts can bring change, but often, a lateral move is necessary for better alignment with personal and professional goals.

Relocation as a Career Strategy

Many attorneys plan to relocate for personal or professional reasons, such as family proximity, industry opportunities, work-life balance, or community environment. Relocation allows reassessment of current roles and exploration of options that better align with long-term goals.

Making a lateral move can be daunting for attorneys, especially when they are “mostly” happy. That said, it’s important to continually assess your career against your long-term goals and job satisfaction. Ultimately, the decision to make a lateral move should be guided by a careful evaluation of your current position and how well it aligns with your professional and personal aspirations.

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.